Maldives' dark side: Death penalty threatens trouble in paradise

The Maldives, famed for its crystalline waters and long tongues of white sand, lies at the centre of the Indian Ocean.

The Maldives, famed for its crystalline waters and long tongues of white sand, lies at the centre of the Indian Ocean.

Holiday firms offering trips to the Maldives have been urged by human rights activists to condemn the expected execution of three men that will bring a brutal end to the country's 60-year moratorium on the death penalty.

Sir Richard Branson last week described the reported decision by Abdulla Yameen, the Maldivian president, to revive executions as "an awful political move that will send the country back to the Dark Ages of human rights".

In a blog post, the creator of the Virgin brand threatened to remove his holiday business from the Maldives and urged other tour operators, governments and businesses to follow suit if the executions went ahead.

Richard Branson is asking other tourism operators to boycott the luxury location.
GETTY IMAGES

Richard Branson is asking other tourism operators to boycott the luxury location.

"It's been heart-breaking to watch what is happening on the beautiful island nation of the Maldives, a country for which I have long had such great affection and respect," he said,

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Reprieve, the anti-death penalty campaign group, has issued a plea for Kuoni and Thomas Cook, travel companies who operate luxury holidays in the Maldives, to follow Branson's lead and urge President Yameen to halt the executions, believed to be imminent.

Abdulla Yameen, the Maldivian president.
REUTERS

Abdulla Yameen, the Maldivian president.

In a letter to the firms, Reprieve claimed that the sentenced men, Hussain Humaam Ahmed, Mohammed Nabeel and Ahmed Murrath, were convicted for murder after "seriously unfair" trials.

Their deaths would be an "irreparable miscarriage of justice" and would follow a pattern of human rights failings since President Yameen came to power in 2013, they said.

Of 20 convicts on death row, five were juveniles at the time of their arrest. Reprieve believes that lethal injections have already been found for the first three deaths, while a search is under way for an experienced executioner.

Maya Foa, Reprieve director, said the executions were "a naked attempt by President Yameen to suppress dissent and tighten his grip on power", calling on him to "start the democratic reforms needed to bring stability back".

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Kuoni said: "We do not condone any abuse of human rights and are naturally concerned when news of this nature is brought to our attention. The people in the Maldives depend on a thriving tourism industry for their livelihood and we believe we bring positive change by supporting them."

Thomas Cook said: "We believe our influence is best exerted through responsible tourism."

Tourists see very little of the political turmoil or human rights abuses that have gripped the country in recent years. Last week the British Foreign Office updated its travel advice, urging tourists to avoid large gatherings in the capital, Male, which could turn violent.

Ibrahim Hussain Shahib, the president's international spokesman, said the government was implementing the law to protect its people.

"[They] have been charged and convicted of murder in the first degree, their cases were tried at all stages of appeal... due process was followed at all stages. There has been no doubt created in any of these cases as to whether the convicted had carried out the crimes," said Mr Shahib, adding that the constitution did not allow the head of state to grant clemency.

"This administration will not be deterred by a political opposition who seeks to exploit policies to score points back home and abroad while not even pretending to engage in positive political dialogue."

 - The Telegraph, London

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