Rights group denounces scant protection of Maldives freedom of expression

Male, Apr 14 (EFE).- Rights organization Human Rights Watch denounced Thursday in a report the failure of Maldivian authorities to protect freedom of expression against attacks by religious extremist groups.

“The government appears to have succumbed to a policy of appeasing religious extremists who oppose basic freedoms,” Patricia Gossman, the organization’s associate director for Asia said in a statement.

The report was prepared by the organization after interviewing more than 20 Maldivians living in the predominantly Muslim archipelago and abroad. It said that although Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s government has made progress in protecting the media, freedom of expression remains fragile in the Maldives, and voices critical of religious extremism often face harsh consequences.

“The Solih administration, more than halfway through its five-year term, has failed to deliver on its election promises to reform the criminal justice system to respond to threats to freedom of expression,” the organization said.

According to the report, authorities “often bow to pressure from politicians and powerful political groups,” especially in the case of women’s rights activists and members of the LGBT community, as well as journalists and bloggers.

“When clerics and activists on social media label their critics as anti-Islam and threaten violence, the government often fails to prosecute those responsible for the attacks,” according to the organization.

The organization said “one of the most damaging cases” was the Maldivian government’s decision to close the Democratic Network of Maldives rights group in 2019 for allegedly defaming Islam and the Prophet Muhammad in a report it produced in 2015.

The organization also said a commission appointed by the government to investigate deaths and forced disappearances did not make significant progress in cases such as the disappearance of reporter Ahmed Rilwan in 2014 or the murder of blogger Yameen Rasheed in 2017.

Although the organization said Solih “has made some limited progress,” it called on international donors to “strongly” urge the Maldives to move forward with promised judicial reforms that remain stalled due to political pressure. EFE


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