The administration of Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, which came to power in 2018, has taken efforts to revise antidemocratic laws and establish transitional justice mechanisms. Despite improvements since the election, many basic freedoms remain restricted. Recent government-led efforts to reform the justice system, investigate serious corruption, and provide accountability for enforced disappearance and deaths that occurred during previous regimes remain in early stages.
- The Transitional Justice Office held both closed and public hearings on the Thinadhoo forced eviction case, which is seeking a state apology and compensation to the Thinadhoo people from the perpetrators of the island’s forced eviction in 1962.
- The Evidence Act, which took effect in July, introduced provisions under which journalists can be held in contempt and subject to fines or jail time if they refuse to disclose their sources.
- In August, three journalists filed a petition with the High Court to repeal a 2016 law that requires protest organizers to obtain police permission for events, and restricts the events to certain designated areas.
- In December, former President Abdulla Yameen was convicted on new charges of money laundering and bribery and sentenced to 11 years in prison. A previous money laundering conviction in another case had been dismissed in 2021.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?
The president of Maldives is elected for up to two terms of five years. The run-up to the September 2018 election was marred by the misuse of state resources on behalf of incumbent president Abdulla Yameen of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), police interference with opposition campaign efforts, and various forms of manipulation by electoral officials. The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and other opposition groups supported Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, an MDP lawmaker, after former president Mohamed Nasheed was disqualified over a dubious 2015 terrorism conviction that had featured a flawed trial. Despite the challenges to his candidacy, Solih won the election with over 58 percent of the vote.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?
The unicameral People’s Majlis is composed of 85 seats, with members elected from individual districts to serve five-year terms. Elections held in April 2019 were largely transparent and competitive, with Commonwealth observers reporting that vote buying—while still a problem—appeared less prevalent than in previous elections. The MDP won 65 seats. The PPM only won five seats, while the Jumhooree Party (JP) and Maldives Development Alliance won five and two seats respectively. Independents won an additional seven seats.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?
Members of the Elections Commission are appointed by the president with approval from the parliament. The Commission’s administration of the 2019 parliamentary elections earned praise from Commonwealth observers as improved and more impartial compared to elections held under the Yameen administration.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?
Political pluralism and participation deteriorated during the presidency of Yameen. Opposition leaders and their supporters faced harassment including raids on opposition offices and arbitrary detentions and convictions, as well as restrictions on political rallies. The environment for political parties has improved under the new administration.
Several new parties have recently emerged. The Maldives Reform Movement (MRM), led by former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, officially registered as a political party in November 2019. In July 2021, a new political party, the Maldives National Party, was registered and currently holds three seats in parliament.
In May 2019, Mohamed Nasheed, the former president and current speaker of parliament, survived an assassination attempt in Malé. Authorities arrested 10 suspects and charged 4 with terrorism. One defendant, who pleaded guilty, was convicted in December 2022.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?
While the political landscape had featured some undemocratic activity, including improper meddling by the judiciary and other forms of pressure, opposition parties and candidates have been able to gain power through elections. Recent opposition victories include those of Solih in 2018 and of the MDP in 2019. The 2021 local council elections saw the PPM secure 34.9 percent of seats—finishing second but breaking the MDP’s supermajority.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?
The Yameen government exerted improper influence over several state institutions and the Elections Commission to restrict the political choices of voters and politicians, including through politicized arrests and threats to public and private sector employees.
While such abuses have waned under President Solih, intimidation by hardline Islamist groups continues to sporadically disrupt the political system and the rule of law. Vote buying remains a problem during elections, and allegations of bribery and corruption have surrounded instances of party switching in recent years.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?
The constitution and laws in the Maldives require all citizens to be Muslims and all candidates for elected office to follow Sunni Islam, effectively excluding followers of minority religions. High-level positions in state institutions and independent bodies, including the Human Rights Commission, also require individuals to be Sunni Muslims. Women and LGBT+ individuals face societal discrimination and limited political participation, and foreign workers, who make up a significant portion of the population, have no political rights and are restricted from participating in protests or strikes.
The 2021 local council elections allocated 33 percent seats to female candidates, for the first time.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?
Elected officials are generally able to determine and implement government policies, though former president Yameen disrupted the parliament’s functioning in his attempts to retain the presidency in the 2018 election. The parliament was able to operate without similar obstructions after President Solih’s 2018 inauguration and the 2019 parliamentary elections.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?
Corruption remains endemic at all levels of government. The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has been only moderately effective, often launching investigations and taking other actions in response to public complaints, but rarely holding powerful figures to account for abuses. Whistleblowers and journalists reporting on corruption have been jailed or forced into exile over their activities.
The Solih government has taken steps to combat corruption by launching a whistleblower web portal, creating legal protections for whistleblowers, and pursuing corruption cases against high-level officials from the Yameen administration. Yameen himself was convicted of money laundering in 2019, though in November 2021 the Supreme Court overturned his conviction. In 2022, in a separate case, he was once again convicted of money laundering and accepting a bribe and sentenced to 11 years in prison.
In December 2021, three members of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) resigned following a decision by the Parliament’s Committee on Independent Institutions to dismiss them; the committee’s decision was presaged by an audit concluding that the members had failed to formulate a plan to address backlogged corruption cases. The commission was reconstituted with new members in March 2022.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?
State contracts for infrastructure and other projects have often been awarded through unclear processes widely suspected to involve bribery and kickbacks. The Solih administration has not immediately revised changes to public finance rules by the previous government that introduced opacity.
While the constitution requires the president, cabinet ministers, and members of parliament to submit annual asset declarations, these are not required to be made public and relevant agencies have resisted disclosing compliance with this rule. In 2019, Solih and his cabinet publicly disclosed their personal finances, but Transparency International raised concerns about the accuracy and consistency of these disclosures.
The Right to Information Act has been increasingly effective in forcing government institutions to make information and processes more transparent. In 2021, a total of 2,624 requests were submitted to government institutions, with 2,473 receiving responses, according to the Information Commissioner’s office.
|Are there free and independent media?
The constitution guarantees freedom of expression, but with the caveat that it must not be contrary to any tenet of Islam, a vague condition that can encourage self-censorship in the media. State-run media and regulatory bodies, particularly the Maldives Broadcasting Commission, have often shown bias in favor of the government and have restricted coverage of the opposition. Journalists continue to face the risk of violence in response to their work, particularly from Islamist militants.
Under the Evidence Act, which took effect in July 2022, journalists can be held in contempt and subject to fines or jail time if they refuse to disclose their sources.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?
Religious freedom is heavily restricted in the Maldives. Islam is the state religion, and the constitution allows for limitations on rights and freedoms in order to protect Islam. Other laws criminalize criticism of the religion. The government and people are required to protect religious unity, and imams must use government-approved sermons. Non-Muslim foreigners are only permitted to observe their religions privately.
Secularist writers and advocates for freedom of conscience have faced death threats from violent groups. According to a threat-perception survey of journalists conducted by the Maldives Journalists Association and released in March 2021, 37 percent of the 70 local journalists who participated reported being threatened by radicalized or violent extremist individuals.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?
Islam is a compulsory subject in schools and is incorporated into all other subject areas. School and university curriculums have come under increased influence from hardline religious leaders, resulting in some content that denounces democratic principles and promotes jihadist narratives. Academics and teachers who express views deemed objectionable by state and nonstate actors risk punishment or reprisals.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?
Although the Solih administration was expected to be more tolerant of public criticism than its predecessor, individuals who advocate for minority groups or basic freedoms are still at risk of attack from violent nonstate actors. Local human rights groups have had to relocate social media users who have received death threats for exercising their freedom of expression.
|Is there freedom of assembly?
Respect for freedom of assembly is uneven. A 2016 law requires protest organizers to obtain police permission for their events and restricts demonstrations to certain designated areas. In August 2022, three journalists filed a petition with the High Court to request the repeal of this restriction.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operate in a restrictive environment with limited resources and access to information. In recent years, Maldivian human rights groups have become targets of surveillance, harassment, lawsuits, threats of violence, and blasphemy allegations, including from extremist nonstate actors. Women’s rights and LGBT+ rights advocates, journalists, and bloggers have been targeted online, and the President’s Office has acknowledged that people who report threats often do not feel that their complaints have been adequately addressed. In 2022, Mohamed Rusthum Mujuthaba, a religious freedom and human rights activist, was sentenced to four months in prison on blasphemy charges in relation to his activism online.
In April 2022, Solih issued a decree banning the “India Out” campaign, which is associated with the opposition and seeks an end to Indian military presence on the islands. The decision was justified on claims the campaign incited hatred against India and posed a national security threat.
In November 2022, President Solih ratified the Associations Act, which includes financial disclosure requirements as well as provisions for a certain amount of state funding to be directed to NGOs. However, because the majority of registered associations are sports related, the funding may not provide significant relief to NGOs working in the human rights field.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?
The constitution and labor laws allow workers to form trade unions, and several unions are active. However, collective bargaining is not protected under the law, and strikes are prohibited in many sectors, including the crucial tourism industry. Many union leaders face backlash from powerful industry businesses that portray trade unionism negatively.
Significant strides, however, have been made. In May 2022, the Teachers Association of the Maldives (TAM), the largest such teacher’s group, won a hard-fought salary increase of 56 percent. Other labor groups have negotiated better working arrangements and trade opportunities in the tourism and fishing industries.
|Is there an independent judiciary?
The Supreme Court has intervened in political affairs at times, typically acting according to political interests. While significant strides have been made under the new government to reinforce basic principles of autonomy, quality, and accountability, much remains to be done to ensure efficient administration of justice.
In 2022, three High Court judges were removed by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) after an investigation revealed they had illegally accepted real estate gifts during the Yameen administration. The JSC reported that a total of 393 complaints were submitted against judges during the year; 46 cases were closed, and of those, misbehavior was found in 24.
Recent amendments to the Judicial Service Commission Act have the potential to bring positive changes to the Maldives, specifically regarding the impeachment of judges. However, the composition of the JSC must remain neutral if the provisions are to be upheld. In 2022, the JSC is still widely considered to be compromised because its members hold political affiliations.
In 2019, the government appointed the first two women to the Supreme Court, despite Islamist objections. In September 2020, a woman was appointed to the Criminal Court bench for the first time in the country’s history, and there was a record number of female judges in the Maldivian judiciary at the end of 2022.
Score Change: The score improved from 1 to 2 because the government taken steps to improve the independence of the judiciary and the Judicial Service Commission has sought to hold corrupt judges accountable.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?
Police have regularly engaged in arbitrary arrests, often to disrupt opposition activities, protests, or the work of journalists. Due process rights are not well enforced in practice, and under Yameen, opposition figures were subjected to deeply flawed trials on politically motivated charges.
The Maldives Police Services Act of 2020 was intended to improve internal police governance, but it has resulted in few changes in practice thus far. Pretrial detention is common, accounting for nearly 30 percent of those currently held in detention facilities in the country. Many are held in pretrial detention for inordinately long periods due to delays in investigation and trial processes. The Maldives also imposes imprisonment for nonpayment of debt through contempt-of-court rulings.
In December 2020, President Solih signed into law a bill establishing a transitional justice mechanism to investigate and redress human rights abuses from 1953–2018. The Ombudsman’s Office for Transitional Justice opened in January 2021 and has since reported that it has probed 452 cases that were submitted to the office in accordance with the Transitional Justice Act.
The Transitional Justice Office held both closed and public hearings on the Thinadhoo forced eviction case, which was brought forward by the Thinadhoo Council and included testimonials from victims and their families. The case requested a formal apology from the state, the upholding of violated rights, and the seizure of 50 percent of the assets of all perpetrators as compensation. The 1962 forced eviction of the island is considered one of the greatest atrocities committed by a Maldivian government.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?
The constitution and the Anti-Torture Act ban torture, but police brutality and the abuse of detainees and prison inmates remain problems, and impunity remains the norm. Flogging and other forms of corporal punishment are authorized for some crimes, and flogging sentences have been issued in practice for offenses such as extramarital sex. Prisons are overcrowded, inmates reportedly lack proper access to medical care, and human rights groups have reported numerous unexplained deaths in custody.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?
Gender-based discrimination in employment is prohibited by law, but women continue to face discrimination in practice. Girls and women from underprivileged backgrounds are disproportionately affected by Sharia (Islamic law) penalties for crimes like fornication and adultery.
Migrant workers—who account for approximately a third of the population—encounter disparate treatment by state authorities and have difficulty accessing justice. In 2020, thousands of migrant workers with unclear immigration status were arbitrarily deported during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Same-sex sexual acts and marriage are prohibited by law and can draw prison sentences, corporal punishment, and even threats of citizenship revocation. As a result, LGBT+ people rarely report societal discrimination or abuse. In 2022, a blackmail ring targeting gay men identified four individuals as gay. They were arrested and later charged under laws that criminalize same-sex relations.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?
Freedom of movement is provided for by law, but there are some restrictions in practice. Authorities have occasionally imposed travel bans on members of opposition parties and other perceived government opponents. Migrant workers are subject to constraints on their movement, including through the common practice of retention of their passports by employers, despite law stating that such an act is an offence under human trafficking laws.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?
Property rights are limited, with most land owned by the government and leased to private entities or commercial developers through what is often an opaque process. Residents sometimes face displacement by development projects without adequate consultation or compensation.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?
Personal social freedoms are restricted by Sharia-based laws and the presence of religious extremism in society. Among other rules on marriage and divorce, women citizens are barred from marrying non-Muslim foreigners, while male citizens can marry non-Muslim foreigners only if they are Christian or Jewish. Divorce is a grueling process for women, and can take years depending on the agreeability of the man. Extramarital sex is criminalized, and there is a high legal threshold to prove rape allegations. The National Standards for Family Planning Services requires written spousal consent for surgical sterilization, for both women and men.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?
The legal framework provides some protections against worker exploitation, including rules on working hours and bans on forced labor. However, migrant workers are especially vulnerable to abuses such as debt bondage and withholding of wages, a problem that was exacerbated during the economic contraction caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting collapse of tourism. Women and children working in domestic service may also be subject to exploitative conditions.
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Global Freedom Score41 100 partly free