Maldives anti-government campaigners have attempted to use this year’s ITB Berlin trade show to draw attention to allegations of police brutality and human rights abuses following the controversial transfer of power back in February 2012.
The Ministry of Tourism last year fell short of its stated aim of welcoming one million visitors to the country during 2012, citing difficulties resulting from media coverage of political turmoil following the change of government that brought President Dr Mohamed Waheed to office.
However, authorities in the country have since pledged to surpass the one million visitor goal in 2013, claiming late last year that the “hard days” were over for tourism in the country following 2012’s political turmoil.
Despite the government’s stance, as part of a so-called silent protest at this year’s ITB event, anti-government campaigners distributed leaflets entitled, ‘the cloudy side of life‘ – a play on the country’s official ‘Sunny Side of Life’ tourism slogan. The publication includes excerpts of reports from the Amnesty International NGO and select quotes from the UN high commissioner for human rights concerning alleged abuses.
“White sandy beaches, dancing palm trees and sparkling cocktails beckon the eager tourist to the Maldives: the emerald Isles in the warm blue Indian Ocean,” the leaflet reads.
“However, a few miles away from your secluded resort island, the same government, backed by the same resort-owners who wave over the honeymooners to the sunny side of life, with their other hand, imposes great injustices, brutality, and human rights abuses on us, the citizens.”
No identification of any organisation or political party in the Maldives affiliated with the leaflet is included on the publication, which accuses the current government of President Waheed of coming to power through a coup and being backed by resort owners advertising at the fair.
It concludes by requesting visitors “reconsider” a decision to visit the Maldives that will “directly fund” alleged human rights abuses and the present “illegal” government.
Last year, a Commonwealth-backed Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) report welcomed by the US and the UN rejected accusations that the present government came to power illegally, despite claims from former President Nasheed that the report’s conclusions were flawed and failed to include key witness statements and evidence. These allegations were later backed by Fathimath Dhiyana Saeed, a one time SAARC Secretary General and Former Human Rights Minister under the current government who was dismissed from her post late last year.
ITB Berlin, which ran this year from March 6 until yesterday (March 10), is one of the world’s largest tourism shows and was attended by Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb, as well as a host of local tourism industry figures.
Adheeb was not responding to calls from Minivan News at the time of press,while Deputy Tourism Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal was not in the country when contacted.
Speaking back in January this year, Tourism Minister Adheeb said he was confident the industry could meet it goals of bringing one million visitors to the Maldives in 2013, despite falling short of this mark by 40,000 people in 2012.
“There were a lot of hiccups last year with the political turmoil that the country experienced. It is important that we do not compare ourselves to other destinations like Sri Lanka or Seychelles, as our tourism market is very different. We have a high-value tourism market,” he said at the time. “We will formulate a strategy to go forward this year.”
Following last year’s transfer of power, the incoming government of President Waheed sought to utilise public relations groups and advertising to try and offset the perceived impact of negative news headlines following the transfer of power.
This focus included agreeing a US$250,000 (MVR 3.8million) advertising deal to promote the country’s tourism industry on the BBC through sponsorship of its weather services, as well as signing a £93,000 per month (US$150,000) contract with public relations group Ruder Finn to try and improve the country’s image internationally.
Former President Mohamed Nasheed last year called for a tourism boycott of the Maldives, as he continued to question the legitimacy of the government of President Waheeed – his former vice president.
However, these calls were soon dropped by Nasheed and supporters of the now opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), which is still pressing for early elections.
Despite wider fears about the impact of political uncertainty on holidaymakers, Deputy Tourism Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal claimed back in September 2012 that “the hard days” were over for the Maldives tourism industry following the release of the CNI’s findings.