(Bangkok/Geneva/Kathmandu/Paris, 6November 2019) – The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM‐ASIA) and the Observatory for the Protection of HumanRights Defenders – a partnership between the International Federation for HumanRights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) – stronglycondemn the decision on 5 November 2019 of the Maldivian authorities todissolve the prominent human rights organisation, the Maldivian DemocracyNetwork (MDN). We urge the Government to immediately reverse this decision. MDNis a member organisation of both FORUM‐ASIA and FIDH.
The Government’s move was instigated by aprotracted smear campaign against MDN, its members and staff. Recentdevelopments have occurred in connection with a report, ‘Preliminary Assessmenton Radicalization in the Maldives’, which MDN published in 2016. MDN has sinceissued an apology for the “unfortunate use of language in some sections of thereport” and has retracted the report for further review in consultation withIslamic scholars.
MDN’s dissolution was announced by theRegistrar of Associations under the Ministry of Youth, Sports and CommunityEmpowerment based on Articles 19 (a) and (b), and Article 32 of the 2003Associations Act.
The announcement to dissolve MDN comes as theorganisation is already facing a “temporary” suspension order issued by theRegistrar of Associations on 10 October 2019, pending a recent policeinvestigation into the 2016 report.
According to the announcement about thedissolution of MDN, the investigation found that parts of the 2016 report were“contrary to tenets of Islam”, which amounted to blasphemy in the Maldives.
The investigation lacked fairness andtransparency, and did not abide by a due process. The finding of blasphemy wasbased on the Maldives Police Service’s review of the report’s content incooperation with the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, which filed the initialcomplaint against MDN. No details concerning the investigation – nor itsfindings – have been made available to MDN and the general public.
Under the International Covenant on Civil andPolitical Rights (ICCPR), to which the Maldives is a state party, theGovernment has an obligation to respect and protect the right to freedom ofopinion and expression and the right to freedom of association. These rightsare guaranteed by Articles 19 and 22 of the ICCPR, and can only be subjected tocertain restrictions that are ‘necessary’ for the respect of the rights orfreedoms of others, and for the protection of national security, of publicorder (ordre public), or of publichealth or morals. The Government’s measure to dissolve MDN is inconsistent withthe strict test of necessity and proportionality required by Article 19 and 22of the ICCPR.
We urge the Government to uphold its legalobligations under human rights instruments to which the Maldives is a stateparty and to avoid further shrinking of civic space in the country. We alsourge the Government to meaningfully engage with civil society organisations toaddress the serious issue of the radicalisation in the Maldives.
MDN is a respected and legitimate human rights organisationthat has a role of great significance in upholding democracy and human rightsin the Maldives. Its dissolution should be reversed immediately, and MDN shouldbe allowed to do its work without any constraints or fears of reprisals.