Is MDP seeking to wipe out civic freedoms in Maldives?

Former Foreign Minister of Maldives and United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran, Dr Ahmed Shaheed | Photo: Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Malé, Maldives – Former Foreign Minister of Maldives and United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran, Dr Ahmed Shaheed has questioned if Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) is trying to wipe out the civic freedoms in Maldives.

Following the derogatory remarks on Maldivian civil servants by Hoarafushi constituency parliamentarian Ahmed Saleem, Dr Shaheed questioned MDP’s intentions on civic freedoms in the country and also stated that MP Saleems proposition of a broad limitation of freedom of expression was incompatible with Maldives obligation to respect freedom of expression under Article 19 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which Maldives had signed in 2006.

Speaking at the Parliament on March 24, 2021 regarding a bill to amend the Civil Service Act, Saleem said that those working in Civil Service “cannot talk about and write about what ever they want” and “should shut up from the moment the work contract is signed, until in the grave.”

The person working in Civil Service is someone who has to live by a certain limit, certain code of conduct and a certain discipline. Can’t write what ever they want. Can’t say what ever they want. The individual is a faceless person according to experts. The individual is a voiceless person. The person has to shut up from the moment the work contract is signed, util in the grave. Can’t write what ever they want on Facebook. Can’t talk whatever they want where ever they want. That’s a professional person. 

The moment they sign their Civil Service agreements, they are consenting that they have no issue with the freedom of speech they are granted by the constitution being taken away. The individual agrees to this. They are people who know extra information about the office. More than what the general public would know. The privilege is there. With that, there are standards to which they should abide by.

How many Civil Servants among us are able to uphold the value of their profession? Even this morning I received a post on Facebook by a Civil Servant, supporting a specific political candidate. They cannot! With such things happening again and again, it ends up diminishing the confidence regarding the services of the government.

Ahmed Saleem, Member of the Parliament, Hoarafushi constituency, Maldives

With this, a social media uproar has taken over the Maldives with a tsunami of criticism aimed towards Saleem. Many argue that much like any other member of the public, those working in Civil Service too, shall be able to exercise their freedom of speech. Others questioned in anger, whether those working in Civil Service are indeed “servants” and are not deserving of basic human rights.

More posts aimed at Saleem on social media exclaimed that Saleem himself was elected with the votes of those working in Civil Service and that even his salary is being paid by the tax money of those working in the institution.

In response to Saleem’s comments, Maldives Health Professional’s Union issued a statement saying that “The freedom of speech granted for Maldivians by the constitution of the country cannot be narrowed down under any circumstance.”