International human rights groups and the governments of the UK and the US have urged the Maldives to revoke a nationwide state of emergency declared on Wednesday, and called for the restoration of constitutional freedoms.
In declaring the unprecedented 30-day emergency, President Abdulla Yameen cited national security threats and raised fear of bomb plots. He has suspended basic rights and given the security forces sweeping powers ahead of a mass anti-government protest.
Patrick Kirby, the US State Department’s spokesman, said the Maldives must terminate the state of emergency and “restore immediately full constitutional freedoms to its citizens.”
Yameen must also release former President Mohamed Nasheed, imprisoned on a charge of terrorism this March, Kirby said.
The mass protest scheduled for Friday is organized by Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party, to pressure Yameen to respect a UN human rights panel ruling and release the opposition leader.
The state of emergency comes a month after an explosion on Yameen’s speedboat, which the government insists is a targeted assassination attempt on the president, despite the FBI saying it had found no evidence of an explosive device. Yameen escaped unhurt.
Vice President Ahmed Adeeb has been detained on suspicion of links to the explosion, while the defence minister and the police chief have been sacked. Adeeb is now facing impeachment.
Hugo Swire, the UK minister for Asia, said: “We urge the government of the Maldives to uphold the commitments it has made – including as a member of the Commonwealth – to democracy and to the rule of law. We call on the government to end the current State of Emergency and to release all political prisoners, including former President Nasheed.”
The International Commission of Jurists said the suspension of constitutional freedoms in the Maldives “goes far beyond anything that could be justified by the alleged grounds stated by the government.”
State of emergencies can only be declared only in time of public emergency which threatens the life of the nation, the statement said.
Nikhil Narayan, the ICJ’s South Asia senior legal advisor, said: “Maldivian authorities have not come close to explaining how the current situation constitutes a threat to the ‘life of the nation’, the high threshold set by international law for the derogation of rights in times of emergency.”
The ICJ also expressed concern that the decree appears to target Adeeb, as it reduces the period provided in the constitution for him to respond to the impeachment charges from 14 days to seven.
“There seems to be a clear political motive in arbitrarily reducing the vice president’s procedural rights in the impeachment process,” he added.
Meanwhile, rights group Amnesty International said the state of emergency raises the prospect of further attacks on dissent and human rights. “The government must not use this state of emergency to silence free speech or infringe on other human rights,” said Abbas Faiz, Amnesty’s Maldives researcher.
The organization has called on the government to “provide careful justification for their decision to proclaim the state of emergency and any specific measures it includes.”
The People’s Majlis is holding a vote to approve the decree today. Yameen’s Progressive Party of the Maldives holds a majority there.