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Human Rights Watch slams Maldives govt's restriction on protests

Fathmath Shaahunaz
15 July 2020, MVT 18:45
Expatriate protesters put up placards demanding their salary after employers continue to withhold wages since the year began. PHOTO: NISHAN ALI / MIHAARU
Fathmath Shaahunaz
15 July 2020, MVT 18:45

Human Rights Watch on Wednesday lambasted the Maldivian government's recent restriction on protests and assemblies as a violation of fundamental rights.

The international NGO issued the statement after the Maldivian Ministry of Home Affairs declared on Tuesday that street protests, marches, parades, and other gatherings can only be held with prior written approval by Maldives Police Service.

The government's decision came in the wake of multiple protests staged during the month of July, including marches by exploited expatriate workers demanding unpaid wages, child and women rights groups, as well as by the opposition coalition.

Human Rights Watch noted that the government's declaration was in accordance with the prickly first amendment to the Freedom of Peaceful Assembly Act, which was ratified on August 23, 2016 during former President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom's tenure.

“The Maldives president (Ibrahim Mohamed Solih) campaigned on a promise to abolish laws curtailing free speech and assembly, but now his ministers are resorting to the previous government’s old tricks to prevent protests", stated Patricia Gossman, the associate Asia director.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused enormous challenges for the Maldives, but instead of hearing out these desperate migrant workers, the Solih administration is trying to silence them by restricting peaceful assembly".

The NGO highlighted that the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), which was the main opposition during Yameen's administration, had condemned the first amendment to the Freedom of Peaceful Assembly Act as "unconstitutional" and "an abuse of power".

Although President Solih's government did not repeal the controversial law after the change in administration in late 2018, the amendment was not enforced until the home ministry's declaration this week.

In addition to the restriction on protests and gatherings, Human Rights Watch also touched upon the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Community Empowerment's statement on Tuesday, in which it expressed concern that the narratives and initiatives of certain non-profit organisations were encouraging the violation of the law, claiming they posed a threat to national security.

Human Rights Watch called on concerned governments to press the Maldivian administration to protect the right to peaceful expression and assembly, to which the government is beholden in accordance with international human rights laws.

“The Solih administration should not allow the added burdens of governance during a pandemic to reduce its commitment to basic human rights”, Gossman said.

“Government officials need to hear all voices, especially the critical ones”.

The home ministry's announcement was met with harsh criticism from local rights groups and activists, as well as parliamentarians.

Meanwhile, due to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak in the country, Health Protection Agency (HPA)'s nationwide safety protocols deny gatherings of over 30 persons within a specified area.

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