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Maldives
12.05.17
Urgent Interventions

Killing of Yameen Rasheed Underscores Urgent Need for Reform in the Maldives

Joint OpenLetter to the Government of Maldives

12 May 2017

YourExcellency,

Theundersigned civil society organisations write to you to condemn in thestrongest terms the murder of internationally recognised Maldivian blogger Yameen Rasheed. We call on thegovernment to take all necessary measures to ensure that the perpetrators ofthis heinous crime are brought to justice and to end the cycle of impunity forattacks on journalists, bloggers, and human rights defenders that has takenroot in the Maldives.

YameenRasheed was an impassioned critic who reported on issues related to corruption,radicalism, and impunity, mainly through his popular blog The Daily Panic.In 2015, IFEX helped to support Yameen to speak out onthese issues at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. His witty and relentlesscondemnation of systemic injustice earned him praise, but also drew theattention of religious extremists and government officials who felt threatenedby his social and political commentary.

YameenRasheed had reported numerous death threats before his attack. The policerefused to act on any of his complaints. Reports since his killing suggest thatthe crime scene had been tampered with before a thorough review of evidencecould be carried out. Furthermore, the family of Yameen Rasheed has reportedharassment by local police who sought to prevent them from making public callsfor justice for the death of their son. Such troubling reports raise doubtsabout the authorities’ commitment to ensure that a proper investigation takesplace.

Yameen’scase is emblematic of the growing intolerance for ideas and opinions that challenge the role of religion insociety throughout South Asia. Similar to countries like Pakistan andBangladesh, in the Maldives, harassment of individuals that promote moderate orsecular views has been common, and is justified by both militant criminalgroups and sympathetic politicians on the grounds that these ideas are“un-Islamic.”

Yameenis one of three recent high-profile cases of attacks on media personnel in theMaldives over the past five years. In 2012 Ismail Rasheed,a freelance journalist and human rights campaigner, barely survived afterhaving his throat slit near his home in the Maldivian capital, Malé. In 2014, Ahmed Rilwan,journalist for Minivan News, was abducted from his office and remains missingto this day. Rilwan was a close friend of Yameen’s, and much of Yameen’s workwas focused on finding justice for Rilwan’s abduction. In all cases there hasbeen a lack of adequate police investigation and response.

Thereare further causes for concern in the broader Maldivian free expressionenvironment. The country ranks 117th out of 180 countriesin Reporters Without Borders’ 2017 Press Freedom Index, due in large partbecause of restrictive laws suchas the 2016 “Protection of Reputation and Good Name and Freedom of ExpressionBill”, which criminalises defamation based on an overly broad definition of theoffence. Public threats have frequently been issued against independent mediaby politicians, criminal gangs and religious extremists and have helped tocreate a climate of hostility that has led to self-censorship. Imprisonment of journalists and activists is also acommon tactic used to silence critical voices.

YameenRasheed’s death should serve as a strong indicator of the need for immediatesteps to protect space for dissent and debate in the Maldives, space that isthreatened by draconian laws and impunity for attacks committed againstindividuals expressing controversial or adversarial opinions. As such, we callon the government to take the following measures:

•Ensure that a timely, thorough, and transparent investigation into the killingof Yameen Rasheed takes place and all perpetrators of this crime againstfreedom of expression are brought to justice. Similar action should be taken inthe cases of Ismail Rasheed and Ahmed Rilwan;

•Investigate and hold accountable all those who make threats or incite violenceagainst journalists, bloggers, and human rights defenders, as well as againstthe family of Yameen Rasheed;

•Amend or repeal laws that create disproportionate and unnecessary limits tolegitimate expression, according to standards specified in Article 19 of theInternational Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by the Maldivesin 2006;

•Implement legislation and other measures to create a safe and enablingenvironment for journalists and human rights defenders, according to relevantrecommendations accepted by the Maldives during its 2nd cycle UniversalPeriodic Review (UPR);

•Improve independence of the judiciary and build technical capacity of thepolice force through international assistance and other reforms, as agreed toby the Maldives during its 2nd cycle UPR.

Signed,

Bytes for All
Adil Soz – International Foundation for Protection ofFreedom of Speech
Afghanistan Journalists Center
ARTICLE 19
Association for Media Development in South Sudan
Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Cambodian Center for Human Rights
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility
Committee to Protect Journalists
Foundation for Press Freedom – FLIP
Freedom Forum
Free Media Movement
Global Voices Advox
Globe International Center
Human Rights Network for Journalists – Uganda
Index on Censorship
Institute of Mass Information
International Press Centre
International Publishers Association
MARCH
Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance
Media Institute of Southern Africa
Pakistan Press Foundation
Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms– MADA
PEN American Center
PEN Canada
PEN International
Reporters Without Borders
Vigilance pour la Démocratie etl’État Civique

Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development(FORUM-ASIA)
Awaz Foundation Pakistan, Centre for Development Services
Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha
Bangladesh Manobadhikar Sangbadik Forum
Center for Social Activism
Center for Media Research – Nepal
Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative
FIDH, in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human RightsDefenders
Front Line Defenders
Free Press Unlimited
Maldivian Democracy Network
Peoples’ Vigilance Committee on Human Rights
People’s Watch India
Pakistan NGOs Forum
Programme Against Custodial Torture and Impunity
South Asian Women in Media – Sri Lanka
South India Cell for Human Rights Education and Monitoring
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), in the framework of the Observatoryfor the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

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