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An archipelago in the Indian ocean consisting of over 1,200 islands, the Maldives is one of the territories most at risk from rising sea levels due to climate change. After 30 years of autocratic one party rule, 2008 saw a new constitution and the opening up of elections - a situation sadly reversed with the coup of February 2012. In addition to targeting political opponents for arrest, the Maldives government also maintains the State mandated centrality of Sunni Islam, arresting those accused of producing “un-Islamic” materials as well as enforcing corporal punishment in the name of “Islamic law”.
The Maldives is an archipelago nation of 1,200, mostly uninhabited, islands off the Indian sub-continent, none of which exceed a length of 4.5 miles or an altitude of six feet above sea level. As such, the country is particularly vulnerable to global warming. The capital city, Malé, is one of the most densely populated areas in the world.
Population and language
The Maldives is home to 320,000 people, though more tourists pass through the country every year than the number of permanent residents. This population has doubled over the past three decades, but annual growth has now slowed to less than 1.5 per cent since 2005. Officially 100 per cent of the population is Muslim, as it is illegal to publicly practice any other religion.
Dhivehi is the main language of the country, though English is widely spoken on resort islands and Malé.
History and Politics
The Maldives first became an independent Sultanate in the 12th century, before successively coming under the control of the Portuguese, Dutch and British empires. The country declared its full independence in 1965, and elected its first president, Obrahim Nasir, two years later through a referendum. In 1978, Maumoon Abd al-Gayoom succeeded Nasir as President, and continued to hold the office until the democratic reforms of 2008. The rule of Gayoom was one of significant political repression. In 1999, Amnesty alleged that four candidates standing in the Parliamentary elections had been tortured and continued to report on anti-democratic practices on the part of the State.
After the 2008 reforms introduced multi-party democracy to the Madlives former opposition party leader Mohamed Nasheed, who had been charged with terrorism and sedition under the Gayoom regime, won the Presidential elections in the second round. Political unrest continued, however, and protests began in the spring of 2011 over food prices, in which police clashed with protesters. In January 2012 a row erupted over the arrest of the Chief Justice following his order that a government critic be released, and the following month the unrest culminated in the forced resignation of President Nasheed. Nasheed. Mohammed Waheed Hassan Manik quickly replaced the former President, and an arrest warrant has been issued for Nasheed.
The Maldivian economy is heavily reliant on tourism, which accounts for 29 per cent of GDP, 60 per cent of foreign exchange receipts and 90 per cent of government tax revenue. Tourism fell following the tsunami of 2004, and again following the 2008 global economic crisis, but rose to an historic high in excess of 500,000 visitors in 2010. Fishing is also a major source of employment (11 per cent) though a relatively minor source of economic activity (3 per cent of GDP). The IMF has rated the country as at a moderate risk of debt default and provided US$79.3 million as a standby loan, though it refused to release thee second tranche of this load in November 2010 as a result of the lack of progress on fiscal reform.
Media and civil society
Discussion of religious matters in the press has long been taboo in the Maldives, indeed during 2011 the Maldivian authorities closed down the blog of Ismail Kilath Rasheed, and subsequently arrested him at the behest of the Islamic Affairs Ministry, on the grounds that his publications contained anti-Islamic material. Reporters Without Borders (RWB) has also expressed concern at the climate of danger for media since the wave of demonstrations, and reports of violence against journalists in the events that led to the President Nasheed's resignation. The organisation took the opportunity to encourage the new government to ensure the protection of media workers, especially journalists at the State TV station MNBC.
Reporters Without Borders rated the country 73 out of 179 in its Press Freedom Index of 2011.
Human rights and children's rights
Beyond concerns about freedom of expression in the Maldives human rights organisations have raised a range of other concerns about the county's human rights record. Amnesty has particularly raised concerns over the detention four opposition MPs during parliamentary elections, and alleged that they were detained to force them to comply with the government's political agenda. Of particular concern in relation to the rights of children is the state of the juvenile justice system. Under Islamic law, corporal punishment remains legal as a penalty for offences committed by children, and it appears that capital punishment and life imprisonment may be applied to children in relation to haddu offences. Potentially positive reforms to the area of juvenile justice have all stalled to date, including the Judicature Bill, the Criminal Procedure Code and the Evidence Bill.
- UNDESA, "Population Statistics"
- BBC, "Maldives Profile: Leaders" 7 February 2012
- BBC, "Maldives issues arrest warrant for Mohamed Nasheed" 9 February 2012
- The World Bank, "Maldives Economic Update 2011"
- Reporters Without Borders, "Religious intolerance to blame for leading blogger's detention for past week" 21 December 2011 and "Leading journalist released but his blog remains banned" 9 January 2012
- Reporters Without Borders, "New government must guarantee safety and rights of journalists" 8 February 2012
- Amnesty International, "Annual Report 2011: Maldives"
- Child Rights International Network, "MALDIVES: Inhuman Sentencing of Children" 2 October 2010
- OHCHR, "Maldives Homepage"
- Foreign and Commonwealth Office, "Maldives Country Profile"
- The World Bank, "Maldives Homepage"
- Reporters Without Borders, "Press Freedom Index 2011" and news items (see footnotes)
- BBC, "Maldives Country Profile" 7 February 2012 and news items (see footnotes)
- Amnesty International, "Annual Report 2011: Maldives"
- Child Rights International Network, "Inhuman Sentencing Campaign"