HRW bemoans crackdown on dissent ahead of Maldives polls

The continued government crackdown on dissent threatens the prospects for free and fair elections in the Maldives, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The report, published on Thursday, accuses incumbent president Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom of introducing vaguely-worded laws as a way to intimidate and arbitrarily arrest critics including activists, journalists and Supreme Court justices.

Maldives government has been facing mounting international pressure especially from the US and the West over the contentious jailing of opposition leaders and the restrictions on fundamental rights and liberties.

The archipelago's international partners including India, US and the EU have cast doubts over the possibility of holding free and fair presidential elections in the Maldives which has been slated for September 23.

Patricia Gossman, associate director of the HRW Asia division, said the scales are unfairly tipped against opposition candidates ahead of the September 23 ballot.

"The day of the vote only gives you a very small picture of the problems going on, one really has to look at what's been happening over the past few months and years at whether there's really been a level playing field for the opposition, whether the media has been able to criticise the government, whether people have had access to that kind of information," she told Al Jazeera.

"This is a problem that really goes back several years with the enactment of laws that criminalise peaceful dissent, make it very difficult for opposition parties to function and really crack down on the media," she told Al Jazeera. "Now we're seeing the culmination of that in these last few months leading up to the election, with the detention of even Supreme Court justices who dared to defy the president."

According to the report, Yameen's government has interfered with the country's judiciary and elections commission, while so-called "religious extremists" and politically-affiliated gangs have assaulted and killed people with impunity.