Maldives: UN Rights Commissioner expresses concerns over increasing crackdown on opposition parties and politically biased judiciary

In his opening statement at 36th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, High Commissioner for Human Rights today expressed concerns over increasing crackdown on opposition parties and politically biased judiciary.

High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said that given upcoming parliamentary elections in the Maldives next year, the Government is increasingly cracking down on critical views.

President Abdullah Yameen has let loose a reign of terror on the four-party opposition alliance since losing the majority in the Parliament on 3 July 2017 after 10 Members of Parliament (MP) of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) defected to the opposition side to dislodge the Majlis Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed. President Yameen has been abusing the compliant judiciary, the police, the military and all other state agencies to harass and intimidate the opposition with the singular objective of saving his minority government.

After several Members of Parliament were stripped of their seats following an attempted no-confidence vote against the Speaker, and the unprecedented lock-down by the military on 24 July, the Parliament remains paralysed, and several of its Members and opposition leaders face charges.

High Commissioner Zeid expressed concerns over “continued violations of the right to a fair trial, and allegations of political bias by the judiciary and law enforcement authorities.”

Several lawmakers were disqualified based on the controversial judgment of the Supreme Court of Maldives. Apparently biased in favour of the regime, the Supreme Court illegally ruled on 13 July 2017 that if an elected MP either leaves the party, expelled, or switched parties, he/she will lose the seat.

President Yameen locked down the Parliament building, deployed military soldiers and police on 24 July 2017 when the no-confidence motion against Parliament Speaker was to schedule to be put to the vote. Police and army personnel prevented the other opposition lawmakers from entering into the compound of the Parliament. Security forces forcibly drag out the opposition lawmakers from the parliament building and arrested two of them as opposition protests erupted in capital Malé.

Expressing concerns over breaking down of peoples’ trust in government institutions, the High Commissioner for Human Rights called on the Government “to establish an enabling environment for the exercise of fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression and assembly, and to respect the people’s right to an independent and impartial judiciary.”

On 25 August, 67-year-old head opposition Jumhooree Party leader Ibrahim Qasim was convicted in absentia on charges of attempted bribery and sentenced to three years, two months and 12 days in prison even Qasim Ibrahim remained hospitalised after collapsing inside the courtroom a day before. Further, he has been denied medical leave for nearly two weeks for treatment abroad despite the required medical treatment being unavailable in the Maldives.

High Commissioner Zeid also censured President Yameen’s decision to reintroduce the death penalty. He said, “I deplore the Government’s plan to reintroduce death resume capital punishment by the end of this month, after more than 65 years of moratorium.”

On 6 August, President Yameen announced the decision to resume death penalty amid growing international concern over the reintroduction of the death penalty.

There are currently 20 individuals on death row, among them several of whose convictions raise serious issues of due process, including people with mental health concerns or who were under 18 when they allegedly committed crimes.

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