Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, except on religious matters, but the government imposed legal restrictions on this freedom.
Freedom of Speech and Expression: The Antidefamation and Freedom of Expression Act enacted in August criminalizes any expression that “contradicts a tenet of Islam, threatens national security, contradicts social norms, or encroaches on another’s rights, reputation, or good name.” The bill imposes fines of up to two million Maldivian rufiyaa (MVR) ($129,700) for violations and jail terms of up to six months for failure to pay fines. A fine can only be appealed after it is paid. According to the law, journalists can also be required to reveal the sources of alleged defamatory statements in direct contravention to Article 28 of the constitution, which states, “No person should be compelled to disclose the source of any information that is espoused, disseminated, or published by that person.” In August UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression David Kaye asserted the law limits the right to freedom of expression to such a degree that the right itself is in jeopardy. Political opposition parties and major NGOs condemned the bill as having an adverse effect on fundamental freedoms of expression.
Youth Ministry regulations prohibit publishing literary material without first seeking authorization from the National Bureau of Classification. The regulations define publication of literary material as “any writing, photograph, or drawing that has been made publicly accessible electronically or by way of printing, including publicizing or circulating on the internet.”
On several occasions police sought to limit free speech and expression by arresting and questioning individuals who participated in opposition political protests. Journalists in particular were routinely detained while covering protests and held for several hours before being released without charges. According to media sources, the government directly and indirectly forbade civil servants from attending political protests, and some employees of public and private institutions were fired for similar reasons. Opposition parties reported difficulty conducting lawful rallies because of August amendments to the Freedom of Peaceful Assembly Act that imposed additional restrictions on planning and execution of protests. Police and members of the military routinely monitored opposition rallies.
The constitution prohibits utterances contrary to tenets of Islam or the government’s religious policies.
Press and Media Freedoms: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. Criticism of the government and debates on societal problems were commonplace, but media did not question Islamic values or the government’s policies on religion.
A number of government actions resulted in obstructions to independent media, including the passage of the Antidefamation and Freedom of Expression Act that compels journalists to reveal their sources in violation of the constitution. The act also imposes heavy fines against outlets that broadcast criminalized content and allows the government to revoke licenses of websites and outlets which fail to pay the fines. Journalists expressed concern most media outlets cannot afford the fines.
In March, following the Civil Court order to halt publication of the country’s oldest daily newspaper, Haveeru, the newspaper’s owners complied. Observers believed the government closed the newspaper because the government could not control its content or influence. In its final ruling on the case issued in July, the Civil Court barred former staff of Haveeru from working at any other media organization or media-related businesses until February 2018, after its reporters resigned en masse following the March shutdown to form a new newspaper, Mihaaru. Attorney General Mohamed Anil declared the court order unconstitutional and an obstruction of the right to work and filed an appeal of the order at the High Court.
In May 3, Raajje TV journalists were charged with obstruction of law enforcement officers after being arrested while covering an opposition protest and a bomb scare in 2015. A fourth journalist from the same outlet was also charged with assault for allegedly “touching” a police officer as he was arrested while covering a bomb scare in 2015. The Criminal Court hearings were taking place, but media claimed the charges were part of the government’s systematic attempts to silence free speech.
Violence and Harassment: Authorities allegedly attacked, harassed, and intimidated media representatives.
On February 13, hours after Raajje TV announced a new program detailing corruption allegations against President Yameen, police entered the Raajje TV office without a court warrant to arrest a reporter for allegedly taking a photograph of a police operation. The journalist was released without charges hours later and filed complaints with the HRCM and the Maldives Broadcasting Commission. There was no indication either authority took steps to investigate the case.
In April police detained, but released hours later, 18 journalists protesting threats to press freedom. The female journalists were repeatedly strip searched in an area easily accessible to the entire station.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Parliament Privileges Act and the Antidefamation and Freedom of Expression Act allow authorities to force journalists to reveal their sources, but authorities did not routinely take advantage of this provision. Media reported higher levels of self-censorship in reporting political news following the passage of the Antidefamation and Freedom of Expression Act. Members of civil society and journalists said crackdowns on political opposition members led them to self-censor.
In August the Maldives Broadcasting Commission ordered Medianet, the only private cable television provider in the country, to be more careful about self-censorship to avoid broadcasting “content which breaches social norms.” The commission claimed it received complaints of inappropriate content from some viewers. The order came one day after the ratification of the Antidefamation and Freedom of Expression Act.
NGO sources stated media practiced self-censorship on matters related to Islam due to fears of harassment from being labeled “anti-Islamic.” Journalists also practiced self-censorship in reporting on problems in the judiciary or criticizing the judiciary.
There were no known restrictions on domestic publications, nor were there prohibitions on the import of foreign publications or materials, except for those containing pornography or material otherwise deemed objectionable to Islamic values, such as Bibles and idols for worship. The restriction applies only to items for public distribution; tourists destined for resort islands were not prohibited from carrying Bibles and other religious paraphernalia for their personal use.
The government generally did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, an estimated 270,000 residents of the country (69 percent of the population) had reliable access to the internet as of June. The Communications Authority of Maldives (CAM) is the regulatory body mandated to enforce internet content restrictions on sites hosted within the country and to block domestic access to any websites. CAM maintained an unpublished blacklist of all offending websites. CAM reported it blocked one website in 2016, Addu Live, for ignoring mandatory registration requirements but stated the site was unblocked after the owner complied. CAM did not proactively monitor internet content; instead, it relied on requests from ministries and other government agencies to block websites that violate domestic laws on anti-Islamism, pornography, child abuse, sexual and domestic violence, and other prohibitions. The MPS reported it did not investigate any websites for unlawful content related to prohibitions on anti-Islamic rhetoric, pornography, child abuse, sexual and domestic violence, or other violations as of August.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
The law prohibits public statements contrary to the government’s policy on religion or the government’s interpretation of Islam. In response to the law, there were credible reports academics practiced self-censorship. The government censored course content and curricula. Sunni Islam was the only religion taught in schools.
FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY
The constitution provides for “freedom of peaceful assembly without prior permission of the State,” but the government did not respect this. In 2013 the president signed a law on peaceful assembly that restricted protests outside designated areas, and in August the president ratified an amendment to the law further restricting the designated areas for lawful protests. Protesters must now obtain prior written permission from the MPS to hold protests in restricted areas in violation of the constitution. Opposition political parties expressed concern the amendment effectively banned protests in the city.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
The constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government imposed some limits on this freedom. The government only allowed clubs and other private associations that did not contravene Islamic or civil law to register.
The Political Parties Act restricts registration of political parties and eligibility of state funds to those parties with 10,000 or more members. Existing parties with fewer than 10,000 members had three months to acquire enough members or they would be ineligible for state funding. On August 17, the president ratified an amendment to the act requiring all political parties to submit fingerprints with each membership application, legalizing a 2011 Elections Commission (EC) requirement. Forms without fingerprints would be considered invalid, and those persons would not be counted as members of a political party. TM and MDN raised concerns the law and subsequent amendments restricted the constitutional right to form and participate in political parties.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
Exile: The new Penal Code abolishes the use of banishment to a remote island as a punishment. Such sentences were common in the past. The implementation of such punishment was difficult, however, because host communities increasingly refused to accept anyone sentenced for a crime. According to MCS statistics, there were nine individuals serving banishment sentences for periods shorter than life.
Emigration and Repatriation: Maldives Immigration reported its Expatriate Monitoring and Repatriation Section had an active voluntary repatriation system, and between January and August, 2,403 foreigners, mostly from Bangladesh, voluntarily repatriated to their home countries. In an August tweet, Maldives Immigration stated a further 2,597 foreign resident workers had been repatriated for irregularities with their documentation, including 230 who were deported. Foreign workers may initiate voluntary repatriation proceedings, but Maldives Immigration interviews employers to recover withheld passports, request payment of return airfare for the foreign worker if applicable, and identify whether the foreign worker had abandoned his or her duties without proper notice.
Citizenship: The law requires all citizens to be Sunni Muslims.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees