(New York) – Authorities in the Maldives should drop charges against four men and halt investigations to identify others who may have had consensual same-sex relationships, in moves that appear to be aimed at appeasing extremist groups, a said Human Rights Watch today. The government should take immediate action to repeal the provisions of the Criminal Law of Maldives 2014. coded which criminalises ‘unlawful sexual intercourse’ and ‘unlawful sexual contact’, contrary to international human rights standards.
Maldives police said they were investigating dozens of individuals and sought to file a complaint against three men arrested on July 28, 2022, including a police officer and the brother of a prominent politician, Mohamed Nasheed, former president and current speaker of parliament. Investigations and arrests were apparently based on leaked videos and screenshots that allegedly depicted the men have sex with bangladeshi manwho had been arrested on July 12. If convicted, the men face up to eight years in prison and 100 lashes.
“Maldives authorities should immediately abandon unfair and seemingly politically motivated investigations, and instead conform to international standards for the protection of rights,” said Graeme Reid, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Rights Program and transgender people at Human Rights Watch. “The government should repeal laws criminalizing consensual same-sex relationships, which discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens, migrants and tourists, and are a source of abuse.”
Police have opened an investigation after several videos and screenshots leaked to social media. The Bangladeshi national has been arrested for engaging in unlawful sexual behavior and for allegedly making the video recordings. International human rights law forces the state to provide him with a free lawyer since he cannot afford a lawyer.
Police then summoned and questioned the three men identified in the videos and they were subsequently arrested. In a media interview, Police Commissioner Mohamed Hameed said 38 people had been identified as having had same-sex relations with the Bangladeshi, and they would all be prosecuted after investigation. The authorities have grasped the passports of 18 people linked to these police investigations.
The arrests came as the Maldivian government faces backlash from extremist Islamist groups for holding more than 20 peopleincluding two religious leaders and a former MP for their alleged involvement in a violent attack at an event celebrating International Yoga Day on June 21. These groups felt that the event, which was attended by government officials and foreign diplomats, as a heretic, a celebration of idolatry or polytheism. On 25 July, the Adhaalath party – a partner in the ruling coalition whose leader is the interior minister – declared yoga prohibited.
Prior to the arrest of Mohamed Nasheed’s brother, opposition supporters, as well as Islamist groups, had used social media to pressure the government over his arrests for the Yoga Day bombings, while not taking no action against those allegedly involved in the leaked videos.
The administration of President Ibrahim Solih has failed to respond credibly to threats to freedom of expression and other rights by Islamist groups, Human Rights Watch said. The administration has neglected other key reforms, leaving the justice system vulnerable to pressure from powerful interest groups, including groups that advocate violence against government critics.
In May 2021, Nasheed was seriously injured in an assassination attempt, which he blamed on religious extremists. He recently critical the Solih administration for appeasing the Adhaalath party.
Before the reform of the Maldives’ penal code in 2014, same-sex relations were only regulated by Sharia, or Islamic law. Under the revised penal code, section 411(a)(2) punishes “same-sex sexual intercourse” with up to eight years in prison, while section 411( d) provides for an additional penalty of up to 100 lashes under Sharia. Section 412 prohibits unlawful sexual behavior with a penalty of up to eight years. These provisions apply to both men and women.
The criminalization of consensual homosexual behavior by adults contravenes widely accepted international legal standards. Arrest for consensual homosexual relations is arbitrary. Laws against same-sex relations make people easy targets for blackmail, extortion and political manipulation. Even when not enforced, these laws have a chilling effect on homosexual activity.
Consensual sex is protected by the fundamental right to privacy and non-discrimination, and the right to be free from arbitrary and unlawful interference with an individual’s private and family life and reputation or dignity. The criminalization of same-sex intimacy violates these international norms and standards, because affirmed by the United Nations Human Rights Committee, which monitors compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and by the United Nations Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.
“The arrest of four men for consensual homosexual behavior shows the arbitrary nature of these discriminatory laws,” Reid said. “The law exposes people to blackmail and other abuse, and easily becomes a political tool in which those prosecuted bear the brunt of abuse. The government should repeal the laws immediately.