Democratic Reform Should Mark New Era in Maldives
Freedom House congratulates the Maldivian people for their country's first democratic presidential election and urges the president-elect to quickly expand basic rights for all citizens, including freedom of speech, association and religion.
President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Asia's longest serving leader, conceded defeat today to opposition leader and former political prisoner Mohamed Nasheed. Nasheed's victory is the culmination of a nearly two-decade campaign against the Gayoom government, during which Nasheed was repeatedly jailed, tortured and harassed for his critical statements.
"The Maldives is entering a new era, after years of political repression and grave human rights violations," said Jennifer Windsor, Freedom House executive director. "The new government should grasp this historic opportunity to transform the Maldives into a democratic society in which citizens can express their opinions without fear of repercussion, join political parties and trade unions and worship freely."
Gayoom, who ruled the Maldives for 30 years, introduced a series of political reforms in 2003 in reaction to mass protests sparked by the torture and death of a prison inmate. Those reforms led to the country adopting a constitution in August that paved the way for the country's first multi-party presidential elections. However, reforms have occurred slowly, with bouts of unrest, crackdowns on Nasheed's Maldivian Democratic Party and restrictions on freedom of expression.
Political reforms are just a first step in the Maldives. Journalists in the country face restrictive laws and harassment by authorities. All citizens are required to be Sunni Muslims, imams must use government-approved sermons and non-Muslim foreigners can only worship privately. There are also serious concerns about the considerable power wielded by the executive branch over the legislature and judiciary.
"President-elect Nasheed must move quickly to ensure that repressive laws and institutions are reformed and that government is decentralized and accountable to the people, not the whims of one man," said Windsor.
Maldives is ranked Not Free in the 2008 edition of Freedom in the World, Freedom House's survey of political rights and civil liberties, and in the 2008 version of Freedom of the Press. The surveys cover developments that occurred in 2007.
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Freedom House, an independent nongovernmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world, has been monitoring political rights and civil liberties in Maldives since 1972.
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