Amnesty International has urged India to lead diplomatic engagement with the authorities in Maldives, where the group reported a deteriorating human rights situation.
A delegation from Amnesty visited the Indian Ocean island nation and popular tourism destination this month and said vigilante religious groups and criminal gangs were attacking peaceful anti-government protesters while police looked the other way.
Maldivian authorities were silencing peaceful protesters and abusing police and judiciary to imprison opposition politicians, the group found.
Amnesty’s delegation met lawyers, journalists and activists. But it was not allowed to meet government officials and jailed former president Mohamed Nasheed and instead was told to return again in May, Amnesty researcher Abbas Faiz told reporters in New Delhi.
“As an influential neighbour and an important regional power, India has a responsibility to work toward a human rights-friendly environment in the Maldives,” Raghu Menon, the group’s advocacy co-ordinator in India, said.
He said rights activists in the Maldives felt that the international community was not bothered about what was happening there and warned that the islands might destabilise if the situation deteriorated unchecked. Amnesty’s report said a climate of fear was spreading.
“The authorities have a growing track record of silencing critical voices by any means necessary – be it through the police, the judicial system or outright threats and harassment,” the organisation said.
Nasheed is serving a 13-year prison sentence for ordering the arrest and detention of a senior judge three years ago.
His imprisonment has cast doubt over the Maldives’ transition to democracy, which began after he was elected president in 2008, ending 30 years of autocratic rule by Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
Opposition supporters said the case had been aimed at eliminating Nasheed as a potential candidate in the 2018 presidential election.
Earlier this month, the defence minister in the former president’s government was sentenced to ten years in prison for conspiring to arrest the judge and helping detain him on an island used for military training.
The sentencing of Tholath Ibrahim by the Criminal Court came nearly a month after Nasheed was sent to prison for ordering the arrest and detention of judge Abdulla Mohamed. Nasheed had accused the judge of political bias and corruption.