British MPs’ defence of Maldives regime stirs controversy

British MPs’ defence of Maldives regime stirs controversy
February 20 15:07 2016

Three British MPs who defended President Abdulla Yameen’s regime against calls for sanctions during a government-sponsored visit to the Maldives have been accused of “deliberate manipulation of facts” by the opposition.

Speaking to the press in Malé on Thursday, Sir David Amess, the chair of the interest group, British All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Maldives, said that the Maldives has been portrayed in a “rather unfair fashion.”

Opposition claims of 200 Maldivian militants in the Middle East and 1800 political prisoners were overblown, he said, adding that it would be “most unwise” for the UK to encourage sanctions against the Maldives.

“If there were international sanctions, it wouldn’t damage the president or his cabinet, it would damage you, the ordinary people of the Maldives.”

UK Prime Minister David Cameron, following a meeting with former President Mohamed Nasheed at Downing Street in January, told MPs the UK is prepared to impose targeted sanctions if progress is not made.

Amess said that he would not comment on the fairness Nasheed’s jailing on a terrorism charge in March last year, but said that he had been given a tour of the opposition leader’s prison cell which was “quite luxurious.”

Nasheed is now in the UK on a government-authorized 30-day medical leave.

Amess also pledged to facilitate a meeting between Cameron and Yameen.

The Maldivian Democratic Party in a scathing response said it was “worried over the deliberate omission” of concerns it had highlighted to the APPG over the jailing of opposition leaders, corruption and threats to media and civil society groups.

Sheikh Imran Abdulla, the president of the religious conservative Adhaalath Party, was jailed for 12 years on a terrorism charge shortly after the three MPs arrived in Malé.

The MDP said the APPG “may find it difficult to state anything detrimental to their sponsors, irrespective of their findings.” It called on the delegation to fully disclose the details of their week-long visit, including the details of the arrangements made by the government.

Ian Paisely, an MP of the Democratic Unionist Party, and Mark Menzies, a tory MP who is not a member of the APPG, accompanied Amess.

“Yes they paid for it,” Paisley said when asked on the government’s sponsoring their visit. “That does not indicate that we are in any way in their pocket.”

Amess said the claim that they were government mouthpieces could not be “further from the truth,” while Menzies repeatedly stressed the three MPs were “independent.”

Responding to a question on Imran’s widely criticized trial, Paisley said the case was not simple. “All of the evidence we have seen does not indicate that this was not just a solely a matter about a minor speech, but there were issues expressed that incited violence, issues expressed that involved your terrorist laws.”

The APPG delegation went on to censure the opposition for its refusal to engage in talks with the government until jailed politicians are freed. “If we are going to have all party talks, you cannot ransom the president, and say well, we will only agree to all party talks, if this is done, and that is done. It’s gotta be straightforward,” Amess said.

A first round of talks in July last year failed when Nasheed was returned to jail despite the government’s promise of concessions.

The MDP said the APPG, during visits in 2012 and 2013, had made no attempts to meet the opposition.

“The MDP particularly refers to a visit by a member of the APPG in 2013, once again sponsored by the Government of Maldives, and the purpose of which was declared as “to meet local MPs and to discuss presidential elections and electoral reform” the said member of the APPG never met the opposition and therefore may have resulted in a very subjective view of what was happening in the Maldives at the time.

“Further, another visit by a member in 2012 resulted in the said member once again never meeting the opposition.”

The UK’s Independent said neither MP had responded to questions by the paper over the ethics of their trip. A 2010 BBC investigation had claimed Amess had broken Commons rules by failing to declare previous luxury trips, the paper said.

Lord David Alton, also a member of the APPG, last year called for targeted sanctions against Yameen’s regime in an opinion piece on the Huffington Post, prompting the Maldivian High Commission in the UK to publish an open letter condemning what it called a “litany of factual inaccuracies” in the op-ed.