Killing of Yameen Rasheed underscores urgent need for reform in the Maldives

Thursday, May 11, 2017
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34016486380_708b388e2f_k.jpgYameen Rasheed's family submitting petition to Maldives Police Services to investigate his murder. PHOTO: Dying Regime/Flickr. CC BY 2.0.

The following letter was sent to H.E. Mr. Ahmed Sareer, High Commissioner of the Maldives to Canada.

The undersigned civil society organisations write to you to condemn in the strongest terms the murder of internationally recognised Maldivian blogger Yameen Rasheed. We call on the government to take all necessary measures to ensure that the perpetrators of this heinous crime are brought to justice and to end the cycle of impunity for attacks on journalists, bloggers, and human rights defenders that has taken root in the Maldives.

 

Yameen Rasheed 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 on these issues at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. His witty and relentless condemnation of systemic injustice earned him praise, but also drew the attention of religious extremists and government officials who felt threatened by his social and political commentary.

 

Yameen Rasheed had reported numerous death threats before his attack. The police refused to act on any of his complaints. Reports since his killing suggest that the crime scene had been tampered with before a thorough review of evidence could be carried out. Furthermore, the family of Yameen Rasheed has reported harassment by local police who sought to prevent them from making public calls for justice for the death of their son. Such troubling reports raise doubts about the authorities' commitment to ensure that a proper investigation takes place.

 

Yameen’s case is emblematic of the growing intolerance for ideas and opinions that challenge the role of religion in society throughout South Asia

Yameen's case is emblematic of the growing intolerance for ideas and opinions that challenge the role of religion in society throughout South Asia. Similar to countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh, in the Maldives, harassment of individuals that promote moderate or secular views has been common, and is justified by both militant criminal groups and sympathetic politicians on the grounds that these ideas are “un-Islamic.”

 

Yameen is one of three recent high-profile cases of attacks on media personnel in the Maldives over the past five years. In 2012 Ismail Rasheed, a freelance journalist and human rights campaigner, barely survived after having 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 missing to this day. Rilwan was a close friend of Yameen's, and much of Yameen's work was focused on finding justice for Rilwan's abduction. In all cases there has been a lack of adequate police investigation and response.

 

Yameen Rasheed’s death should serve as a strong indicator of the need for immediate steps to protect space for dissent and debate in the Maldives

There are further causes for concern in the broader Maldivian free expression environment. The country ranks 117th out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders' 2017 Press Freedom Index, due in large part because of restrictive laws such as the 2016 “Protection of Reputation and Good Name and Freedom of Expression Bill”, which criminalises defamation based on an overly broad definition of the offence. Public threats have frequently been issued against independent media by politicians, criminal gangs and religious extremists and have helped to create a climate of hostility that has led to self-censorship. Imprisonment of journalists and activists is also a common tactic used to silence critical voices.

 

Yameen Rasheed's death should serve as a strong indicator of the need for immediate steps to protect space for dissent and debate in the Maldives, space that is threatened by draconian laws and impunity for attacks committed against individuals expressing controversial or adversarial opinions. As such, we call on the government to take the following measures:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

  • Implement legislation and other measures to create a safe and enabling environment for journalists and human rights defenders, according to relevant recommendations accepted by the Maldives during its 2nd cycle Universal Periodic Review (UPR);

 

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

 

Signed,

Canadian Journalists for Free Expression

Bytes for All

Adil Soz - International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech

Afghanistan Journalists Center

ARTICLE 19

Association for Media Development in South Sudan

Bahrain Center for Human Rights

Cambodian Center for Human Rights

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 et l’État Civique

Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development

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 Rights Defenders

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 Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

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