K. Male' | Aishath Shaany | 22-March-2017 | Wednesday 12:40 | Shaaknee | Local | 2,044
Amnesty International, which on Tuesday declared social media activist Thayyib Shaheem, a prisoner of conscience, has called on Maldivian authorities to ensure that the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly are respected, protected and promoted.
In its report released on Tuesday- titled MALDIVES: ALARMING CRACKDOWN ON PROTESTS AND MEDIA AHEAD OF SAUDI ARABIAN KING’S VISIT- Amnesty noted that authorities “have launched a troubling crackdown on peaceful protests and media workers”, adding that online debate is being obstructed as well.
Amnesty highlighted that the suppression started ahead of a scheduled visit by King Salman bin Abdul Aziz al Saud of Saudi Arabia, which has since been postponed. A day before the King’s arrival, Minister of Foreign Affairs announced the cancellation, citing the recent flu outbreak as a cause.
The report also noted the rumored sale of an entire atoll- Faafu Atoll- to Saudi Arabia, has caused public outcry; and that authorities have been suppressing journalists and social media activists.
“The Maldivian authorities have sought to suppress a critical reporting around the Faafu deal and have harassed media workers and activists” reads the statement.
It noted that a relative of a lawmaker of the ruling party had threatened two journalists from Maldives Independent, who were taken in to protective custody for nine hours while RaajjeTV journalists received death threats via phone, a day before its team departed to Faafu atoll.
“More recently, on 19 March, the Criminal Court issued a statement threatening “legal action” against journalists whose writings “disrupt the stability and peace in the Maldives” or “incite sedition and strife”. Although the statement made no mention of specific media outlets or the Faafu project, a number of sources in Maldives told Amnesty International that they believe it was a direct threat against journalists who cover this issue”, the statement reads.
Noting that those is power are also working to curb debate online, Amnesty’s report also highlighted the intimidation directed towards social media activists.
Shaheem himself was arrested on March 16, on suspicion of spreading false information through social media, and has been remanded for eight days, while another activist, Shammoon “Lucas” Jaleel’s phone has been confiscated after being summoned to the police earlier this month.
“Amnesty International believes that Thayyib Shaheem has been detained solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression, and therefore considers him a prisoner of conscience,” said Amnesty.
Furthermore, Amnesty highlighted the government’s “harsh steps” to suppress peaceful protests, with institutions such as the Maldives Police Service (MPS) issuing a warning against any activities that could dishonor a visiting foreign dignitary.
Amnesty said that Maldivian authorities “must not impose excessive or arbitrary restrictions on the exercise of these rights” guaranteed by treaties to which the Maldives is party to, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
“As such, Maldives state officials must not impose excessive or arbitrary restrictions on the exercise of these rights. Only restrictions on specific, restricted grounds, specified in the ICCPR, are provided by law, and implemented in a manner that is necessary and proportionate, are allowed. Amnesty International is deeply concerned that the restrictions imposed in this case fail to meet these standards”.
It further called on Maldives to:
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