Maldives

 

  • Maldives: Still no justice for abducted Maldives journalist

    Four years after the disappearance of journalist Ahmed Rilwan, the criminal court has acquitted two suspects on trial for abducting him.

     

  • Attacks on opposition and media continue as elections approach in Maldives

    • State slaps opposition supporters with spurious “terrorism” charges ahead of elections
    • Opposition campaign offices and members’ properties attacked and vandalised
    • New cumbersome visa requirements for foreign journalists adds to media restrictions
    • Global human rights groups call for probe into attacks and an end to media repression

       

    • CIVICUS at UN Human Rights Council: Human rights challenges in the context of countering terrorism

      37th Session of the UN Human Rights Council
      Oral Statement – Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism

      1 March 2018

      CIVICUS, on behalf of the Civic Space Initiative, welcomes the Special Rapporteur’s report on the human rights challenge of states of emergency in the context of countering terrorism.

      This Council has reaffirmed that the most effective means of countering terrorism is through the respect for human rights, including by addressing conditions conducive to terrorism such as a lack of respect for the rule of law, political exclusion, suppression of dissent.

      Worryingly, from the Maldives, to France, to Turkey, to Ethiopia, governments across the world are invoking states of emergency, with the effect, and in some cases the intent, of criminalising dissent and persecuting human rights defenders, protesters and civil society organisations. Rather than pursue legitimate national security objectives, these laws are applied to insulate governments from legitimate criticism. Such measures are contrary to international human rights law and are counter-productive to peace and security.

      We urge states to heed the Human Rights Committee’s guidance that the right to freedom of peaceful assembly should not be derogated, and we consider the same to be true for other rights essential to civil society.

      All national counter-terrorism laws must be brought into compliance with international human rights law, with the full and effective participation of civil society. We call on States that are currently under States of Emergency to ensure their independent review by the judiciary, and to end them where they are no longer justified by the exigencies of the situation.

      We ask the Special Rapporteur how the Human Rights Council can better support the UN Security Council in addressing the shrinking of civic space, to provide accountability for abuses of counter-terrorism measures against persons exercising their rights to freedom of assembly, association and expression.

       

    • Country recommendations on civic space for Universal Periodic Review

      CIVICUS makes joint UN Universal Periodic Review submissions on civil society space in Honduras, Malawi and Maldives

      CIVICUS and its partners have made joint and stand-alone UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) submissions on 3 countries in advance of the 36th UPR session (May 2020). The submissions examine the state of civil society in each country, including the promotion and protection of the rights to freedom of association, peaceful assembly and expression and the environment for human rights defenders. We further provide an assessment of the States’ domestic implementation of civic space recommendations received during the 2nd UPR cycle over 4 years ago and provide a number of targeted follow-up recommendations.

      Honduras (Español) - En Honduras, CIVICUS, la Red Latinoamericana y del Caribe para la Democracia (REDLAD) y la Asociación de Organismos No Gubernamentales (ASONOG) abordan sus preocupaciones relativas a la criminalización y represión de las protestas, fenómeno de larga data que afecta particularmente a estudiantes y personas defensoras del territorio y el medio ambiente, y que se intensificó en reacción a las protestas gatilladas por los cuestionados resultados de las elecciones de noviembre de 2017. El informe también aborda el tema de los persistentemente elevados niveles de violencia que hacen de Honduras uno de los países más peligrosos del mundo para las personas defensoras de derechos humanos y periodistas, y en particular para quienes denuncian la corrupción y los impactos de megaproyectos extractivos.

      Malawi- CIVICUS, Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) and Centre for the Development of People (CEDEP)address unwarranted restrictions on civic space since Malawi’s last UPR examination. Acute implementation gaps were found regarding the rights to the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression as well as issues relating to protection of HRDs. We remain alarmed that Malawi has failed to bring its criminal code into compliance with the principles of the International Convention of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) regarding criminal penalties for same-sex conduct, despite promising to uphold these agreements.

      Maldives - The submission by CIVICUS and FORUM-ASIA highlights that while there have been some civic space reforms undertaken by the new government that came to power in November 2018 there are still implementation gaps. There have been ongoing reports of harassment of and threats against human rights defenders, particularly by extremist groups, and there has been a lack of effective action by law enforcement agencies. There are also concerns by the slow progress in undertaking comprehensive reforms of the laws related to the freedoms of association and peaceful assembly.

      See all of our UPR submissions here.

       

    • MALDIVES: ‘We have come a long way, but more needs to be done to further open up civic space’

      SaafathCIVICUS speaks about the situation of women’s rights in Maldives with Safaath Ahmed Zahir, founder and president of Women & Democracy (W&D). 
       
      Founded in 2016, W&D is a civil society organisation (CSO) that promotes women’s economic and political participation and good democratic governance in the Maldives through research, advocacy and awareness-raising activities. 
       
      What led you to become an activist and found a women’s rights CSO?
       Growing up in Maldives, a small island developing nation, the disparities between men and women became evident to me. I came from a majority-women family and witnessed the personal upheavals that my mother endured and how much my family battled for my education. Returning home after studying abroad was an eye-opener for me. In interviewing for a job, I experienced first-hand the deep-rooted patriarchal culture and the double standards women face on a daily basis. So I decided to put my education to good use: to push for women’s rights and empowerment in my country.

      I first played a role in creating Women on Boards, a CSO promoting gender diversity in the workplace. This inspired me to try to contribute further to building the organisational infrastructure and community to support women’s economic and political participation in Maldives. The organisation I founded, W&D, is now one of the most prominent in Maldives, with over 300 members, 200 of them aged between 18 and 29.

      What are the main women’s rights challenges in Maldives?

      Maldives ranked 106 out of 144 nations in the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report. Women are marginalised in the political sphere due to institutional barriers, discriminatory cultural practices and social norms. Despite being roughly half of the population, having a 98 per cent literacy rate and actively participating in political parties, in 2009 only 6.5 of members of parliament were women. The proportion fell to 5.9 per cent in 2013, and again to 4.6 per cent in 2019. Currently, only four out of 87 parliamentarians are women, and few women hold senior public sector roles.

      With the passing of the Decentralisation Act, which allocates 33 per cent of local council seats to women, there has been some progress in local governance. The Maldives’ women development committees are an important platform for women to enter into politics and to participate in the decision-making process at local and national levels. But many barriers still limit their fulfilment of their mandate. They should be empowered to achieve true decentralisation.

      Women continue to take on the burden of childcare and domestic chores, which makes it difficult for women to engage in economic activities on a par with men. Female labour force participation in Maldives is higher than in other South Asian countries, but women tend to be clustered in low-growth sectors and in lower-paying positions, and they earn less than men. While tourism is the lifeblood of our economy, women make up only seven per cent of the tourism labour force.

      Women’s entrepreneurship is generally underdeveloped, and women’s economic contribution tends to be rendered invisible, particularly in major sectors such as tourism, fisheries, construction and wholesale and retail trading. Gendered economic inequalities were exacerbated under the pandemic, reversing what little progress had been made over previous years.

      Gender-based violence also remains an entrenched problem. One in three women aged between 15 and 49 have experienced physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives. There is a great need for more and better infrastructure to support survivors.

      In sum, a clear female disadvantage persists. Regulatory institutions must be strengthened to solidify existing gender equality gains and mitigate gender inequalities.

      How is civil society in general, and W&D in particular, working to address these challenges?

      Women’s rights CSOs have been working to address these challenges for several years, through capacity development workshops, advocacy campaigns, movement-building and creating opportunities for women and girls.

      Six years on from its founding, W&D has become a leading CSO working to protect the rights and improve the lives of women. We particularly advocate for women’s safety, economic and political leadership and for inclusive democratic governance.

      Since 2018, we have conducted an annual capacity development programme to advance women’s leadership and political empowerment in partnership with the International Republican Institute. In three years, more than 680 women aspiring to public office and political leadership have taken part in our training activities. In the 2021 elections for local councils and women’s development committees, 83 women who successfully completed our training were elected.

      During the pandemic, we launched a rapid response programme for vulnerable women and girls. In response to the dramatic increase in reports of domestic abuse, we established a domestic violence and mental wellness helpline to help women seek the assistance of the relevant authorities, undertake safety planning and connect them with wellbeing resources. We provided survivors with psychosocial counselling and referred the most urgent cases to emergency shelters or other safe spaces. With a grant from the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust (QCT) we were able to assist 130 women.

      Also with QCT support, we worked to improve access to menstrual materials for vulnerable women and girls. Approximately 10,500 sanitary materials were distributed as part of our rapid response programme. We have just received additional support to continue our rapid response programme. We expect to assist at least 240 more women and girls within the next eight months.

      Additionally, in partnership with the Commonwealth Foundation we have hosted multi-stakeholder discussions and consultations with vulnerable populations, relevant government bodies and CSOs to offer policy reforms to address the needs of the most vulnerable.

      This year we implemented a project to help strengthen the capacity of CSOs and community-based organisations working towards women’s empowerment and social development in Maldives. We brought together more than 160 people from various organisations.

      How has civil society in Maldives joined the recent global mobilisation wave against gender-based violence?

      Over the past seven years there have been many street mobilisations, mainly condemning rape and demanding justice for sexual crimes against women and girls and children in Maldives. Protection gaps in rape laws and barriers to accessing justice have perpetuated the prevalence of sexual violence and the lack of justice for survivors. The dire state of women’s safety in Maldives was highlighted by the 2016 Demographic Health Survey conducted by the Ministry of Health, which showed that one in every four women in relationships had faced physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime. In recent years, the Maldivian community has become more outspoken on the issue, particularly amidst the #MeToo movement, where a lot of Maldivian women came forward with their experiences.

      Throughout 2020 and 2021, there were multiple street mobilisations spurred by cases of sexual violence and injustice. In early 2020, following a case of sexual abuse of a two-year-old girl by her relatives, outraged citizens protested against rape and urged the government to protect children from predators. The authorities again came under criticism in mid-2020 after a foreign woman was sexually assaulted and the suspects were released from custody, with reports soon following that one of them was in a position of influence. People gathered outside parliament to protest against rape and impunity.

      Following the exacerbating effects of the pandemic on violence and abuse against women and girls, protesters rallied again in 2021 The government has taken steps to address these problems. It ratified the First Amendment to the Sexual Offences Act to improve the definition of rape and strengthen investigations, including by removing burdensome evidence requirements. In 2021, it also criminalised marital rape, marking a significant milestone for the women’s rights movement. But there is still a lot of progress to be made in combating the violence and abuse faced by women and children.

      How has the space for civil society action evolved over the past few years?

      As a relatively new democracy, the Maldives has taken significant steps towards ensuring civic space freedoms, but there is still a lot of room for improvement.

      Following the November 2018 elections, Maldives has experienced legislative reforms and a relative opening up of civic space. A commission was established to probe unresolved disappearances. Maldives drastically improved its position in the World Press Freedom Index, moving from 142 to 87 out of 180 countries. This was made possible by reforms such as the repeal of the 2016 defamation law.

      While Maldives has come a long way since its first democratic election back in 2008, more needs to be done to further open up civic space. Over the years, human rights defenders have been targeted and subjected to verbal attacks, including hate speech and death threats, while women activists have faced online vilification and threats due to their work for women’s rights.

      CSOs are also under pressure from extremists and hate groups, whose influence in limiting the social and cultural lives and roles of women has persisted. There have been instances of religious scholars advocating for girl child marriage and female genital mutilation, and attempts to suppress women advocates who speak out against these grave violations of women’s rights. Women human rights defenders are specifically targeted and face additional and gender-specific challenges, including threats of sexual violence and rape.

      What kind of international support does the Maldives’ women’s rights movement need?

      We need the continued support of international partners and collaborators to maintain and advance our work to empower women. As our movement is mainly composed of CSOs, we rely on the generosity of international organisations that identify with our mission to be able to continue to run the projects that are making a difference in Maldives.

      We also need continued opportunities for dialogue and collaboration with the international community. The exchange of ideas and information among countries and cultures is inspiring and empowering for women and girls in Maldives, particularly in the areas of business and politics.

      International support for Maldivian civic space also plays a significant role in furthering women’s empowerment. This is largely achieved by developing the skill sets of CSOs through workshops and programmes run by our international partners and collaborators.

      Vocal support from the international community for the Maldives women’s rights movement is also crucial. While we have faced obstacles, CSOs in Maldives have persevered in promoting women’s rights and we will continue to do so alongside our international partners and supporters.


      Civic space in Maldives is rated ‘obstructed’by the CIVICUS Monitor.

      Get in touch with Women & Democracy through its website or Facebook page, and follow @wdmaldives on Twitter.

       

    • Maldives: amend provision in the evidence act that compels journalists to reveal sources

      The undersigned 10 organizations call on the government of Maldives to repeal or amend the deeply problematic provision in the Evidence Act (Act No. 11/2022) that compels journalists to reveal sources on court orders and to ensure the rights to privacy, freedom of expression and the press in line with international human rights law.

       

    • Maldives: Civil society groups call for better respect for civic freedoms in report to the UN

      Joint statement on Maldives ahead of human rights review in 2020

      Civil society groups CIVICUS and FORUM-ASIA have submitted information to the UN Human Rights Council on civic freedoms in the country ahead of its review in 2020. While welcoming the human rights improvements undertaken by the new government since it came to power, the submission highlights ongoing restrictions to freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression, and unwarranted restrictions on human rights defenders since its previous examination in 2015.

      The UN Human Rights Council will review the Maldives’ human rights record at its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in May 2020. This marks five years since its last review, when UN member states made 258 recommendations to the Maldivian government including 16 recommendations that directly relate to barriers to open civic space. They included protecting journalists, human rights defenders and other civil society actors and creating an enabling environment for them. Other recommendations include guaranteeing freedom of expression and the media and upholding freedom of assembly. As of today, the government has only partially implemented these recommendations.

      The report welcomes the significant strides by the government in opening up the space for the exercise of fundamental freedoms, establishing a commission to probe unresolved disappearances and reviewing legislation restricting civic space since its last UPR examination We also welcome the proposed bill to protect whistleblowers. However, there are still implementation gaps with regard to the protection of human rights defenders and the freedom of expression.

      Our organisations are alarmed by ongoing reports of harassment of and threats against human rights defenders and journalists, particularly by extremist groups, and the lack of effective action by law enforcement authorities. We also concerned by efforts to silence civil society groups as illustrated most recently by the decision to “temporarily suspend” the Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN), a leading human rights organization following accusations of blasphemy. This is a regressive move that sets a dangerous precedent for freedom of expression and association, and threatens the positive steps towards restoration of fundamental freedoms and human rights. The government must reverse its decision to suspend MDN, and create a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders and organisations to carry out their legitimate work without fear of reprisals and harassment.

      On freedom of expression, we welcome the repeal of the Anti-Defamation and Freedom of Expression Act, enacted in 2016, which was systematically used against the media, opposition activists and dissidents. However, we remain concerned about threats and attacks on government critics. In January 2019, Ibrahim Ismail, the chairman of Mandhu College and a former lawmaker, came under attack for criticising the sentencing of a woman to death by stoning for adultery.

      The report also highlights the slow progress in undertaking comprehensive reforms of the laws related to the freedoms of association and peaceful assembly. The Freedom of Peaceful Assembly Act 2013 imposes undue limitations on assemblies and gives the police wide discretion in granting permission and must reviewed. We also urge any revisions to the Associations Act – which was often used by the previous government to stifle critical civil society groups – to be consistent with international human rights law and standards.

      The Universal Periodic Review of the Maldives is an important opportunity for the Maldives to display its commitments toward human rights reforms. We have seen encouraging developments but much more needs to be done. In the lead up to the UPR review we call on the Maldives government to increase its efforts to fulfil the commitments made in the 2015 review and systematically consult with civil society on the implementation of UPR recommendations, including by holding periodical comprehensive consultations with a diverse range of civil society.

      We also urge the international community to support both the people and the government of the Maldives in addressing the shortcomings in the protection of civic freedoms as well as work of human rights defenders in the Maldives. International scrutiny is necessary to sustain the improvement we have seen in the Maldives over the past year, and ensure any positive reforms made are not reversed.

      The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in countries across the globe, rates the space for civil society in the Maldives as Obstructed 


      For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact: Josef Benedict, CIVICUS Civic Space Research Officer,  
       

       

    • Maldives: One year later, no justice for Yameen Rasheed

      On the anniversary of the killing of the popular Maldivian blogger and social media personality, Yameen Rasheed, Amnesty International and CIVICUS call on the Maldivian authorities to bring his killers to justice.

      In a shocking murder that marked a worrying attack on freedom of expression and sent a shiver of fear throughout Maldivian civil society, Yameen Rasheed, 29, was found stabbed to death on 23rd April 2017 outside his apartment building. He had received multiple death threats before his murder, which he had reported to the police.

      “One year later, we have seen no action from the Maldivian authorities. Not only did they fail to protect Yameen during his lifetime, they have also failed to effectively investigate his murder and hold his killers accountable. His loved ones and friends should not have to wait any longer for justice,” said Dinushika Dissanayake, Deputy Director for South Asia at Amnesty International.

      The killing of blogger Yameen Rasheed took place against the backdrop of tightening restrictions on freedom of expression on the Indian Ocean island nation. The Maldivian authorities have been harassing journalists, activists and other peaceful human rights defenders – a trend that has intensified this year, ever since a state of emergency was imposed on 5 February 2018.

      “The Maldivian authorities have a duty to protect human rights defenders and create an enabling environment where their rights are guaranteed. Instead, we have seen an even further shrinking of civic space to the point where people are being punished for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, peaceful of assembly and association,” said Josef Benedict, Civic Space Research Officer at CIVICUS.

      Background

      On 5 February 2018, the Maldives imposed a state of emergency for 45 days, arbitrarily detaining Supreme Court judges, members of the political opposition, outlawing peaceful protests, and imprisoning people solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. 

      While some protestors have since been released, many of those arrested during the state of emergency remain under detention.

       

    • Maldives: release judges immediately and respect citizens' civic freedoms

      Global civil society alliance CIVICUS and the Voice of Women (VOW) Maldives condemn the ongoing attacks on the Maldivian judiciary, which has included targeting judges for simply upholding the rule of law and the constitution.  On 6 February 2018 authorities arrested Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed and Judge Ali Hameed, just one day after President Abdulla Yameen declared a 15-day state of emergency.   Justice Saeed is now in an intensive care unit at the Indira Ghandi medical Hospital in the capital, Male.

       

    • Repression in Paradise: Assault on fundamental freedoms in the Maldives

      The Maldives, an archipelago of islands in the Indian Ocean, was thrown into a political crisis on 1 February 2018 when the country's Supreme Court ordered the release and retrial of a group of opposition politicians, including exiled former president Mohamed Nasheed. President Yameen Abdul Gayoom refused to comply with the ruling, leading to mass protests in the capital, Malé.In response, the President declared a state of emergency, provided the security forces with sweeping powers and suspended constitutional rights. He also removed and arrested two Supreme Court judges.

       

    • Repression in Paradise: Rule of Law and Fundamental Freedoms Under Attack in The Maldives, says new report

      Media Release

      The Government of the Indian Ocean island nation of The Maldives is undermining the rule of law and intensifying a brutal crackdown on its critics.

      That’s the finding of a new report released today by global civil society alliance CIVICUS and Voice of Women (VoW), in a deepening crisis that has drawn international condemnation.  

      The Republic of Maldives is a nation made up of 26 coral atolls and 1,192 individual islands.

      The report marks exactly three months since the country’s Supreme Court ordered the release of scores of arrested opposition politicians and activists. 

      The government of Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom responded to the ruling by imposing a state of emergency and arresting two Supreme Court judges. 

      The report, entitled Repression in Paradise, highlights how the judiciary has been undermined through the judges’ arbitrary arrest, while scores of opposition politicians and activists face a variety of trumped up charges, ranging from bribery to terrorism. Local human rights groups have also documented the ill-treatment of these detainees in custody. 

      Over the last two months, the authorities have repressed all forms of dissent including violently breaking up peaceful demonstrations, arbitrarily arresting and detaining protesters, attacking journalists and threatening news organisations with closure.

      CIVICUS and VoW have condemned the acts of repression and called for an end to the crackdown and the immediate release of detainees.

      Said Josef Benedict, CIVICUS Asia-Pacific Research Officer: “The Maldives authorities must drop the baseless and politically-motivated criminal charges against the two Supreme court judges and release them, as well as all those who have been arbitrarily detained under the state of emergency, solely for exercising their democratic, human rights.”

      “Steps must also be taken to ensure that the judiciary can operate in an independent and transparent manner without interference,” said Benedict.

      During this crackdown, police have used unnecessary force to disperse peaceful demonstrations, in some case indiscriminately, using pepper spray and tear gas. At least a dozen journalists have been injured while covering protests, with reporters being arrested and ill-treated. The police also used unnecessary force to disperse peaceful demonstrations, in some case indiscriminately using pepper spray and tear gas.

      Said Mohamed Visham, a journalist at Avas News: “It is appalling that journalists and demonstrators have suffered violence from the police, simply for exercising the fundamental right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.”

      “The safety of journalists must be ensured at all times and authorities must launch prompt, impartial and independent investigations into all reports of unnecessary or excessive use of force by the police,” said Visham.

      Despite the hostile environment, human rights defenders and civil society organisations (CSOs) in the Maldives have bravely spoken out against these restrictions. CSOs have documented human rights violations and sought to expose them nationally and internationally. However, many Maldivians are seriously concerned that repression will prevent elections, due to be held later this year, from being free, fair and inclusive.

      “The international community cannot stand idly by and watch this onslaught on fundamental freedoms in the Maldives. In the lead up to the elections, key countries and international allies must call on the government to halt their attacks on the opposition and civil society and ensure that all institutions in the Maldives respect the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression,” said Aazima Rasheed, President of the Voice of Women (VoW).

      The space for civil society in The Maldives is rated as obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civic space in every country. An obstructed rating indicates that power holders contest civic space, undermine CSOs and constrain the fundamental civil society rights to freedom of association, peaceful assembly and expression.

      Note to Editors:
      Background on the crisis

      The Republic of Maldives, an archipelago of islands in the Indian Ocean, was thrown into a political crisis on 1st February, 2018 when the country's Supreme Court ordered the release and retrial of a group of opposition politicians, including exiled former president Mohamed Nasheed. President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom refused to comply with the ruling, leading to mass protests in the capital, Male. In response, President Yameen declared a state of emergency on 5th February, which gave the security forces sweeping powers and suspended constitutional rights. 

      While the state of emergency was lifted on 22nd March 2018, arrests of government critics have persisted. Maldives is due to hold its presidential elections later in 2018.

      In February, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein condemned the declaration of the state of emergency and raised concerns that the resulting suspension of constitutional guarantees would lead to a greater number of violations of the rights of people in the Maldives.

      On 16th April 2018, the UN Human Rights Committee found that restrictions on former President Nasheed’s right to stand for office violated his rights to political participation under Article 25 of the ICCPR and called on Maldives to restore this right. The government however has rejected this call.

      CIVICUS
      CIVICUS is an international alliance dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society around the world. In order to do so, we focus on protecting the rights of civil society, strengthening civil society good practices and increasing civil society’s influence.
      www.civicus.org 
      https://monitor.civicus.org/country/maldives/ 
      Twitter: @CIVICUSAlliance

      Voice of Women
      Voice of Women (VoW) is an non-governmental organisation officially registered in the Maldives since 2011. VoW focuses on empowering women; generating opportunities to effect change; promoting awareness on sustainable development, environment, and climate change; building respect for human rights and democracy in the Maldives; as well as documenting human rights violations, domestic violence, and sexual abuse in the Maldives.
      www.voiceofwomen.org 
      Twitter: @VofW

      For more information, or to arrange interviews, please contact:
      Josef Benedict
      josef.benedictATcivicus.org

      Grant Clark
      grant.clarkATcivicus.org
      +27 63 567 9719
       

       

    • Six countries added to watchlist of countries where civic freedoms are under serious threat

      • Bangladesh, Maldives, Cameroon, DRC, Guatemala, Nicaragua join global watchlist
      • Escalating rights violations include killings, attacks on protesters, media, opposition
      • Neighbours, international community must pressure governments to end repression

      Six countries in Asia, Latin America and Africa have been added to a watchlist of countries which have seen an escalation in serious threats to fundamental freedoms in recent weeks and months.

      The new watchlist released by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society across the globe, identifies growing concerns in Bangladesh,  Maldives, CameroonDemocratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)Guatemala, and Nicaragua. Activists and civil society organisations in these countries are currently experiencing a severe infringement of civic freedoms, as protected by international law.

      Violations include brutal attacks by police on peaceful protests in Nicaragua and Bangladesh; the murder of human rights defenders in Guatemala; the killing of protesters and a brutal state campaign against activists and the political opposition in the DRC; and the prosecution of human rights defenders and journalists on fabricated charges in Cameroon, amidst an escalating civil conflict.

      “It is deeply concerning to see escalated threats to basic rights in these countries,” said Cathal Gilbert, CIVICUS Civic Space Research Lead.

      “It is crucial that these six governments wake up to their failure to respect international law and take swift action to respect their citizens’ most basic freedoms in a democratic society,” Gilbert said.

      “We also call upon neighbouring states and international bodies to do put pressure on these countries to end the repression.”

      Over the past year, authorities in Bangladesh have used repressive laws to target and harass journalists and human rights defenders, restrict freedom of assembly and carry out the enforced disappearances of opposition supporters. The human rights situation has deteriorated further ahead of national elections scheduled for late 2018. Members of the Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL), the student wing of the ruling party Bangladesh Awami League (BAL), have attacked student activists, academics and journalists with impunity.

      In Nicaragua, at least 300 people have been killed since protests began in April 2018, with hundreds more kidnapped or missing. The demonstrations were initially sparked by regressive changes to the social security system but grew to include calls for President Daniel Ortega to resign in the wake of his brutal repression of peaceful protests. While large-scale marches have subsided in recent days, some continue amid a tense political situation as the Ortega government continues to silence critics despite agreements struck with international bodies, and an undertaking to allow an IACHR investigation into the violence. Attacks on protestors are perpetrated both by state forces and armed groups aligned with the government.

      This year, between January and July alone, at least 18 human rights defenders (HRDs) were killed in Guatemala. There were also two assassination attempts and 135 other attacks, with 32 of those aimed at women HRDs. In early August, United Nations Special Rapporteurs issued a statement raising the alarm at the spike in killings in 2018. Reports from Guatemala indicate that the space for civil society has worsened due to land disputes and actions by corporate interests, the source of targeted violence against specific groups of activists.

      Despite the announcement that Congolese president Joseph Kabila will not run for a third term, tensions are still high in the DRC, ahead of scheduled elections in December.  In recent months, protestors, youth movements, human rights defenders, journalists and the political opposition have all faced widespread state repression, including arrests. In June this year, CSOs and UN Special Rapporteurs expressed serious concerns about a planned new law that would give authorities power to dissolve non-governmental organisations (NGOs) over public order or national security concerns.

      In Maldives, a widespread crackdown on dissent began in February 2018 when a court ordered the release of opposition leaders. This decision led to the arbitrary arrest of judges, scores of opposition politicians and activists as well as the use of unnecessary force by police to disperse peaceful demonstrations. There are also documented cases of people being ill-treated in detention. With elections due on 23rd September 2018, civic space is likely to become increasingly contested. Already in May 2018, the Electoral Commission moved to bar four opposition leaders from running in the upcoming presidential elections.

      In Cameroon, an escalating conflict in the country’s Anglophone regions between armed separatists and the government has sparked a mounting humanitarian crisis. It began as protests in 2016, resulting in state repression of protests and the arrest and prosecution of protest leaders. The conflict intensified in recent months with killings and human rights violations committed by both sides. At least 100 civilians, 43 security officers and an unknown number of armed separatists have reportedly been killed, according to an International Crisis Group report. NGOs and human rights defenders have also been targeted.

      In the coming weeks, the CIVICUS Monitor will closely track developments in each of these countries as part of efforts to ensure greater pressure is brought to bear on governments. CIVICUS calls upon these governments to do everything in their power to immediately end the ongoing crackdowns and ensure that perpetrators are held to account.

      ENDS.

      For more information, please contact:

      Cathal Gilbert

      Grant Clark

       

    • THE MALDIVES: ‘Civic space is practically nonexistent now’

      CIVICUS speaks to Shahindha Ismail, Executive Director of the Maldivian Democracy Network, about the ongoing crackdown on dissent and the upcoming presidential elections in the Maldives.

      widespread crackdown on dissent began in the Maldives in February 2018 when a court ordered the release of opposition leaders. This decision led to the arbitrary arrest of judges, scores of opposition politicians and activists who face a variety of trumped-up charges from bribery to terrorism. Police also used unnecessary force to disperse peaceful demonstrations, and in some cases, indiscriminately used pepper spray and tear gas. There are also documented cases of people being ill-treated in detention. At least a dozen journalists were injured while covering protests, with reporters being arrested and ill-treated.

      With elections due on 23rd September 2018, civic space is likely to become increasingly contested. Already in May 2018, the Electoral Commission moved to bar four opposition leaders from running in the upcoming presidential elections.

      This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

      1. What is the state of civil society freedoms in the Maldives ahead of the elections?

      Civic space is practically nonexistentnow and has been for a few years. No one but those who support the government are allowed to speak freely or assemble. All rallies organised by the political opposition or civil society are dispersed, and their organisers and participants are arrested. The police intimidate people. Defamation is criminalised, and this has been a challenge, as media houses and individuals are fined millions of Rufiyaa and face the prospect of imprisonment for expressing themselves or broadcasting alternative views.

      Those working in countering radicalism and violent extremism also face violent threats, including the possibility of disappearance or murder, from vigilante groups sanctioned by the government. These groups operate with full impunity and have targeted organisations and individuals promoting tolerance, offering alternate narratives and promoting secularism.

      2. Can you tell us about the work of the Maldivian Democracy Network, and how it has been affected?

      The Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) was founded in September 2004, following the mass arrests of August 2004, and was originally named Maldivian Detainee Network. It began as a torture documentation civil society organisation (CSO) and focused on assisting detainees and their families and fostering the establishment of a network of families that could support one another. Two years later, after several delays, MDN finally achieved registration with the Ministry of Home Affairs. In 2010 MDN amended its statutes and changed its name to Maldivian Democracy Network, following the introduction of a new Constitution that recognised most of the detainee rights that MDN advocated for. Presently MDN conducts a wide range of work, including monitoring parliament, monitoring trials and advocating for detainee rights, protecting human rights defenders, advancing the rights to freedom of expression and assembly, and countering violent extremism.

      In the current situation we have to do most of our work underground, and anything that we do publicly requires extra care. As human rights defenders (HRDs), we are constantly looking over our shoulders and have to take extra caution when moving around. We fear for the safety of our families. Those who are part of the HRD community and work in the civil service or at government-owned companies also fear the loss of their jobs. As an organisation, funding has become a serious challenge and we are on the brink of shutting down.

      3. What should the international community do to support fundamental freedoms and free and fair elections in the Maldives?

      The resolutions of the European Union about the Maldives, including the latest one issued in March 2018, are strong and encouraging. We would like to see their framework on targeted sanctions replicated and implemented by other states.

      I believe it is critical that the international community have a strong presence in the Maldives in the final run-up to the elections as well as during and after the elections. An international observation mission is still the best we can ask for, and I hope that it happens.

      4. What is your hope for the future?

      I hope that we get a good change in this election, and that the new government will be more inclusive of the human rights community and CSOs when they plan reforms and implement them, as HRDs and civil society have had first-hand interactions with vulnerable groups and have represented them in difficult times. These experiences have given civil society an insight into some possible reforms and lots of training in advancing human rights issues in the Maldives. For example, we advocate for and hope that the government will include a strong civic education programme in the national school curriculum, in order to help produce critical, informed and articulate new citizens.

      Civic space in the Maldives is rated as ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor. The country is currently on the CIVICUS Monitor’sWatchlist.

      Get in touch with the Maldivian Democracy Network through theirwebsite orFacebook page, or follow@MDN_mv and@HindhaIsmail on Twitter.

       

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