The Maldives are a picturesque, tropical paradise. The lush archipelago is located in the Indian Ocean and is considered by many to be the ultimate vacation destination. The Maldivian Ministry of Tourism, fully cognizant of the importance of tourism to the national economy, lures visitors with the promise that the islands are “an idyllic place.” Despite the assurance of a heavenly holiday, this sales pitch fails to disclose the Maldives’ hellish reputation for human rights violations.
Consider the recent imprisonment and exile of Mohammed Nasheed, the former democratically elected Maldivian president. Many critics and policy experts deem Nasheed’s prosecution in 2015 under the Anti-Terrorism Act to be based on unsubstantiated criminal charges. In fact, many contend that it is Nasheed’s pro-western foreign policy and his stance against Islamic conservatism that seen to have been the impetus behind his thirteen-year sentence. Nasheed’s sentence came on the heels of a coup in 2012 that ousted him and helped to bring Abdalla Yamen to power. Yamen is the half-brother of Maumoon Adul Gayoon, the former president who lost his seat to Nasheed in 2008, and Yamen has painted Nasheed as a political rival whose positions are a “threat to Islamic values.” Nasheed’s detention has been decried by experts in the international community as a “mockery.” UN Special Rappoteur Gabriela Knaul is “extremely concerned about the lack of respect for the most basic principles of fair trial and due processdurin Mr. Nasheed’s criminal hearing.”
Sadly, Mr. Nasheed’s story is not unique. According to Amnesty International’s 2013 Annual Report, there are accounts of security forces using excessive force to suppress “largely peaceful” political demonstration, especially against those who supported Nasheed and the Maldivian Democratic Party. This brutality extended to civilians, as well. Even five members of the UN’s Human Rights Commission of the Maldives were arrested in October, 2014, and are facing “serious criminal charges” as the result of their critical report to the UN Human Rights Council. In addition, detainees were routinely “subjected to torture and other ill treatment” after their arrest.
All of this is even more egregious because of the lack of judicial accountability in the country. In the Maldives 2015 Human Rights Report, the US State Department substantiated these human–rights abuses and stated that “the law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; however, the government failed to enforce the law in cases against members of the political opposition, notably in the continuing detention of former president Mohamed Nasheed.” Additionally, despite laws to the contrary, the accused are not afforded a jury trial. The report further concluded that while the law calls for an independent judiciary, the court “was not completely independent and impartial and was subject to influence.” This atmosphere of corruption is a fertile breeding ground for nefarious and, many fear that in the case of the Maldives, terrorist activity.
Yameen’s regime is facing opposition not only publically, but also from within his own party. Unfortunately, his reign has lasted long enough for the Maldives to become “an unlikely terrorist cradle.” The Maldives has experienced a rise in religious extremism and international security experts have alleged that the island nation has become a recruitment site with terrorist cells flourishing amidst the religious conservatism and political upheaval. This allegation is not merely anecdotal, but supported by current events that have placed the Maldives at grave risk. A democratic government could not be sustained in the tumultuous and chaotic instability that has moved the Maldives back into authoritarianism. The human rights abuses that have been the hallmark of this regression have also weakened anti-terrorist efforts and given birth to unprecedented radicalization that will undoubtedly continue to transform this tropical haven into a human rights hell.