India did not raise issue of political prisoners, says foreign minister

India did not raise issue of political prisoners, says foreign minister
April 12 17:38 2016

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not raise the issue of imprisoned opposition politicians during official talks with President Abdulla Yameen, Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon has said.

Briefing the press this afternoon on Yameen’s official two-day visit to India, Dunya said Indian government officials did not ask about “any convict” including former President Mohamed Nasheed or seek their release during high-level discussions.

“According to my information, the names of any these people did not come up during discussions between the president and India’s prime minister and they did not criticise our affairs either,” she told reporters.

“India has always taken the position that they cannot tell us what to do. So these are our domestic affairs. They have taken the position that the Maldivian judiciary and institutions making decisions is a Maldivian matter.”

Yameen’s visit came amidst a lobbying effort by his administration to avoid “punitive action” from the Commonwealth Ministeral Action Group over the widely condemned jailing of opposition leaders.

“We look at India for continued support in preventing any unfair, any punitive action by the CMAG on the Maldives,” Yameen said at a joint press conference with Modi yesterday.

After issuing a list of demands for the Maldivian government, including initiating all-party talks and releasing jailed politicians, following a meeting in February, the CMAG – which monitors member states’ observance of human rights and democracy – is due to review the Maldives’ progress in resolving a year-long political crisis on April 21.

The political crisis was triggered by the imprisonment of ex-President Nasheed and former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim in March 2015.

Adhaalath Party leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla joined the ranks of high-profile prisoners in February – which now includes two former defence ministers, a former vice president and a former prosecutor general – following his conviction on a terrorism charge over a speech he gave at an anti-government rally.

Modi had dropped the Maldives from his Indian Ocean tour in March last year, but India has not made any public statements on Nasheed’s case either since his conviction or after a UN rights panel declared the opposition leader’s jailing illegal and politically motivated.

Indian media reports on Yameen’s visit meanwhile speculated that the regional power is trying to strike a balance between engaging with the Maldivian government while nudging it towards reconciliation with the opposition.

Citing unnamed Indian officials, The Wire suggested that India is trying to ensure “that Maldives does not go entirely into China’s lap” while working behind the scenes to secure the release of Nasheed and other jailed politicians.

Speaking at today’s press conference, Fisheries Minister Dr Mohamed Shainee said foreign governments now understand that “there are no political prisoners in the Maldives.”

When the Maldivian government clarifies the issue and explain the background to diplomats, he added, they do not pose any questions over the imprisoned politicians.

“Once they understand, there is no pressure on the government over any of that,” he said.

Yameen meanwhile said yesterday that his administration is also seeking Indian support for consolidating democracy and improving democratic governance and the rule of law.

“In this context, we are seeking assistance from India. We are seeking assistance from countries like Singapore in order to improve our governance structures,” he said.

Discussions were also held on training magistrates and judges in India, he added.

Modi said Yameen had informed him of “the political and institutional reforms that are being implemented.”

“India will be supportive of all efforts that will empower Maldives, its citizens and polity,” the prime minister said.

Besieged by multiple political crises since early 2015, Yameen has so far remained defiant in the face of mounting diplomatic pressure, international censure, and the threat of sanctions.

Days before his visit to India, the US senate unanimously adopted a bipartisan resolution calling on the Maldivian government to redress the “injustice” of Nasheed’s jailing.

The UK and the European parliament have previously threatened to impose targeted sanctions if the government does not release political prisoners and engage in dialogue with political parties.