Bill proposes criminalizing ‘expressions contrary to national interest and Islamic tenets’

The Attorney General’s (AG) office has drafted a new law that would criminalise expressions contrary to national interest or tenets of Islam.

The draft legislation (Dhivehi) on freedom of expression – obtained by Minivan News – states that four types of “expressions contrary to national interest” will constitute criminal offences: encouraging harm to a person or damage to private party, calling for the illegal overthrow of the government, threatening the country’s independence, sovereignty, and security, and accusing a person of committing a hadd offence without conclusive evidence.

Free expression can be restricted on the grounds of national security only if the following circumstances arise: if there is a need to protect the nation or its territory, if Maldivians or foreigners threaten national security with the use of force, and if the government’s ability to defend the nation is endangered.

If the state restricts freedom of expression in such cases, the state must show that the right has been restricted as narrowly as possible, that the restriction is permissible in a democratic society, and that the expression in question poses “a serious danger to national security.”

Hadd offences are crimes for which punishments are prescribed in the Quran or the hadith (sayings of the Prophet), including theft, fornication, making unproven accusations of illicit sex, drinking intoxicants, apostasy, and highway robbery.

The punishment for falsely accusing a person of committing a hadd offence is a jail sentence of between one to three years and a fine of between MVR50,000 (US$3,242) and MVR100,000 (US$6,485)

The bill states that encouraging harm or damage to property – excluding calls for a boycott of goods – and calling for the illegal overthrow of the government can be prosecuted under sections 222 (threatening catastrophe) and 610 (rioting or forceful overthrow of the government) of the new penal code.

Expressions that threaten independence, sovereignty, or national security are punishable by a jail sentence of between three to five years and a fine of between MVR100,000 and MVR500,000 (US$32,425).

The bill states that individuals can be prosecuted for the offences if he or she is unable to prove the truth of a claim under standards followed in civil defamation cases.

The freedom of expression bill was among the government’s 207-bill legislative agenda. It was scheduled to be submitted to parliament during the second session of 2014, but has yet to be submitted.

In May, prosecutor general Muhthaz Muhsin said his office was looking into prosecuting opposition politicians for libel and slander following allegations linking President Abdulla Yameen and tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb with the brutal murder of MP Afrasheem Ali in 2012.

“People are acting however they want. They are trying very hard to defame state institutions in front of the public. The constitution does not give us the right to commit crimes hiding behind a political party,” he said.

“People in responsible posts are publicly accusing others of murder. We are researching on pressing charges against individuals who accuses some one of a crime and which the punishment is hadd.”

Later that month, President Abdulla Yameen threatened to prosecute Adhaalath Party president Sheikh Imran Abdulla, who had said the president and tourism minister would know the truth behind the murder.

“I am being accused falsely. This government will penalise them. I want to file charges against those who are making these accusations. Not that of defamation, but criminal charges. I will file charges against Sheikh Imran,” he said.

Religious unity

The Maldivian constitution guarantees “the right to freedom of thought and the freedom to communicate opinions and expression in a manner that is not contrary to any tenet of Islam.”

The draft freedom of expression bill criminalises insulting Islam, questioning the validity of a tenet of Islam, and threatening religious unity or causing religious disputes, strife, and discord.

Persons accused of anti-Islamic expressions can be prosecuted under section 617 (criticising Islam) of the new penal code.

The bill, however, exempts “constructive opinions” expressed respectfully regarding Islamic tenets for academic or research purposes or at a public forum.

The proposed law states that permission must be sought from the Islamic ministry to preach, deliver religious sermons, or inform the public about religious edicts and specifies a fine of between MVR50,000 and MVR100,000 for violations.

Teaching Islam at a school, college, or university without the ministry’s permission will also be punishable with a fine of between MVR10,000 and MVR50,000.

The 1994 religious unity law will be repealed once the proposed law comes into force. The Islamic ministry must enact new regulations on issuing permission based on education and experience and put in place a mechanism for investigating complaints.

Under the new law, the Human Rights Commission of Maldives will investigate complaints of expressions contrary to national interest or Islamic tenets and forward cases to the prosecutor general’s office.

The bill states that defamation will not be considered a criminal offence and specifies civil remedies. The Supreme Court is mandated to enact regulations specifying rules for determining compensation for damages.

Defamation cases can only be heard in cases where the complainant has suffered damages.

Defamation was decriminalised in 2009 when parliament abolished section 125 of the old penal code, which stated: “Where a person makes a fabricated statement or repeats a statement whose basis cannot be proven, he shall be punished with house detention for a period between one to six months or fined between MVR25 and MVR200.”


HRCM raises concern over growing religious conservatism in Universal Period Review

The Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) has submitted its Universal Period Review (UPR) report to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), raising concerns over a growing tide of religious conservatism.

“There are roughly 400 children being withheld from attending school by their parents due to religious beliefs,” revealed the report made public yesterday, referring to an estimate from the education ministry in a 2011 assessment by the HRCM on child participation.

In a section titled ‘religious extremist ideologies,’ the HRCM referred to “reports of unregistered marriages encouraged by some religious scholars claiming that registering marriages with the courts are un‐Islamic and unnecessary.”

“State institutions acknowledge this information and raised concerns that children born to such marriages could face serious legal issues. Similarly women in such marriages are bound to face social and legal consequences,” the report stated.

“Conservative beliefs that promote women as inferior to men are being spread at an alarming level. Many women believe that their role in society is to be submissive wives and in raising children.”

In addition to outlining 18 thematic areas, the report provides updates on implementation of recommendations of the first UPR review in 2010, the HRCM noted.

The UPR is a state-driven process that reviews the human rights records of all 193 UN member states every four years, based on submissions by the government, the UN, NGOs and human rights commissions. The Maldives’ review is scheduled to take place in April or May 2015.


Increase in religious conservatism, cultural norms and stereotypical roles depicted by society inhibit women’s equitable participation in public life,” reads the section on women’s rights.

“Women remain under represented in all branches of the state and efforts to secure legislative quotas remain unsuccessful.”

The enforcement of the anti-Domestic Violence (DV) Act was meanwhile hampered by absence of procedures, inconsistencies in application by institutions, and “lack of sensitivity among law enforcement and judiciary”.

The police also failed to meet a legislative deadline on submitting a report to the family protection agency (FPA), the report noted.

“Limited capacity of investigators and their belief that such cases are family matters inhibit victims from getting redress,” it continued.

“FPA with a mandate to combat DV is not provided with necessary financial and human resources. Reporting of DV cases remain low as a result of lack of confidence in the system, fear of intimidation by perpetrators, stigmatisation and inadequate information on protection measures. There is no proper reintegration mechanism.”

Despite reports to the contrary from the state for the mid-term assessment of implementation of UPR recommendations, the HRCM said there were “no strict punishments to perpetrators of DV”.

The report observed that children born out of wedlock faced discrimination.

Paternity testing is not admissible evidence in court and such a child would be denied father’s name, inheritance and child maintenance,” it stated.

While most reported cases of child abuse did not result in convictions, victims often “remain re‐victimized due to systemic failures” including “delays in obtaining evidence and overly strict evidentiary requirements.”

“The legal age of consent, along with societal attitudes to treat child abuse as private matter or to force child abuse victim to deny testimony in court to protect family honour as perpetrator is usually a family member providing financial support are factors that cannot be disregarded,” it explained.

“Moreover, state has fallen short to publish child sexual offender‘s registry. Additionally, overall functioning of victim support system is effected due to a weak child protection system that is under resourced, with inconsistencies in capacity and coordination.”

The report also noted that child marriages were registered in some cases as “the Family Act allows marriage of minors under specific conditions.”

Children were also “involved in commercial sex work,” the report noted.

“Many children migrate to Malé from atolls for education, remain vulnerable to domestic servitude and sexual harassment by host families,” the report stated.

Civil and political rights

The report noted the absence of laws to guarantee freedom of expression despite its assurance in the Constitution.

“Parliament Privileges Act can be used to force journalist to reveal their source, which could undermine the constitutional protection that journalists currently enjoy,” the report observed.

“There have been many reports of death threats to media persons and parliament members. State is yet to take realistic action to address these threats. The recent disappearance of Ahmed Rizwan Abdullah, a journalist and human rights advocate is of critical concern.”

The HRCM also raised concerns regarding the Freedom of Assembly Act, including “provisions of geographical limitations, lack of guidance on control of counter assemblies and requirement to accredit reporters.”

Human rights NGOs have faced intimidation from the state, it continued, while worker’s association perform the role of trade unions.

“Union members face numerous difficulties in exercising collective bargaining, tripartite consultations and work stoppage, as proper legal mechanism is not in place for dispute resolution,” the report stated.


Journalists association calls on government to amend controversial regulations on publishing literature

The Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) has called on the government to amend controversial new regulations enacted this week that subjects prose and poetry published in the Maldives to government approval.

The MJA contended in a press release yesterday that the regulations were unconstitutional, noting that Article 27 guarantees “the right to freedom of thought and the freedom to communicate opinions and expression in a manner that is not contrary to any tenet of Islam.”

“The Article does not state that free expression could be restricted by law. Only expressions or opinions contrary to a tenet of Islam are restricted,” the MJA observed.

While the MJA urged a proper review of regulations before enforcement or publication in the government gazette, opposition MPs, civil society, and the information commissioner have also criticised the new rules.

The regulations prohibit publishing literary material without seeking authorisation from the national bureau of classification (NBC) – which functions under the youth ministry – and prescribes a fine of between MVR500 (US$32) and MVR5,000 (US$324) for violations.

The regulations define publication of literary material as “as any writing, photograph or drawing that has been made publicly accessible electronically or by way of printing, including publicising or circulating on the internet.”

Publicising poetry was defined as “publishing poetry in writing in any manner, recording it, selling it as a studio album, including it in a film or documentary, broadcasting or telecasting, publicising it on the internet, and or publicising it as a ringtone.”

Following an outcry on social media yesterday, the youth and sports ministry issued a press statement claiming that the rules would not apply to either social media or registered newspapers and online news outlets.

“We note that approving books, poetry and songs published in the Maldives is not a new rule but has been done by this bureau for many years as well as at present,” the statement read.

Information commissioner concerned

Information Commissioner Abdul Azeez Jamal Abubakur told Minivan News today that he met members of the bureau and senior officials at the youth ministry yesterday and expressed his concerns.

“They accepted [the concerns] and said they would release a press statement and would try to amend the regulations through [the People’s] Majlis,” he said.

Azeez suggested that the regulations had “slipped through their fingers” and ended up in a very restrictive or “difficult” form.

“If the regulations are enforced the way it is now, we can’t publish poetry on websites without using a small tactic,” he said.

Azeez referred to the regulations exempting publications from a political party, civil society group, company or state institution to disseminate information among members or staff.

“So we’re writing on our website that this poem is intended for members of this association. So we are able to publish now, but that is a very difficult way,” he said, referring to ‘Liyuntheringe Gulhun’ (Writers Association) website.

Azeez told local media yesterday that the regulations were “unlawful” and would “put a lock” on Maldivian literature, noting that half of literary output in the country was poetry.

“Having to seek approval for a poem in this day and age is a big joke. Paying 50 rufiyaa to approve a poem is also a joke,” he was quoted as saying by newspaper Haveeru.

The former Progressive Party of Maldives MP called the regulations “unacceptable” and questioned whether it could be enforced.


In a message sent to the media yesterday, former Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Shahid contended that the regulations violate the constitutional rights of freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and the freedom to acquire and impart knowledge, information and learning.

Condemning the government’s “decision to impose pre-publication censorship,” the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP said the move was characteristic of a dictatorship.

MDP MP and Spokesperson Imthiyaz Fahmy meanwhile told Minivan News that the government was “going back towards censorship as it had existed prior to the amended constitution of 2008.”

“Back then even a musician would be required to get approval of the government when they would want to release a musical record. That way the government would suppress freedom of speech and artistic works as well,” he said.

Imthiyaz said he was once summoned by a government official who demanded an explanation of the “implicit meaning” of a song he had written.

“Because as far as he was concerned it had an unacceptable and hidden meaning in it. And he further said he wanted my testimony in writing because he would be sending the case for criminal prosecution. Free speech and reporting and literature will be a bitter pill to swallow for this authoritarian government,” he said.

NGO Revive has also expressed concern with the negative impact on Maldivian literature as a result of the regulations.

The arts and culture NGO called on the Dhivehi language academy to review the regulations and “ensure that efforts to promote Dhivehi language could be carried out.”


Maldivians not allowed to express or assemble freely: Maldivian Democracy Network

The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) and the Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) jointly reiterated their call on the government of Maldives to make substantial changes to the laws on assembly and association at a press conference held yesterday (August 17).

“The people of Maldives are not allowed to express or assemble freely, which is a fundamental right they are taking away from them,” argued Shahinda Ismail, Executive Director of MDN.

Changes need to be made in order to meet the country’s constitutional guarantees of fundamental rights and legal obligations under international human rights law, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Maldives is party, read a press release from FORUM-ASIA.

One of the main issues raised at the press conference was the freedom of association law. According to this law, protests cannot take place near schools, mosques, or hospitals, Shahinda told Minivan News.

Malé – the capital of the Maldives – is home to approximately 150,000 residents in 6 square kilometers of land, making it among the most densely populated capitals of the world. Therefore, facilities like schools and mosques are abundant.

“When you really look at Malé, there’s a mosque on every block,” Shahinda argued, “there is hardly any space left for people to demonstrate.”

“The restrictions on protesting must be made in consideration with the geography of the landscape,” she added.

Restriction not regulation

Another point highlighted at the conference was the wide range of powers given to police in controlling demonstrations.

“The problem we see is it doesn’t provide for police to protect demonstrators. It doesn’t regulate the right, it curbs the right [to demonstrate],” Shahinda stated.

“There must be a provision where police engage with demonstrators and try to bring order before deciding to disperse,” she added.

Furthermore, Shahinda the highlighted vague phrases in the legislation, which she fears are open to numerous interpretations.

“The word ‘reasonable’ used many times. It’s very subjective and we don’t feel it’s appropriate to use in the law.”

Another line could be interpreted as restricting right to assembly solely to police, added Shahinda.

“It’s just one line, a sub-section off a sub-section,” she notes, “but it can be interpreted in a number of ways.”

The right to freedom of assembly doesn’t not stand alone, it has to come with freedom expression and association,” Shahinda warned.

Shahinda went on to connect the issues raised to the recent disappearance and feared abduction of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla.

“The problems that people face in freedom of expression – Rilwan is at the height of it,” said Shahinda.

“We opened the press conference raising concern and calling on authorities to speed up the investigation, and we ended on the same note.”

Systemic Failures: Transparency Maldives

Earlier this month, a press release from local NGO Transparency Maldives (TM) revealed they are currently working to reform the Associations Act in order to create a more enabling environment for civil society.

“Governance, transparency and functioning of CBO’s [community based organisations] will improve if the systemic issues in the regulatory framework are addressed,” TM announced.

Christopher Roberts, TM’s consultant on freedom of association, released a set of comments and recommendations discussing the international best practices of freedom of association legislation and to share his experience of freedom of association in transitional democracies.

The report addresses several legal issues with the 2003 Associations Act of the Maldives.

“The definition of associations provided by article 39(a) of the act is circular and inadequate,” states Christopher Roberts, legal expert on freedom of association.

“The law should instead adopt the definition used at the international level,” argued Roberts.


Finding missing journalist of “high priority,” says police

The Maldives Police Services have said finding Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla – believed to have been missing since August 8 – is of “high priority.”

The police held a press conference at 9pm on Sunday night (August 18) and confirmed Rilwan has been seen on CCTV footage wearing black near to the Friday mosque at 12:40am and later around 12:45am at the Hulhumalé ferry terminal in Malé.

However, head of Serious and Organised Crime Department Chief Inspector Abdulla Shatheeh revealed no new information on Rilwan’s disappearance.

According to phone records, Rilwan’s last phone call was made at 10:19pm on August 7 and his last phone activity was at 2:30am on August 8, possibly in the Henveiru ward of Malé.

The phone location conflicts with evidence that points to Rilwan having boarded the Malé – Hulhumalé ferry, including a tweet made at 1:02am reporting seeing local actor Yoosuf Shafeeu onboard the ferry.

Minivan News asked the police if phone records show Rilwan using his phone in Hulhumalé that night, though police declined to comment saying investigations are ongoing.

The police also declined to comment on whether Rilwan may have left the ferry terminal after arriving there. Shatheeh said police are considering all evidence and following all leads.

A police team has been conducting a search in Hulhumalé for the past three days, Shatheeh said, adding that regional police stations have been informed of Rilwan’s disappearance.

The chief inspector called on the public report any new information and pledged protection to any informers or witnesses.

Meanwhile, President Abdulla Yameen’s Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali said the government is “deeply saddened and concerned” over Rilwan’s disappearance.

President Yameen and Muaz are both in China on an official state visit at the moment.

The ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) also expressed concern over Rilwan’s prolonged disappearance and called on law enforcement agencies to expedite investigations.

The party also called on the public and its supporters to support the search.


The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) meanwhile held a protest outside the United Nations (UN) head office in Malé on Saturday night calling for assistance in the investigation of Rilwan’s disappearance.

Speaking at the demonstration, MDP MP Imthiyaz Fahmy called on the UN to “pressure” the government to conduct a speedy and thorough investigation.

“We call on the UN to provide cooperation to all of us, the Maldivian people, in investigating [the disappearance] because we are certain that the government of Yameen Abdul Gayoom cannot investigate the abduction of people, intimidation of journalists, intimidation and death threats to members of parliament, and death threats to ordinary citizens,” Imthiyaz said.

Imthiyaz noted that the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) has brought the matter to the attention of UN and that the MDP has alerted the international community over the disappearance.

“We know that the only party to stand up when the rights of the Maldivian people are violated is the MDP,” he said.

The MDP would not sow discord in society or incite strife, he added, but was protesting over a real and serious issue.

“The reason we suspect that a journalist has been abducted is because that journalist himself has previously received death threats. And the journalist had told the paper that he had been followed,” he said.

He also referred to death threats sent to a number of journalists via text message earlier this month as well as the arson attack against opposition-aligned private broadcaster Raajje TV and near-fatal assault of Raajje TV journalist Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed.

“We don’t see a full investigation being conducted into any of this or [police] finding those behind [the attacks]. This is why we want to bring this to the UN’s attention,” he said.

Fahmy said he had also raised concerns at a workshop organised by the UN yesterday.

While writers who criticised the government were jailed without due process in the past, Imthiyaz contended that journalists were facing the same intimidation and fear after the “toppling” of the MDP government in February 2012.

The government should properly investigate Rilwan’s disappearance “if only to show” that it was not involved, he continued, and called on the police and the Maldives National Defence Force to launch a joint search operation to find Rilwan.

“MDP wishes for the blessing of Allah and for success in the efforts of Rilwan’s friends and family [to find him],” he said, adding that the MDP would do “whatever we can” to ensure that the missing journalist is found.

A free press was essential for good governance, he said, accusing the government of attempting to undermine to “destroy” free media out of fear that its “atrocities” would be exposed to the world.

After rising to 51st in the Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index in 2009 under the MDP government, Imthiyaz noted that the Maldives plummeted to 103rd “after the coup government took over”.


Human Rights Commission VP calls for state response to abductions

Human Rights Commission (HRCM) Vice President Ahmed Tholal has called for an immediate state response to reports of a series of vigilante attacks in the capital over recent days.

“The concern to me is that there needs to be a state response to state very clearly that we cannot just start labelling people un-Islamic as it’s a very dangerous thing,” said Tholal.

After multiple accounts of the abductions and assault of individuals perceived to be supportive of atheism or homosexuality, the HRCM plans to meet with state representatives in order to determine the cause for these events.

“I think the issue of safety of paramount. We’re not very clear why this is happening,” said Tholal. “But I think the key role is what the state response is going to be and putting an end to the speculation – to let the people know what is happening.”

After reports that senior government members met with citizens concerned about the harassment of Islam in the days before the attacks – some of whom have subsequently been linked with the abductions – Minivan News has been unable to obtain a response from the relevant authorities on this issue.

The vigilante group was believed to have been attempting to identify members of online secularist groups – some of which had repeatedly featured content defaming and mocking the prophet.

Freedom and responsibility

Tholal noted that the incidents had raised issues regarding freedom of expression but also the responsibility inherent in the enjoyment of that freedom – noting that the state should take action against criminal activity.

“It’s not just about people who are expressing these opinion,” said Tholal. “For one thing, the freedom of expression is highly sacred, and at the same time so is responsibility.”

Article 27 of the Maldives constitution grants the right to freedom of expression in a manner that is not contrary to any tenet of Islam.

Police began investigations into anti-Islamic comment posted on the ‘Maldives Atheists’ Facebook page in March this year, although no arrests have as yet been made.

Expressing his fear that Maldivian society was becoming less tolerant of diverse opinion, Tholal noted that people’s freedom of expression must be based on understanding rather than intimidation.

“Reinterpretations should be based, not on fear, but on an understanding that there are things you cannot say as they might hurt people or be hateful or incite violence,” he said.


Ismail Hilath Rasheed, a self-exiled blogger who was subjected to multiple attacks as a result of his outspoken calls for freedom of expression has also suggested greater tolerance is needed across Maldivian society.

“Freedom of expression should not be abused as to lead to anarchy and chaos. Such a balanced equilibrium can be obtained only through granting minority rights, which means the sorely missing secularism in the context of Maldives.”

“This is where we need to build bridges – a bridge to gap the gulf between moderates and extremists on all sides,” said the former journalist.

Hilath has suggested that many Maldivians – including himself – were now refraining from expressing themselves due to the current climate of fear.

“With the liberal community now opting to refrain from exercising their right to free expression, the Maldives as a culture and society will plunge into an abyss unless the powers that be give them the courage to come out and contribute to society’s collective creativity, and express free expression without fear,” he said.

A landmark ‘Threat Analysis Report’ by the Maldives Broadcasting Commission earlier this year found 84 percent of journalists surveyed had been threatened at least once, with 27 percent noting a reluctance to cover certain topics.

Journalists identified political parties to be the top source of threat, while gangs and religious extremists – both alleged to have been involved in recent attacks – were next on the list.

Other than coverage of a Maldivian Democratic Party press release expressing concern over the incidents, local media has not reported on the succession of attacks.


Chief Justice threatens action against dissemination of “invalid information”

Legal action will be taken against media organisations or journalists who disseminate false or inauthentic information concerning the judiciary, Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz Hussain has warned.

Speaking at a swearing-in ceremony yesterday (October 27) for seven new judges to the superior courts, the Chief Justice warned of measures against those who report “invalid information, if it relates to courts or judges.”

“Citizens need valid information. Freedom of expression means expressing valid or authentic information. Whether it is information relating to individuals or state institutions, the information conveyed should be valid, there should be no error or deceit in the information,” he said.

“If the court is held in contempt, action will be taken,” he asserted. “I will not allow the court to be [held in] contempt through deception. If the court is [held in] contempt, I will do what I can within the bounds of the law,” Faiz added.

The Chief Justice’s remarks came after the Supreme Court last week ordered police to investigate opposition-aligned private broadcaster Raajje TV for airing a report on October 19 criticising the judiciary.

Raajje TV News Department Head Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed was summoned to the police headquarters last night concerning the investigation of the report, which raised issues surrounding the leaked sex tape of Supreme Court Justice Ali Hameed.

Following the police interrogation, Asward told local media that he was accused of contempt of court over the Raajje TV report criticising the apex court.

Asward said he exercised the right to remain silent in protest of the police taking over the mandate of the Maldives Media Council (MMC) and the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) – the institutions legally empowered to investigate complaints regarding the content of media outlets.

Both the MCC and MBC have expressed concern with the court ordered investigation of Raajje TV, contending that it threatens press freedom and encroaches on the mandate of the media watchdog bodies.

Appealing to the apex court to withdraw the order to investigate, Mohamed Shaheeb from the MBC told local media yesterday that he was informed by Commissioner of Police Abdulla Riyaz that the police were obliged to obey the Supreme Court’s order.

Following an arson attack that destroyed the headquarters of Raajje TV on October 7, Reporters Without Borders criticised the police’s failure to defend the station despite repeated requests for protection.

Moreover, Asward was attacked with an iron bar in February this year while Raajje TV’s offices were vandalised in 2012, with cables severed in the station’s control room.

Judicial reform

Faiz meanwhile contended that altering the composition of the 10-member Judicial Service Commission (JSC) –  consisting of three representatives each from the executive, legislature and judiciary as well as a lawyer elected by licensed practitioners – was necessary to strengthen the judiciary.

In a comprehensive report on the Maldivian judiciary released in May, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Lawyers and Judges, Gabriela Knaul, stated that there was near unanimous consensus during her visit that the composition of the JSC was “inadequate and politicised.”

The issue was also highlighted in a report by the International Committee of Jurists (ICJ) in 2010.

“Because of this politicisation, the commission has allegedly been subjected to all sorts of external influence and has consequently been unable to function properly,” said Knaul.

While the composition of the JSC in the Maldivian constitution was based on the South African model, Faiz said in his speech yesterday that he was told by a retired South African judge that the model had “failed” in his country.

“A lot of people believe that every fault of the JSC is reflected in the judiciary,” Faiz said, adding that proper functioning of the oversight body would benefit the judiciary.

The JSC should work together with the courts following extensive consultation to implement changes to strengthen the judiciary, Faiz suggested.

The JSC should also expedite investigations of complaints concerning judges and “free” them from the allegations to ensure public confidence in the “integrity of judges,” he said.

“If not, the issues we are facing now, what is being said [about the judiciary] now will continue in the same vein,” Faiz said.

However, he added, criticism of the judiciary or “a complaint against a judge” does not warrant disregarding court judgments.

“If the decisions of the courthouse are not enforced, rule of law will not be maintained in this country. The courthouse has been entrusted with upholding rule of law. So the decisions of courts should be and will be enforced in this country,” Faiz asserted.

Under no circumstances could the enforcement of a court decision be delayed or ignored, he stressed.

Faiz revealed that he had spoken to the speaker of parliament regarding a recent Supreme Court judgment, referring to the apex court disqualifying two MPs over an alleged decreed debt.

“I told him that the Supreme Court’s decision must be enforced. There is no question about it. Who will determine if the Supreme Court’s decision is legitimate? Who will determine if the Supreme Court decision was made in accordance with the procedures? It will still be determined by the Supreme Court,” Faiz said.


Maldives failing to uphold international human rights obligations: Forum Asia

The Maldives has failed to uphold its obligations to core international human rights treaties related to freedom of expression, assembly and association, the regional NGO Forum Asia has concluded.

The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (Forum Asia) – a regional human rights NGO with 47 member organisations from 16 Asian countries – evaluated the promotion and protection of these core human rights in the Maldives in regard to September’s presidential elections during their recent mission to the Maldives.

Forum Asia noted the “shortcomings in the laws relating to freedom of assembly”, particularly relating to the “shrinking space” for the exercise of the right to assemble as well as the right of all workers to associate and assemble, during their press conference held Saturday (June 22).

Reports of security forces engaging in excessive use of force to prevent and disburse assemblies, also “concerned” the Forum Asia mission.

Security personnel were urged to exercise restraint and refrain from using excessive force, irritants, or dyes on assemblies, while the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) has been asked to closely monitor and prevent such situations, said Forum Asia.

“We hope that the PIC and the security forces will work together to ensure they are able to resort to reasonable and internationally accepted means while engaging with assemblies,” said Forum Asia’s South Asian Programme Officer Gayatri Khandhadai. “Similarly we hope that all protesters also resort to peaceful and democratic means while exercising their right to assembly.”

“We are particularly also worried about the restrictions placed on journalists covering these protests,” she added.

Khandhadai highlighted that it is unrealistic for journalists to seek accreditation for different types of events – protests, cultural events, etc – given the time and energy involved in the registration process.

“Media is the platform that brings information to the people, so media must have free access. we have requested to amend the laws on the basis of practicality because Maldives also belongs to the civilized world of the 21st century,” said Forum Asia Chairperson Subodh Raj Pyakurel.

“It may be legal to put some kind of regulation and restriction process etc, but this is not legitimate, because one journalist can go anywhere, anywhere, informally,” he noted.

Forum Asia also identified “difficulties faced by the various associations”, including NGOs, professional associations, trade unions, community based organisations, and political parties, in the Maldives attributed to “unclear regulations, especially relating to registration.”

Human rights perspective needed

The limitations codified in the ‘Freedom of Peaceful Assembly Act’ “must be amended to meet constitutional guarantees and international norms”, the organisation stated.

“There has to be a method – on paper and in practice – for what are the different peaceful engagements you have to have with the crowds,” said Khandhadai.

“These rights are particularly important to ensure ahead of elections” and to guarantee peaceful and inclusive elections occur, she added.

The Government of Maldives was also compelled to implement recommendations made by the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) and PIC.

Additionally, political parties were requested to “adopt a human rights perspective and formally include the promotion of human rights in their official agendas and manifestos prior to elections”.

The Forum Asia mission also “implored the Maldives’ government, judiciary, legislature, independent commissions and media to develop and strengthen their engagement with civil society organisations, which are essential for a healthy democracy”.

Meanwhile, civil society and human rights defenders within the Maldives were encouraged to unite in solidarity and engage with the state to promote a culture of human rights in the country, said Forum Asia.

Use of force disastrous

Having less than 10 percent of Male’ available for protests is “quite a worrisome issue”, said Khandhadai.

Unprovoked actions against demonstrators have been seen in the Maldives and it is necessary to identify whether that use of force could have been avoided or not, as well as whether the crowd was posing a threat, noted Khandhadai.

“The points to be taken into consideration are what would have happened if that force was not used,” she explained. “If any other means could have been put in place to disperse that crowd, or even if that crowd needed to be disbursed to start with.”

“I’m particularly worried about the sanction of the use of irritants in a space like Male, which is particularly small… and shrinks the already small area where people can protest,” she continued.

Sanctioned or encouraged use of force within that small space “will become very, very difficult and disastrous even,” Khandhadai added. “The only solution is to promote a culture of peaceful engagement.”

Pyakurel echoed these sentiments and emphasised that holding democratic elections means maximising public mobilization.

“During the elections we always expect that each and every citizen has the opp to interact and understand,” he noted.

“People [protesting] become destructive only when they are restricted, if you don’t restrict them they don’t become destructive,” he continued.

“Discipline is a must but it should be regulated through a very concrete and specific law, not the will of the [police] officer – that creates a problem,” he added.


Raajje TV wins court battle against President’s Office over discriminatory treatment

The Civil Court has today ruled in favour of private broadcaster Raajje TV in its lawsuit against the President’s Office for barring the opposition-aligned television station from President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s press conferences and functions.

“[The court] orders the President’s Office not to discriminate against Raajje TV in providing opportunity to cover functions, events and press conferences,” reads the judgment (Dhivehi).

Judge Ali Rasheed Hussain noted that the President’s Office’s decision to not cooperate with Raajje TV was proven at court by its own admission.

Summoned by parliament’s Government Oversight Committee last week following a complaint filed by Raajje TV, President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad claimed that Raajje TV was not invited to press conferences because the station did not fit criteria or standards of reporting set out by the President’s Office.

According to Masood, the policy of the President’s Office was to invite “responsible and experienced” media outlets, which include private broadcasters DhiTV and VTV, state broadcaster Television Maldives (TVM), newspapers Haveeru and Miadhu, as well as internet publications Sun Online and Minivan News.

Meanwhile, followings its own inquiry into the matter, the Maldives Media Council (MMC) asked the Prosecutor General’s (PG’s) Office to press charges against the President’s Office over what it found to be discriminatory treatment.

The non-cooperation by the President’s Office with Raajjee TV have also been met with condemnation from both international and local NGOs, including the Maldives Journalist Association (MJA).

At the Civil Court trial, the President’s Office, represented by the attorney general, alleged that Raajje TV had attempted to capture video footage of the premises, disrupting internal security at the office.

However, the judge dismissed the claim on the grounds that the President’s Office had the right to file a complaint at the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) over the alleged violation of broadcasting rules.

As the President’s Office was an institution that “served the people,” the judge ruled that the it should also comply with the Maldivian constitution, which guarantees equal treatment and administrative fairness.

Press freedom and freedom of expression were also protected as fundamental rights in the constitution, the judge noted.

Speaking to Minivan News, Chairman of Raajje TV Akram Kamaaluddeen said today’s verdict was a huge success for Raajje TV well as for the Maldivian media.

“Today, the court has guaranteed that no one can meddle with the rights vested in the constitution and that no one can discriminate the media,” he said.

Akram added that he expected Raajje TV to be invited to future press conferences and events at the President’s Office.

Invitation only

Despite the Civil Court judgment, Masood Imad denied that the government failed to cooperate with Raajje TV.

“We talk to them and provide them with answers to their queries. In future too, we will maintain our position of cooperation,” he told Minivan News.

Masood added that he has been in touch with officials at Raajje TV today and invited them for a meeting at the President’s Office tomorrow (April 15)  to “talk out” any differences.

Akram said that he had not been aware of any communication with the President’s Office since the court ruling at time of press.

The Civil Court previously ruled that a similar decision taken by the Maldives Police Service to not cooperate with Raajje TV station was unconstitutional. The Civil Court Judge, issuing the ruling against the Police at the time, said that he believed such a decision was “extremely dangerous and significantly serious” and could result in “chaos and infringement of social harmony.”