Maldives resumes CMAG participation ahead of presidential elections

The Maldives government said it has been “welcomed” back as a fully participating member in the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) during the group’s 39th meeting held in London yesterday (April 26) following its suspension last year.

Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dhunya Maumoon stated this week that the invitation for the Maldives to attend the CMAG meeting reflected the “recognition” of the work by President Dr Mohamed Waheed government’s in “strengthening democracy in the Maldives”.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) meanwhile said it understood the country’s participation in CMAG was a diplomatic attempt to ensure free and “inclusive” elections went ahead in September of this year. The opposition party contended that the elections were also expected to be scrutinised by a number of international groups including the Commonwealth.

The Maldives was suspended from CMAG – the Commonwealth’s democracy and human rights arm – back in February 2012 following the controversial transfer of power that saw former President Mohamed Nasheed resigning from office after a mutiny by sections of the police and military.

By September 2012, the suspension was revoked after a Commonwealth-backed Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) concluded the previous month that the transfer of power was legitimate, that former President Nasheed was not under duress, and that there was no police mutiny.

The findings were later accepted by former President Nasheed, albeit with reservations over evidence and witness statements he claimed had not been considered in the final report.

The stance was claimed to have been taken by the former president in order to facilitate the CNI’s recommendations concerning judicial independence and a strengthening of democratic institutions.

According to the Maldives government, CMAG is charged with reviewing “serious and persistent violations of the Commonwealth’s fundamental political values”.

Return to CMAG

Taking his place at the CMAG meeting on Friday, Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr Abdul Samad Abdullah joined his counterparts from Australia, Bangladesh, Canada Jamaica, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Trinidad and Tobago and Vanuatu to review developments in Fiji as part of the group’s formal agenda.

According to a commonwealth statement, CMAG’s latest meeting was focused predominantly on ensuring democratic developments in Fiji, including calls for constitutional reform to uphold the rule of law, while also ensuring structures were in place for hosting “credible elections” where all political parties and candidates can contest fairly.

CMAG alos used the meeting to welcome the adoption of the Charter of the Commonwealth by various heads of government, as well as other key figures in the intergovernmental organisation.

“The charter reaffirmed the Commonwealth’s commitment inter alia to democracy, human rights, the rule of law, separation of powers, freedom of expression, good governance, tolerance, respect and understanding and the role of civil society,” read an official statement. “As the custodian of the Commonwealth’s fundamental political values, [CMAG] pledged to continue to promote these commonly agreed goals.”

Political solution

Following yesterday’s meeting, MDP MP and Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor told Minivan News that considering national democratic developments, he believed the Commonwealth continued to expect three key requirements of the Maldives ahead of elections.

Ghafoor claimed that along with conducting the CNI last year, the Commonwealth has also required free and “inclusive” elections that would allow former president Mohamed Nasheed to stand as the MDP’s candidate. He added that September’s elections were also required to be monitored by experts such as a Commonwealth team in the run up to, and during polling.

Nasheed’s participation in the elections has been in doubt over his ongoing trial for the controversial of a Criminal Court Judge while he was in power – charges that could see him unable to contest in polls this year should he be found guilty. The trial is presently suspended pending a court ruling on the legitimacy of the establishment of the court and panel of judges chosen to overhear the case.

Ghafoor claimed that the MDP, despite previous concerns about the CNI, welcomed the Commonwealth’s commitments for “inclusive” elections, especially considering findings by a number of international legal experts disputing whether Nasheed could expects a free trial as a result of alleged politicisation in the country’s courts.

However, he added that the party also hoped for a transitional administration to replace President Waheed’s government ahead of September’s voting.

“The Commonwealth’s three requirements are welcome, but we would also like to see an interim arrangement that would see this coup administration out,” he alleged. “This is something we believe that can be achieved.”

Ghafoor said that he remained unsure if the Maldives, which last September was retained on the CMAG agenda under its “Matters of Interest”, was still being monitored by the body in terms of the nation’s commitments to human rights.

Ahead of the Maldives removal from suspension of CMAG last September, former Foreign Minister and current UN Special Rapporteur to Iran, Dr Ahmed Shaheed said at the time that the country’s removal from the agenda would be “a travesty” – accusing the government of committing “reprehensible actions” following the CNI report’s release.

“Things are not going well in the Maldives – the government is intent on persecuting Nasheed and the MDP (Maldivian Democratic Party)”, he claimed at the time. “They seem hell bent on repressing the people.”

Ahead of Friday’s CMAG meeting, several NGOs complied a so-called joint human rights brief accusing the Maldivian government of failing to create conditions conducive to free and fair elections

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) alleged there were “clear signs indicating that the coalition government in power since February 2012 has so far failed to set the conditions for free and fair elections in which ‘all parties and leaders are able freely to conduct election campaigns’.”

Meanwhile, Back in January this year, the Maldives was one of two countries to have been dropped from NGO Freedom House’s list of electoral democracies following the release of an annual survey of political rights and civil liberties.

Freedom House is an independent, non-government watchdog organisation dedicated to the expansion of freedom around the world. The NGO assesses and scores countries for political rights and civil liberties each year, and labels them ‘free’, ‘partly free’, or ‘not free’.

Contested inclusion

The Maldives government has continued to contest whether the Maldives should have ever been included on the CMAG agenda.

Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dhunya Maumoon has previously claimed that the country’s inclusion has been a result of a “lack of understanding of the true events that transpired in the Maldives.”

“Some countries” had realised this error and accused Nasheed of influencing CMAG members, she alleged.

In April 2012, Maldives’ permanent representative to the EU Ali Hussein Didi criticised the Commonwealth’s involvement in the Maldives, telling the European Parliament that CMAG lacked a clear mandate to place the Maldives on its agenda.


Freedom House drops Maldives, Mali from list of electoral democracies

The Maldives is one of two countries to be dropped from Freedom House’s list of electoral democracies, in its annual survey of political rights and civil liberties.

The other, Mali, is a landlocked nation in West Africa which experienced a coup d’état on March 21 and is now battling a surge in Islamic extremism, harsh sanctions and foreign military intervention.

Freedom House is an independent, non-government watchdog organisation dedicated to the expansion of freedom around the world. The NGO assesses and scores countries for political rights and civil liberties each year, and labels them ‘free’, ‘partly free’, or ‘not free’.

The Maldives’s political rights rating shifted from three to five (higher is less free) during 2012, “due to the forcible removal of democratically elected president Mohamed Nasheed, violence perpetrated against him and his party, the suspension of the parliament’s summer session, and the role of the military in facilitating these events,” Freedom House stated. Civil liberties remained at a score of four.

The country remained listed as “partly free” for the third time, after being upgraded from ‘not free’ in 2009 following the 2008 presidential election.

According to Freedom House’s definition, a partly free country “is one in which there is limited respect for political rights and civil liberties. Partly free states frequently suffer from an environment of corruption, weak rule of law, ethnic and religious strife, and a political landscape in which a single party enjoys dominance despite a certain degree of pluralism.”

Approximately 46 of the world’s population live in ‘free’ countries, while 47 live in those designated ‘not free’. “Noteworthy gains” in freedom were made in Egypt, Libya, Burma, and the Côte d’Ivoire. Lesotho, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Tonga moved from ‘party free’ to ‘free’.

Full report


Maldives remains “partly free” environment for media: Freedom House

Media freedom has remained steady in the Maldives following significant gains in 2009, according to a report by Freedom House.

The country was found to be a “partly free” environment for media, with the constitution protecting freedom of expression “but also restricting freedom of speech ‘contrary to the tenets of Islam’.”

The report was published prior to the release of new regulations enforcing the Religious Unity Act, which bans media ‘from producing or publicising programs, talking about or disseminating audio ‘that humiliates Allah or his prophets or the holy Quran or the Sunnah of the Prophet (Mohamed) or the Islamic faith’,” imposing a 2-5 year prison sentence.

Freedom House noted that the overall legal framework protecting free expression “remained weak, with many proposed media reform bills still awaiting passage”, however it praised parliament for passing an amendment to the penal code in 2009 decriminalising defamation.

The organisation noted that legislation to transform the state broadcaster, the Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation (MNBC), into the Maldives Broadcasting Corporation, a public broadcaster, “was passed in April 2010, but the government delayed implementing the handover.”

Increased media diversity had improved coverage of major political events, including by the state broadcaster, “though the [MNBC] still suffers from pro-government bias.”

Investigative journalism, Freedom House noted, “remains hampered by the lack of an access to information law and a culture of secrecy at government departments.”

While the formation of the Maldives Media Council (MMC) was “cautiously welcomed”, given the preference of advocacy groups for self-regulation, the elections process was criticised for not being sufficiently transparent, and former members of political parties were nominated as candidates to the Council.”

The MMC is currently facing criticism from the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) for the payment of almost a million rufiya in “living allowances” to Council members beyond their stipulated salaries.

On the advocacy side, Freedom House observed that the Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) “regularly made statements regarding media freedom issues and journalists’ rights during the year, accusing the government and political leaders of interference with the private media in a number of cases”, however it noted that “an alternate group, the Maldives National Journalists’ Association (MNJA), was founded in 2010, reportedly in response to the perceived politicisation of the MJA.”

Private print media had expanded and represented a wide variety of viewpoints, the Freedom House report noted, “however some publications are owned by allies of former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom or other political actors, who exercise considerable control over content. Most newspapers are not profitable and rely on financial backing from businessmen with strong political interests.”

The government had “generally” avoided interfering with internet access, used by approximately 28 percent of the population in 2010, however “the Ministry of Islamic Affairs announced in 2008 that Christian and anti-Islam websites would be blocked, arguing that they could negatively affect belief in Islam, and a number of websites were blocked by the Telecommunication Authority at Ministry’s request during 2009.”

Journalists meanwhile remained subject to “some harassment”, with incidents including an attack in August 2010 on the offices of VTV by “unknown assailants”, “and a police attack on journalists covering a political protest in October.” Verbal attacks included threats against media outlets from Maldives Democratic Party (MDP) MP Reeko Moosa, and repeated death threats against certain bloggers “from Islamist extremists”.