Maldivian State of Emergency and Developing Risks
14 Feb 2018
On 06 February 2018, the Maldivian president declared a 15-day state of emergency in response to unrest in the capital, Malé. The initial unrest was related to the 01 February decision by the Supreme Court to acquit or drop charges against fourteen prominent opposition leaders, including the former president and vice president. Following the declaration of the state of emergency, two Supreme Court justices were detained on spurious charges, and the remaining three justices reversed their judgement, allowing the continued detention or exile of the opposition leaders.
- A 15-day state of emergency was declared on 05 February by the Maldivian president, Abdulla Yameen.
- Large protests have been seen in the capital, Malé. Resort areas have experienced limited disruption.
- The Maldivian police have arrested former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and removed two Supreme Court justices.
Political – Civil Unrest: On 06 February 2018, the Maldivian president declared a 15-day state of emergency in response to unrest in the capital, Malé. The initial unrest was related to the 01 February decision by the Supreme Court to acquit or drop charges against fourteen prominent opposition leaders, including the former president and vice president. Following the declaration of the state of emergency, two Supreme Court justices were detained on spurious charges, and the remaining three justices reversed their judgement, allowing the continued detention or exile of the opposition leaders.
Foreign observers have broadly criticised the government’s actions, with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, EU, British, and German diplomats seeking meetings regarding the crisis. President Yameen has so far rebuffed all efforts by the international community to engage with the crisis. The Indian government has openly raised the prospect of intervention.
Following the arrest of the justices, and the continued detention of opposition leaders, street-level activism has been muted. Using powers granted by the state of emergency, security forces have actively rounded up prominent activists or opponents of the ruling party. Security at all resort locations continues to be maintained, benefiting in part from their relative isolation from major population centres. The government has indicated that tourist safety remains a priority, and no disruption to travel services has been reported.
SOLACE GLOBAL COMMENT
Due to the isolated location of the Maldives and the conflicting reports received from the islands, it is hard to determine an accurate picture of the situation on the ground. However, it is clear that the political situation is deteriorating. The UK, US, and Chinese governments have all issued warnings to their citizens to exercise caution when travelling in the Maldives. The Maldivian economy is heavily reliant on tourism, which brings billions of dollars into the country each year. As such, the government has been keen to reassure tourists that despite the ongoing unrest, there is no risk posed to visitors. Despite these assurances, there have been reports that Maldivian police have entered tourist resorts, searching for political opponents that may be using them to hide from the authorities. Furthermore, On 9 February, a British and an Indian journalist were detained in Malé on national security grounds and for breaching their visa conditions. Both are now set to be deported. Although no incidents of holidaymakers being targeted by either the government or opposition supporters have been recorded, the ongoing hunt for political opponents and the suppression of the free media in a country with a recent authoritarian history, is a significant cause for concern.
Immediately following the Supreme Court’s decision on 01 February, the head of the Maldives’ police tweeted in support of the judgement, stating his intent to implement the decision. President Yameen promptly removed the chief of police and replaced him with a more compliant ally. At this stage, there remains no suggestion that rank-and-file officers will break from the government in response to the crisis.
On 6 February, former President Mohamed Nasheed tweeted, urging the Indian government to intervene militarily to remove President Yameen from power. Although the prospect of an Indian military intervention in the Maldives remains remote, there is strong support within elements of the Indian government to deploy troops. President Yameen has repeatedly disregarded Indian concerns about the growing Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean, safe in the knowledge that his government can turn to China and Pakistan for support if India reduces its ties with the Maldives. Any intervention currently would likely be in breach of international law as well as resulting in a wider diplomatic crisis; India and the United States would be opposing the supporters of the current government which includes China, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia.
One overlooked element of the crisis is the role of religion and the possibility that ongoing instability could fuel a rise in Islamic fundamentalism within the Maldives. The government claims that 100 per cent of the population is Muslim and it is a requirement for citizenship. Hardline Islamist groups have been staunch advocates of the current government, with the support not going unnoticed by President Yameen. He has recently held a number of large rallies advocating his support from Islamic values, seeking to capitalise on this. Recent reports suggest that conservative Islamic values are becoming more widely accepted and expected within the country. Although not enforced by the government, citizens have reported a growing pressure to conform to these values. It is believed that as many as 200 Maldivians have left the country and travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight for the Islamic State (IS). If this figure is accurate, it will make the Maldives one of the highest per capita contributors of foreign fighters to IS in the world. If the current political crisis continues to deteriorate, we may see a hardline Islamist groups rise to fill the power vacuum, unless a swift political transition can be implemented.
The current political crisis looks set to continue. The state of emergency imposed by President Yameen is highly likely to be extended past its 15-day limit on the 20 February if protests do not subside and a political settlement cannot be reached. So far President Yameen and the Maldivian security forces have refrained from using extreme force to quell protests, but the situation may escalate rapidly and travellers to the region should monitor the situation closely and remain vigilant at all times.
The Maldivian government has announced that the ongoing unrest poses no risk to tourists and expatriates. Travellers should be aware there is an increased security presence throughout the Maldives, especially in the capital MalÃ©. Numerous protests have taken place throughout the country, often at short notice. These demonstrations have often resulted in limited clashes with police. It is recommended that all protests are avoided. It is likely police will use forceful measures against demonstrators given that recent demonstrations have resulted in the use of tear gas to disperse large crowds. Foreigners caught in demonstrations of this kind may be subjected to harsher punishments by local security forces. If travelling within country, it is vital that travellers adhere fully to the instructions of security forces; opposition may result in a forceful response.
Political gatherings may initially seem peaceful but can escalate quickly into violence. It would be advisable for travellers to maintain a low profile in the short-term and monitor local events closely. If currently in the Maldives, it is recommended to contact the tour operator or airline for advice on rebooking return flights.
Solace Global would advise clients to employ enhanced security measures when visiting MalÃ© â airport meet and greet and use of a pre-booked driver for the length of a visit should be minimum security precaution. This will act to mitigate the risk to travellers by proving a local awareness of atmospherics, allowing any significant threats to be avoided. Travel to resorts in the Maldives should not require additional security measures. Travel tracking software with an integrated intelligence feed is recommended for all travel; this allows employers to implement effective duty of care, and travellers to remain aware of developments in their security environment.
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