Jailed opposition leaders invited to join talks

Jailed opposition leaders invited to join talks
April 20 14:42 2016

After previously ruling out negotiating with “convicts,” the government on Tuesday night invited the jailed leaders of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party and Adhaalath Party to join all-party talks.

Speaking at a press conference at the president’s office, Fisheries Minister Dr Mohamed Shainee – President Abdulla Yameen’s representative for the talks – said the government reversed its position in the hopes that the allied opposition parties will engage in dialogue.

“We have announced that we are ready to go to jail to talk to them in order to go forward with [the talks],” he said, adding that the government is willing to compromise for a solution.

The concession comes ahead of a review by the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group of the Maldives’ progress in resolving a year-long political crisis sparked the imprisonment of former President Mohamed Nasheed and other high-profile politicians.

The u-turn also follows the arrival of a top UN official in Malé Saturday in a bid to resuscitate talks after the MDP and Adhaalath Party refused to negotiate unless their respective leaders – Nasheed and Sheikh Imran Abdulla – are released from prison, citing the government’s failure to honour commitments made during negotiations in July last year.

Nasheed is presently in the UK after the government authorised a 30-day medical leave in January. Imran, who is serving a 12-year jail sentence on a terrorism charge, was transferred to house arrest on April 4.

Dr Shainee said the government has been holding daily meetings this week with Sir Tamrat Samuel, senior advisor to the UN’s department of political affairs, who has also met with the opposition parties.

Shidatha Shareef, chair of the Adhaalath Party’s foreign relations committee, told The Maldives Independent today that the party’s stand remains unchanged.

“We demand that the government create a conducive atmosphere for talks,” she said.

“The government must not expect to hold our leaders as hostages at the negotiating table! Negotiations must be sincere and should pave way for political reconciliation”

The MDP’s spokesperson and senior officials were unable to comment as a meeting was ongoing to discuss the government’s offer.

MP Imthiyaz Fahmy told The Maldives Independent earlier this week that the party has not changed its stance of not negotiating with the government until all jailed politicians are released.

After the MDP and AP declined multiple invitations for the all-party talks, the government had sought the UN’s assistance for bringing the opposition parties to the negotiating table.

Yameen invited Samuel “to play a mediatory role” in the talks.

Samuel – who is accompanied during his visit by a high-level delegation from the UN department of political affairs – paid a courtesy call on Yameen at the president’s office this morning.

The UN office in Malé described Samuel’s official visit as “a follow-up” to the UN Assistant Secretary General Miroslav Jenča’s mission to the Maldives in February, during which the ASG assured the government of UN support for all-party talks.

The MDP meanwhile told visiting Commonwealth Deputy Secretary-General Dr Josephine Ojiambo last week that the all-party talks are an “exercise in futility” unless jailed political leaders are freed.

“The MDP, in principle, welcomes political dialogue. However, the government has categorically failed to create an environment conducive to meaningful dialogue by: its refusal to release political prisoners, stepping up attacks on the media, and failing to give space for civil society or the political opposition,” the party said in a statement.

Yameen had invited the opposition parties for talks in early February amidst the threat of targeted sanctions and action by the Commonwealth.

But Shainee insisted last night that there is no foreign pressure on the government.

Following a meeting in February, the CMAG – which monitors member states’ observance of democracy and human rights – called for inclusive dialogue and action to release detained political leaders.

Yameen has since sought the help of India, Malaysia and Pakistan to avoid “punitive action” by the Commonwealth over the widely condemned imprisonment of opposition leaders.

The CMAG – a watchdog committee comprised of a rotating group of eight foreign ministers from member states – is meeting in London today to decide if the Maldives has followed through on the group’s recommendations.

Additional reporting by Mohamed Saif Fathih