Embassies call on Maldives president to return to democracy

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – The U.S. embassy and other foreign missions on Sunday urged the Maldives president to return to the path of democracy, saying they are concerned over what they call recent erosions of fundamental freedoms and institutions of democracy in the archipelago state.

In a joint statement offices including U.S., Norway, Germany, Netherlands, United Kingdom and the delegation of the European Union said they support all Maldivians’ struggling to preserve democracy and human rights.

The statement came ahead of a Parliament debate on Monday on a bill to criminalize defamation which if passed the diplomatic offices say risks being a serious setback for freedom of speech. Critics say defamation may carry heavy fines and jail terms.

Maldives became a multiparty democracy in 2008 after decades of autocratic rule. However, President Yameen Abdul Gayoom is accused of reversing the democratic gains by misusing courts, police and the bureaucracy to muzzle dissent.

At least four top political leaders including a former president and a vice-president have been given lengthy prison terms after trials criticized for a lack of due process.

Street protests are banned and persons who post critical comments on social media are arrested.

Former president Mohamed Nasheed who travelled to Britain on a medical leave from prison earlier this year has been given asylum by that country.

He has formed a united opposition front with other leaders in exile and supporters of those imprisoned to force Gayoom to resign.

Maldives is known for its luxury island resorts.