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Events of 2022

A woman walks on a wall of sandbags, placed to prevent erosion, in Guraidhoo, Maldives, October 10, 2021.

© 2021 Allison Joyce/Getty Images

The government led by President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih pledged to tackle corruption and advance human rights, but in reality, failed to bring essential reforms to the justice system.

The influence of Islamist extremist groups and political leaders remained pervasive within the government, police, and the judiciary. Authorities bent to pressure from these groups, as well as from the Muslim fundamentalist Adhaalath Party—a member of the ruling coalition—by rolling back fundamental rights, including freedom of speech and assembly, and the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, and of women.

Despite the Maldivian government’s commitment to reaching net-zero emissions by 2030, authorities did not adequately enforce environmental laws and continued to prioritize development projects over the protection of local communities and the environment.

Based on findings of the government-appointed Commission on Deaths and Enforced Disappearances, police arrested three men in connection with the 2014 disappearance of Ahmed Rilwan, an outspoken journalist who uncovered political corruption, and the 2017 fatal stabbing of Yameen Rasheed, a blogger and government critic. Previously, political interference, police cover-ups, and judicial misconduct undermined investigations and prosecutions of those responsible for these and other attacks on civil society activists.

Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Expression and Assembly

Islamist political organizations and political leaders incited hatred and violence, including on social media, against individuals and civil society groups who sought to counter religious and violent extremism and promote individual freedoms. They targeted human rights defenders, women’s rights and LGBT rights activists, journalists, and bloggers. The failure of the government to provide accountability in these cases has meant that gangs, powerful religious groups, and their political patrons increasingly exercise a chilling effect on free speech in the country.

In June, Islamist extremists disrupted a gathering of 150 people, including diplomats and government officers, at an International Yoga Day event in the capital, Male. They deemed the event heretical, a celebration of idolatry or polytheism. Authorities arrested six people connected to the incident. The following month, the Adhaalath Party decreed the practice of yoga forbidden, stating that no Muslim should engage in it.

The government rebuffed efforts to amend the Freedom of Assembly Act and continued to use it to block protests. The law requires protesters to seek permission from the police, and protest only in designated areas. In May, civil society activists petitioned the High Court, seeking a repeal of these provisions.

Authorities prosecuted four men for their involvement in the May 2021 bomb attack targeting parliament speaker and former President Mohamed Nasheed. Nasheed’s supporters claimed that the main conspirators are unlikely to be held to account. His opponents accused him of being a laadheenee, or “enemy of Islam.” Nasheed has expressed fears that his life is still in danger.

Freedom of Media

In June, the Maldivian parliament enacted legislation that allows the courts to force journalists and media outlets to reveal their sources. Local journalists and media rights organizations campaigned against the new Evidence Act, claiming that it risked seriously undermining press freedom in the country. Although he ratified the Evidence Act in July, two months later, President Solih said that his government would amend the law to address concerns raised by journalists.

Women’s and Girls’ Rights

Women remained severely underrepresented in the Maldives’ judiciary, parliament, and local governing bodies, particularly in higher-ranking stations and positions. Women represent a mere 4.6 percent of the national parliament.

The government has not taken steps to address gender-based violence, which often goes unreported.

The UN Working Group on discrimination against women and girls, invited by the government, visited the Maldives in September to evaluate its progress in achieving gender equality and eliminating discrimination against women and girls. In its report, the UN Working Group applauded the Maldives government for its strong commitments to advancing gender equality.

Nevertheless, despite noting some positive steps, the report highlighted the continued subordination of women due to pervasive societal norms, gender-stereotyping, and religious conservatism. Significant shortcomings remain relating to the effective implementation of legal protections and barriers to remedy for women, particularly regarding gender-based violence.

Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

In July, police arrested three men for allegedly engaging in consensual same-sex relations with a Bangladeshi national who was also arrested. Another three men were arrested in connection with the case in September. The Bangladeshi national was sentenced to seven months in prison in August after he pleaded guilty; 40 additional charges were filed against him in September.

Among those arrested was the prominent lawyer, Ahmed Nazim Abdul Sattar, the younger brother of Parliament speaker and former President Mohamed Nasheed. He was sentenced to three months and 26 days in home confinement on September 15, after having pleaded guilty to the charge of engaging in homosexual relations.

The police said they were investigating 38 individuals who they believe have engaged in same-sex relations with the Bangladeshi national.

The Maldivian penal code criminalizes adult, consensual same-sex sexual conduct. Punishment can include imprisonment of up to eight years and 100 lashes and applies to men and women. Same-sex marriage is outlawed and punishable by up to a year in prison. Extremist groups in the Maldives use social media to harass, target and threaten those who promote the rights of LGBT people.

Climate Change

The Maldives is one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to the impacts of climate change, including sea-level rise and extreme weather events, as over 80 percent of the country is less than one meter above mean sea level. The government’s nationally determined contribution (NDC) to the Paris Agreement, updated in 2020, aims to reach net-zero emissions by 2030, but requires international support to reach this goal.

The Solih government has acknowledged increased threats from climate change, yet it has failed to adequately enforce environmental protection laws and launched developmental projects that risk environmental harm, including land reclamation—something the ruling party criticized while in opposition.

To adapt to rising sea levels and support tourism, the government commissioned the Addu Development project to create new land in Addu City by dredging sand from nearby lagoons. But civil society groups, including the citizen-led environmental group Save Maldives, have called on the government to cancel the project based on the project’s environmental impact assessment, which found the project could harm people, local tourism, and the environment.

Transparency and public awareness surrounding development projects in the country remains limited, with affected communities, civil society, and the general public largely excluded.

Key International Actors

Governments announced strategic and developments partnerships with the Maldives but failed to publicly call for human rights improvements.

In August, President Solih visited New Delhi for the third time since coming into office and reaffirmed his government’s commitment to the “India First’ policy.” India is aiding the Greater Male Connectivity Project—the largest-ever infrastructure project in the Maldives.

In February, the government of Australia established a permanent diplomatic presence in the Maldives and agreed to collaborate on climate change, security in the Indian Ocean region, and drug rehabilitation.

On March 12, 2022, the Maldivian government signed an agreement with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to strengthen the country’s economic and democratic governance and bolster inclusive and sustainable development.