Oct 12, 2019
New Delhi, India
Terming Maldives Government action against a prominent civil society group as “excessive and arbitrary”, the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) today urged the Maldives to restore the license of the Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN)in the Indian Ocean island nation.
CHRI also pointed out that the move came as the Commonwealth Secretariat was reviewing the Maldives’ application to return to the 53-member organization after it abruptly left exactly three years ago (Oct 13, 2016) following sharp criticism of the previous regime’s human rights record and targeting of opposition leaders.
CHRI said that it regarded the Government’s decision also as violative of rights guaranteed under the 2008 Constitution and “strongly demands that all restrictions be lifted immediately and the safety of all MDN staff, board members and their families”.
On 10thOctober 2019, the Maldives Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) issued a notice “imposing a temporary cessation of activities” upon MDN. The order comes amid growing call by clerics and opposition supporters to ban MDN for allegedly insulting Islam in a report it published in 2016 entitled “Preliminary assessment of radicalization in the Maldives”. The report reviews the influence of religious ideologies in school textbooks and online platforms, and assesses the extent of radicalization. MOFA further claimed that the “cessation of activities will remain effective for the duration of the State’s investigation into the matter.”
However, CHRI's Senior Programme Officer, Devyani Srivastava, underlined that the gag was imposed despite “MDN not only extending full cooperation to the investigations, and agreeing to withdraw its report from the public domain. Yet, it was not given an opportunity to respond”.
The Maldives Police Service has instituted a case against MDN and CHRI said it was concerned that the government did not follow due process and did not wait for the completion of the investigations before imposing the restrictions. According to CHRI, these actions, in effect, were violative of the fundamental rights of expression (Article 28) and right to association (Article 30(b)) and also of right to lawful and fair administrative action (Article 43(a)) guaranteed under the 2008 Constitution.
CHRI’s International Director Sanjoy Hazarika said that the Maldivian action appeared to be a “clear breach” of the Latimer House Principles which govern Commonwealth members. These urge Parliaments and governments to “recognise the role that civil society plays in the implementation of the Commonwealth’s fundamental values and … ensure that there is broader opportunity for lawful participation in the democratic process”.
Hazarika urged the ban to be revoked without delay and called on the Commonwealth Secretariat to stick to its laid-down principles for admission of members.
He noted that another fundamental pillar of Commonwealth functioning is the Harare Declaration which committed the organization unequivocally to “democracy, democratic processes and institutions” and also to “fundamental human rights, including equal rights and opportunities for all citizens regardless of race, colour, creed or political belief”.
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