Bangkok, 5 April 2018
The Asian Forum for Human Rights andDevelopment (FORUM-ASIA), the Observatory for the Protection of Human RightsDefenders (an FIDH-OMCT partnership), Front Line Defenders and AmnestyInternational call on the Government of the Maldives to immediately end the targetedharassment and intimidation of prominent human rights defender and Executive Directorof the Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN), Shahindha Ismail.
The police have accused Shahindha Ismail of attempting to‘disrupt the religious unity and create religious discord in the Maldives’through Twitter. She has already been summoned twice and, on 2 April 2018,police questioned her for allegedly criticising Islam ‘with the intention tocause disregard for Islam’ under Section 617 (a) 1 and 2 of the Penal Code,which prescribes up to four months and 24 days of imprisonment for first timeoffenders. Shahindha Ismail has categorically denied the allegation.
These false allegations and the investigation againstShahindha Ismail appears to be only an attempt by the Government to obstructher legitimate work as a human rights defender.
The allegations against Shahindha Ismail stem from a tweetshe posted on 21 December 2017 in response to a statement by President AbdullaYameen that said he would not allow any religion other than Islam. ShahindhaIsmail tweeted in response that ’Religionsother than Islam exist in this world because Allah allowed for it. No otherreligion would exist otherwise, would it?’
Police launched an investigation against Shahindha Ismailafter the pro-government news website Vaguthu Online posted a series of articles on28 December 2017 about her tweet. The online articles accused her of‘indirectly calling to allow other religions in the Maldives’ and blasphemy,branded her an apostate, and demanded repentance. On the same day, the Ministryof Islamic Affairs issued a public statement that condemned anti-Islamic speechbelieved to be in reference to Shahindha Ismail’s tweet. These reports spurredan onslaught of threats, including death threats, against Shahindha Ismail onsocial media.
The authorities must instead launch a prompt, independentand impartial investigation into the online abuse and threats against ShahindhaIsmail that she has received because of her legitimate human rights work andthe peaceful exercise of her right to freedom of expression.
We are concerned that in an environment where online threatsagainst human rights defenders, particular against those who are seen deemed tobe espousing secular views, have had dire consequences in the recent past, the authoritieshave ignored the serious threats against Shahindha Ismail.
In April 2017, human rights defender and blogger, YameenRasheed was killed after the police and other authorities failed to respond toreports of threats against him. Similarly, journalist and human rightsdefender, Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla, was abducted and remains missing since August2014 after a number of reports of threats against him had been ignored by the authorities.
These false allegations against Shahindha Ismail will have achilling effect on an already restrictive environment for freedom of expressionand human rights defenders in the Maldives. This investigation will only serveto embolden those who peddle hate and threats against human rights defenders.
The Government of the Maldives has an obligationunder the Constitution and international treaties to which it is a state partyto guarantee the right to freedom of expression and other fundamental freedoms.
We urgently call on the Government of theMaldives to close this investigation, and end all forms of harassment againstShahindha Ismail. The Government must ensure a safe and enabling environmentfor human rights defenders to carry out their legitimate work without fear of reprisals.