by Gavin Haines, The Telegraph, July 31, 2017
What’s happening in the Maldives?
Political unrest, the reinstatement of the death penalty and the looming possibility that a major holiday firm will pull its business from the archipelago.
Is it serious?
Most visits to the island nation are trouble free. Nevertheless, the Foreign Office (FCO) has updated its travel advice for the Maldives; it is urging tourists to avoid large gatherings in the capital, Male, which could turn violent after the Maldivian military blockaded parliament to prevent an impeachment vote against a key ally of the president.
What’s this about capital punishment?
President Abdulla Yameen looks set to revive the death penalty after a 60 year moratorium on capital punishment. The move has been widely criticised by human rights groups such as Reprieve, which claimed the sentenced men – Hussain Humaan Ahmed, Mohamed Nabeel and Ahmed Murrath – were convicted for murder after “seriously unfair” trials.
Former Maldivian president, Mohamed Nasheed, who plans to stand in next year’s elections, has also been critical of the move. He told the Telegraph that the country had “descended from a tolerant democracy to a thuggish dictatorship” under Yameen.
“Now he’s reportedly planning to restart executions – an utterly cynical ploy to intimidate and scare people into submission,” said Nasheed, who was jailed by the Yameen regime on spurious terrorism charges in 2015 (he was later exiled to the UK after being released through an international campaign by high profile lawyers including Amal Clooney).
And holiday companies are pulling out, you say?
In a blog post, Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin brand, threatened to remove his money and business from the popular holiday destination if the expected executions go ahead.
He said the executions would be “an awful political move that will send the country back to the Dark Ages of human rights.”
The Virgin boss, however, made no mention of pulling his business out of other destinations that still have the death penalty, such as the US.
Are other operators likely to follow suit?
It doesn’t look likely. In a statement, Kuoni, which offers high-end breaks to Robinson Crusoe-style Maldivian islands, said “we do not condone any abuse of human rights and are naturally concerned when news of this nature is brought to our attention.”
However, the company added: “The people in the Maldives depend on a thriving tourism industry for their livelihood and we believe we bring positive change by supporting them and their families through employment and a firm commitment to fair working conditions.”
Thomas Cook also looks unlikely to change course. “We believe our influence is best exerted through our approach to responsible tourism… Tourism is a positive force for economic and social development worldwide, and it plays a significant contribution to improving the lives of the people of the Maldives.”
Will this affect my holiday?
Probably not. Most visits to the archipelago are trouble free and many resorts occupy small, isolated island that are a long way from the capital Male, where most protests take place.
Still, it sounds unsavoury – can I cancel my holiday?
If you want to cancel your trip it is unlikely you will be entitled to a refund unless the FCO advises against travelling to the region. Contact your tour operator, accommodation or your insurer to discuss your options.
Despite Sir Richard Branson’s comments, Virgin Holidays told Telegraph Travel that its cancellation policy had not changed for the Maldives.
“Our standard cancellation policy still applies to the Maldives,” said a spokesperson. “We will continue to monitor the situation and if travel advice changes, or the political situation deteriorates, we will amend our policy to protect concerned travellers.”