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Rights deteriorate as Maldives pres tightens grip on power, says UK

Mohamed Visham
24 July 2016, MVT 12:12
Protesters gathered near the criminal court for the sentencing of a prominent opposition lawmaker last week. MIHAARU FILE PHOTO/MOHAMED SHARUHAAN
Mohamed Visham
24 July 2016, MVT 12:12

President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom has continued to tighten his grip on power leading to a sustained decline in democracy, judicial independence and human rights in the island nation, the United Kingdom said Thursday.

The British government in a report said political and civil freedoms continued to erode last year while opposition and some government figures were arbitrarily arrested and jailed..

In that regard the report noted with concern that media has been forced to self-sponsorship while the government controlled parliament introduced various regulations throughout the year which restricted democratic space.

"The Anti-Terrorism Act, introduced in November, gave the government unfettered power to monitor people," the report noted.

The report also noted the rushed sentencing and subsequent jailing of key opposition figures including former president Mohamed Nasheed in February.

Nasheed’s jailing on a terror charge last year was a key trigger of the current political crisis. He was allowed to leave the country in an internationally brokered deal in January.

Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in jail last year but was given asylum in Britain after traveling there for back surgery. Nazim is serving an 11-year jail term for possessing a firearm, and former vice president Ahmed Adheeb Abdul Ghafoor was sentenced to 25 years in prison last week on two counts of terrorism charges, including an assassination attempt on the president.

The report noted that Adheeb was the eleventh senior government official to be arrested or dismissed since President Yameen came to power in November 2013.

"By the end of 2015, all opposition party leaders were in prison, detained, or in self-imposed exile."

Jailed former president Nasheed being escorted by correctional service officer. PHOTO/AHMED AZIM

Britain also noted the state of emergency that was declared shortly after Adheeb's arrest which came in the wake of a blast aboard the presidential speedboat now confirmed as a plot to assassinate president Yameen.

During the the state of emergency that lasted six days a number of basic constitutional rights, including the right to peaceful assembly, were suspended.

"The suspension of parliamentary process during the State of Emergency enabled the swift and unchallenged impeachment of Mr Adeeb, making him the second Vice President to be impeached in a six-month period," the report highlighted.

"... many interventions by courts were arbitrary, and that due process was not being followed."

Maldives government's push to introduce to re-introduce the death penalty after a moratorium of more than 60 years was also noted as a matter of grave concern.

The Supreme Court had upheld the death sentence of Hussain Humam Ahmed convicted of MP Dr Afrasheem Ali’s murder which could make him the first person to be executed in the Maldives for more than 50 years.

The United Nations (UN) has urged the government to hold off on Humam's execution until the UN rules on the case which has been denied by the government.

The UK report comes a few weeks after a senior British diplomat said it was considering possible travel bans for top Maldives government officials and members of the judiciary.