“We strongly condemn the killing of Mr. Rasheed and we urge the Government of the Maldives to take action now to promote and protect the rights of their people to express their views freely,” the experts said.
Yameen Rasheed was found stabbed in the stairway of his home in Malé on 23 April. His murder is the latest in a series of attacks against journalists and human rights defenders expressing liberal views. The killings come against a backdrop of rising religious intolerance in the Maldives and reports suggest that most of the attacks have gone unpunished.
Mr. Rasheed was an outspoken critic of the government and wrote about alleged public corruption and human rights violations. He had received numerous death threats, which he had reported to the police, who had apparently taken no action to protect him.
He was also at the forefront of a campaign calling for accountability over the disappearance of another journalist and human rights defender, Ahmed Rilwan, who was the subject of an urgent appeal by UN experts in 2014.
“We recognize that authorities have initiated an investigation into the murder of Mr. Rasheed, leading to the arrest of two individuals. Nonetheless, in light of the extreme seriousness of the attack, we urge a thorough and independent public inquiry to take place bringing to bear all of the resources of law enforcement and focusing on Mr. Rasheed’s murder and the disappearance of Ahmed Rilwan”, the experts stated.
On 27 April 2017, four days following his statement condemning the murder of Mr. Rasheed, the President reportedly stated in a public meeting that any speech that mocks Islam cannot be tolerated or protected under freedom of expression.
“We consider it imperative that the authorities take seriously their obligation to promote a free and safe space for all forms of expression,” the experts stressed.
“It is the Government’s responsibility”, the UN experts emphasized, “to take active steps in law and practice to promote tolerance”. Their comments follow concern expressed by UN human rights experts In 2016 about proposed legislation using religion and social norms to restrict freedom of expression in ways that are incompatible with the obligations of the Maldives under international law.
The proposals have now been adopted into law and the experts have reinforced their appeal for the authorities to do more to honour their commitments to international standards. “We call on the Government to revise this legislation and other restrictive measures and to show a sincere commitment to human rights and democracy,” they concluded.
The killing of Mr. Rasheed has also been strongly condemned by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights at a briefing in Geneva on 25 April.
(*) The experts: Mr. David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Mr. Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Mr. Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief.
Photo credit: Front Line Defenders