Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings during the reporting period.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. The government took steps to investigate disappearances reported in previous years.
As of September the Presidential Commission on Enforced Disappearances and Deaths continues to investigate the 2014 disappearance of reporter Ahmed Rilwan. In December 2019 the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) declined the commission’s request to charge two individuals, Mohamed Mazeed and Samith Mohamed, for orchestrating Rilwan’s abduction, citing a lack of evidence. The commission announced its intention to resubmit these cases to the PGO following further investigation. In August President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih announced his intention to hire an international investigator to assist in the commission’s investigation at Rilwan’s family’s request, and in October the Commission confirmed such an expert had been hired and was assisting with its investigation, which was ongoing as of November.
The constitution and the law prohibit such practices, but there were complaints of torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. The law permits flogging and other forms of corporal punishment, and security officials employed such practices. According to a 2014 Supreme Court guideline, the court must delay the execution of a flogging sentence of minors until they reach age 18. Between January and September, courts sentenced nine individuals.
The Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) reported receiving 28 complaints of torture, 17 accusing the Maldives Police Service (MPS), 10 accusing the Maldives Corrections Service (MCS) and one accusing employees of state run Kudakudhinge Hiya children’s home, but none were forwarded for prosecution and some investigations were closed due to lack of evidence. In November 2019 the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture expressed concern regarding “near complete impunity” for officials accused of torture since 2013 and noted the PGO routinely dismissed torture cases citing lack of evidence indicating “either a grave systemic shortcoming in the investigative mechanisms put in place or a complete lack of political will to hold officials accountable.”
In contrast to previous years, the MPS did take some action to charge or otherwise penalize officers accused of torture. In June the MPS and the PGO revealed that charges of assault and destruction of property were brought in November 2019 against eight police officers accused of beating a Bangladeshi suspect during a July 2019 police raid. The MPS began investigating the case in 2019 after video of the incident was posted online. The Criminal Court had not concluded hearings in the trial as of November.
In June the MPS dismissed three police officers and demoted one officer for assaulting a suspect in their custody in May 2019.
Prisons were overcrowded in some cases and lacked adequate sanitary conditions and medical care, but they generally met most international standards.
Physical Conditions: According to the Prisons and Parole Act, pretrial and remand detainees should be held separately from convicted prisoners, but this was not always done. The HRCM reported that in an MPS-operated Male Custodial Center and a Dhoonidhoo pretrial Detention Center, juveniles were held in separate cells but in proximity and view of cells that held adult suspects. The MCS oversaw the operation of four prison facilities: Asseyri Prison, Hulhumale Detention Center, Maafushi Prison, and Male Prison. The MCS also operated the MCS Ahuluveri Marukazu and the Male Ahuluveri Marukazu rehabilitation centers for inmates scheduled for parole, while the MPS operated Dhoonidhoo pretrial Detention Center and Male Custodial Center. The HRCM and defense lawyers reported overcrowding, poor ventilation, and inadequate hygiene and sanitation standards in prisons and pretrial detention facilities. In November the HRCM announced its intentions to take action against the MPS for failing to replace the drinking water at Dhoonidhoo pretrial Detention Center after observers found it was unfit for human consumption. Authorities held undocumented migrant workers awaiting deportation or legalization within the security perimeter of a facility that also held convicts. Although the law requires the Ministry of Home Affairs to designate a separate facility to hold remanded detainees on trial, the MCS continued to hold them in facilities that also hold convicted prisoners.
The law requires that the HRCM be informed immediately in the case of any deaths in state custody and be allowed to inspect the body prior to burial. Authorities implemented this provision.
The HRCM reported that the Presidential Prison Audit Commission noted that in Dhoonidhoo Custodial Center, Maafushi Prison, and Male Prison detainees were not allowed to leave their cells for an extended period of time unless they have a visitor. The HRCM reported authorities practice solitary confinement in some facilities, but no such cases were identified as of September.
The HRCM reported a lack of access to timely medical care in places of detention overseen by the MCS, with 47 complaints received from inmates as of September. Similar to reports in previous years, the HRCM noted extended delays among inmates seeking to consult specialist doctors. According to the MCS, doctors were stationed at three of the five detention facilities overseen by the MCS, and nurses were stationed at five. Inmates referred to specialist doctors sometimes spent six to seven months awaiting confirmation of appointments. Local hospitals did not reserve appointments for detainees seeking medical attention, leading to difficulties in obtaining timely specialist appointments for detainees.
Administration: Authorities conducted investigations into credible allegations of mistreatment, but nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported such investigations were lengthy and often did not result in successful convictions or punitive action against responsible officers.
Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted regular and unannounced prison visits by the HRCM, so long as a presidentially appointed commissioner was present during the visit. The HRCM reported that it elected to conduct remote monitoring through online platforms for the majority of the year due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The HRCM provided recommendations to the government addressing deficiencies. The National Integrity Commission (NIC) reported that, although it has a legal mandate to enter detention facilities without prior approval, the MCS required a letter signed by a NIC commissioner before allowing access to NIC representatives. In contrast to previous years, MCS and MPS facilities no longer required a commission member, appointed by the president, to accompany the visits. The government generally permits visits by the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent and other international assessment teams with prior approval. No international observers visited any facilities as of September.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government generally observed these requirements.
The constitution states an arrest may not be made unless the arresting officer observes the offense, has reasonable evidence, or has a court-issued arrest warrant. The Criminal Procedure Act allows police to arrest a person if a police officer has reason to believe a person has committed, is committing, or is about to commit an offense or may attempt to destroy evidence of a major crime. The MPS generally complied with arrest procedures when making arrests. The Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) allows police to arrest terrorism suspects without an arrest warrant where there is probable and reasonable grounds to believe that a terrorism offense is imminent unless immediate action is taken. Civil society sources and defense lawyers reported the need to define properly “probable and reasonable grounds” within the law to avoid misuse of this provision. The law provides for an arrestee to be verbally informed immediately of the reason for arrest and to have the reason confirmed in writing within 12 hours of arrest.
Prisoners have the right to a ruling on bail within 36 hours, but lawyers reported bail is rarely considered by the courts. The law also requires that an arrestee be informed of the right to remain silent and that what the arrestee says may be used in a court of law. The law further provides that arrestees are to have access to a lawyer at the time of arrest. A lawyer may be appointed by the court in serious criminal cases if the accused cannot afford one. The law allows police to question a detainee in the absence of counsel if the detainee’s lawyer does not appear within 12 hours without adequate reasons for the delay. Police normally informed the arrestee’s family of the arrest within 24 hours. The law does not require that police inform the family of the grounds for the arrest unless the arrestee is younger than age 18, in which case a parent or guardian must be informed within four hours. ATA allows police to restrict private meetings with lawyers for suspects of terrorism offenses for a period of seven days from the time of arrest in situations where there is reasonable ground to believe private meetings may result in evidence tampering, committing a terrorist offense, physical harm to another or hinder the recovery of property obtained by committing a terrorism offense.
The law provides for investigative detention. A person detained for investigation is allowed one telephone call prior to police questioning. Once a person is detained, the arresting officer must present evidence to a court within 24 hours to justify continued detention. Based on the evidence presented, the prosecutor general has the authority to determine whether charges may be filed. If law enforcement authorities are unable to present sufficient evidence within 24 hours, the prisoner is eligible for release. Judges have the authority to extend detention upon receiving an arresting officer’s petition but must cite factors such as the detainee’s previous criminal record, status of the investigation, type of offense in question, and whether the detainee poses a threat if released. Defense lawyers reported that judges often accepted investigative authorities’ claims that detainees posed a threat if released in order to issue detention orders, without clarifying the nature of the exact threat. Judges also reportedly often relied on confidential intelligence reports submitted by the MPS to justify extended detentions. These intelligence reports were not shared with the defense.
Arbitrary Arrest: The Criminal Procedure Act allows police to detain individuals for questioning for four hours, without the detention being classified as a formal arrest. There were no reports authorities misused this provision during the year.
Pretrial Detention: The MCS reported 258 pretrial or remand detainees were held in their facilities as of September, with some held for several years without a conviction. The MCS reported that, as of September, 70 percent of these detainees had not had a court hearing for seven months. Defense lawyers reported problematic issues with a criminal procedure policy to address the large percentage of pretrial or remand detainees. The policy requires an internal committee established within the PGO to review pretrial detention decisions by judges every 30 days and for the PGO to request the court to dismiss pretrial detention orders if the prosecutor general finds an insufficient need for detention. Lawyers reported the committee rarely recommended such dismissals, noting it is the PGO that initially requests such orders. The committee’s decisions were not made public or shared with the suspect or courts. Some criminal court judges also reportedly tended to dismiss defense appeals of pretrial detention orders based on the argument that the policy required such cases to be submitted by the PGO.
In June the PGO appealed before the Supreme Court a High Court ruling that declared suspects must be held in custody for the duration of their trials if there is sufficient evidence the suspect committed the crime and if there is a presumption the accused may either destroy evidence or influence a witness; abscond; or poses a threat to public security. The PGO told media that the High Court ruling could result in suspects accused of even minor crimes having to be remanded for lengthy trial periods. The Supreme Court had not concluded hearings in this case as of November.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The constitution and the Criminal Procedure Act stipulate conditions under which a person may be arrested or detained and provides everyone the right to appeal and the right to compensation for unlawful arrest or detention. The High Court routinely hears appeals of arrest warrants or pretrial detention orders, but defense lawyers claimed High Court judges continued to seek justification for upholding such orders rather than questioning the grounds and merits of detention and delayed verdicts until the authorized pretrial detention orders expire. The appellate courts did not accept appeals of detentions authorized for the duration of a trial already in progress, based on a 2012 High Court decision that ruled trial judges have discretionary authority to authorize detention of suspects for the duration of pending trials as well as on a 2009 Supreme Court ruling that decisions made by judges using discretionary authority may not be appealed.
Victims of unlawful or arbitrary arrest or detention may submit cases to the Civil Court to seek compensation, but they did not commonly exercise this right.
The law provides for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary was not completely independent or impartial, and was subject to influence. Lawyers reported continuing allegations of judicial impropriety and abuse of power, with judicial officials, prosecutors, and attorneys reportedly intimidated or bribed. Government officials, members of parliament, and representatives of domestic and international civil society organizations accused the judiciary of bias.
According to NGOs and defense lawyers, some magistrate judges could not interpret common law or sharia because they lacked adequate English or Arabic language skills. Many judges in all courts, appointed for life, held only a certificate in sharia, not a law degree. An estimated one-quarter of the country’s judges had criminal records.
NGOs reported the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) had made positive strides in investigating allegations of judicial misconduct but noted investigations against some judges were lengthy. Some of these judges were allowed to remain on the bench and hear cases while under investigation by the JSC, raising concerns they could be intimidated to issue certain rulings to avoid punitive action from the JSC.
The constitution and the Criminal Procedure Act provide for the right to a fair and public trial, although the judiciary did not always enforce this right. The law provides that an accused person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Most trials were public and conducted by judges and magistrates, some of whom were trained in Islamic, civil, or criminal law. The constitution states defendants have a right to be informed of the charge without delay in a language understood by the defendant. The law states a defendant must be provided with a copy of the case documents within five days of charges being submitted to court. The law provides that an accused person has a right to be tried in person and have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. The constitution states the accused has the right not to be compelled to testify. The law provides the right to free assistance of an interpreter and governs trial procedures. Judges question the concerned parties and attempt to establish the facts of a case. Accused persons have the right to defend themselves and during a trial may call witnesses and retain the right to legal representation. Defendants and their attorneys have the right to full access to all evidence relating to their case, may cross-examine any witnesses presented by the state, and may present their own witnesses and evidence.
Islamic law, as interpreted by the government, is applied in situations not covered by civil law. The law provides for the right to legal counsel; those convicted have the right to appeal. The testimony of women is equal to that of men in court, except on rape (where the testimony of two male witnesses or four female witnesses is required) and other issues specifically stipulated by the country’s legal code.
There were no reports of political prisoners during the year.
Individuals or organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts, but lawyers reported victims rarely chose to do so due to a belief the court would rule in favor of the State. The Civil Court addressed noncriminal cases.
The law prohibits security officials from opening or reading radio messages, letters, or telegrams, or monitoring telephone conversations, except as expressly provided by law. Security forces may open the mail of private citizens and monitor telephone conversations if authorized to do so by a court during a criminal investigation. There were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions during the year.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, except on religious matters, and the government generally respected this right. Civil society sources reported, however, that the government continued to fail to take action against online death threats and attacks against those perceived to be critical of Islam during the year, leading to journalists and NGOs practicing self-censorship on matters related to Islam.
Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: 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. Ministry of Youth, Sports, and Community Empowerment 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.”
The constitution prohibits utterances contrary to tenets of Islam or the government’s religious policies.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Parliament Privileges Act allows authorities to force journalists to reveal their sources, but authorities did not routinely utilize this provision. NGO and journalist sources stated media practiced self-censorship on matters related to Islam due to fears of harassment from being labeled “anti-Islamic.”
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 items for their personal use.
In July several religious NGOs, scholars, and islands councils issued statements calling on the government to ban the women’s rights NGO Uthema for “anti-Islamic” rhetoric used in its April Shadow Report to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. The government had not, as of November, taken any action against Uthema.
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 during the reporting period.
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. Although CAM did not proactively monitor internet content, it accepted requests from ministries and other government agencies to block websites that allegedly violated domestic laws on anti-Islamism, pornography, child abuse, sexual and domestic violence, and other prohibitions. The MPS reported it was investigating one website and 14 distinct Twitter handles for “criticizing Islam” as of September.
NGOs reported the government continued to fail to take action against online death threats and attacks against those perceived of being critical of Islam.
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 that academics practiced self-censorship. The government censored course content and curricula. Sunni Islam was the only religion taught in schools.
The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
The constitution provides for “freedom of peaceful assembly without prior permission of the State.” A 2013 law on peaceful assembly restricts protests outside designated areas, and a 2016 amendment to the law further restricts the designated areas for lawful protests in the capital city. Protesters must obtain prior written permission from the MPS to hold protests outside designated areas and from the Ministry of Home Affairs to hold protests within the designated area. Local civil society organizations continued to condemn the restrictions as unconstitutional. These provisions were seldom enforced by the government during the past two years, but a July statement by the Ministry of Home Affairs “reminded” the public of the restriction of nonauthorized protests. NGOs including Human Rights Watch noted the statement was released amidst a series of protests by foreign migrant workers concerning nonpayment of wages and expressed concern the statement was intimidating and indicated a lack of political will to address the exploitation of foreign migrant workers. The MPS also cited these provisions in the law on peaceful assembly, in addition to Health Protection Agency guidelines that temporarily restricted gatherings of more than 10 persons as a measure to control the spread of COVID-19, to disperse several protests organized by the political opposition between June and November. As of August the MPS’ use of force review committee had yet to announce any action taken following an investigation into the deployment of pepper spray by MPS officers to disperse opposition protesters gathered inside a hospital in February 2019.
The constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government imposed some limits on this freedom. The government allowed only clubs and other private associations that did not contravene Islamic or civil law to register.
NGOs continued to report that, although sporadically enforced, a 2015 associations regulation threatened their freedom of operation. The regulation requires human rights and other NGOs to seek government approval before applying for domestic assistance above 25,000 rufiyaa ($1,630) or for any foreign assistance. The regulation also requires organizations to submit a membership registry to the government and grants the registrar of associations sweeping powers to dissolve organizations and enter organizations to obtain documents without a search warrant.
The Political Parties Act restricts registration of political parties and eligibility of state funds to those parties with 10,000 or more members. A 2016 amendment to the act requires all political parties to submit fingerprints with each membership application, legalizing a 2011 Elections Commission requirement. Forms without fingerprints would be considered invalid, and those persons would not be counted as members of a political party. Civil society organizations continued to express concerns that the law and subsequent amendments restricted the constitutional right to form and participate in political parties.
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. Authorities reported, however, that migrant workers who overstayed their visas were held in the Hulhumale Detention Center for weeks or sometimes years while awaiting the necessary travel documents from their governments prior to deportation. NGOs also reported concerns with a September High Court ruling declaring migrant workers who are arrested may not be released until they identify a local national willing to take responsibility for monitoring them until the conclusion of a possible trial.
Refoulement: The law obligates the state not to expel, return, or extradite a person where there is substantial evidence to believe the person would be in danger of being subjected to torture. The HRCM’s sixth annual antitorture report investigating one case involving the government attempting to violate the principle of nonrefoulement in the case of one foreign detainee. The HRCM reported that its investigation was closed without action after the detainee died while in custody in August.
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.