The government has done all it could to ensure former President Mohamed Nasheed’s right to appeal his conviction on terrorism charges, President Abdulla Yameen said last night.
Speaking at the closing ceremony of a symposium held to train campaigners for his 2018 re-election bid, Yameen said he tried to “arrange for an opportunity” to appeal Nasheed’s 13-year jail sentence following multiple requests to both the president’s office and the prosecutor general.
But the High Court rejected the prosecutor general’s appeal, Yameen said, and Nasheed himself said at court that he did not believe the state could appeal on his behalf.
“The path he has to walk now is to go to the Supreme Court. But instead his foreign lawyers came and said we will do everything we can to impose sanctions on the Maldivian people,” he said.
“Go ahead. That’s something they will do. But we can’t give up our principles. This president for sure will not do anything outside the bounds of the [law],” he said.
Nasheed’s high-profile international lawyers Amal Clooney and Jared Genser had said last week that a likely judgment by the UN working group on arbitrary detention declaring Nasheed’s imprisonment unlawful would pave the way for imposing “targeted sanctions” on the Maldives if the government continues to detain the opposition leader.
Yameen meanwhile stressed that his efforts to initiate an appeal after Nasheed said he was deprived of the constitutional right did not amount to unduly influencing the judiciary.
“Interfering with the judiciary is meddling with outcomes or judgments from the judiciary,” he said, whereas the president has an obligation to ensure that cases are expedited.
Following widespread international condemnation of Nasheed’s conviction in March, Yameen had maintained that the charges were raised by an independent prosecutor general and tried through an impartial court.
Yameen insisted last night that there are “no political prisoners” or any individuals “arbitrarily detained” under his administration. Opposition politicians were jailed after being found guilty of criminal offences by an independent judiciary, he said.
Meanwhile, in an op-ed published by CNN yesterday, Vice President Ahmed Adeeb said Nasheed’s case will be “a test of the strength of Maldives institutions”.
“That the Maldivian High Court, known for its fierce independence, is proceeding with the appeal process against the government’s decision is a positive step,” he wrote.
“The government, for one, will look forward to participating in a legal process that we are determined will be free of interference on all sides – foreign or domestic.”
However, Adeeb’s piece was published after the High Court rejected the state’s appeal on the grounds that it was not filed by Nasheed.
The former president’s office had said in a statement on Friday that the High Court decision has deprived Nasheed of fundamental rights guaranteed by both the Maldivian constitution and international treaties.
The decision has “shown to the people beyond doubt again that the Maldivian judiciary is repeatedly acting unjustly toward President Mohamed Nasheed,” the office said.
The statement noted that the High Court had held a preliminary hearing to determine whether it could accept the appeal.
But the court said in its decision that Nasheed’s constitutional rights were not violated during the criminal court trial.
Clooney meanwhile told reporters in Colombo on Friday that the High Court’s decision was “extremely concerning” as it was reached without hearing arguments from Nasheed’s lawyers.
The prosecutor general’s office had said it appealed the conviction to “show that the Maldives remains steadfast in upholding the rule of law,” address Nasheed’s complaints over the trial, and show that Nasheed has not been deprived of the right to appeal.
“Having read the judgment, I really doubt whether anyone can conclude if that goal has been achieved,” Clooney said.
Yameen meanwhile went on to slam alleged interference in Maldivian domestic affairs by foreign powers – a recurring theme in his public remarks.
Referring to the UK, Yameen said a nation that does not have a written constitution was “criticising” the Maldives.
The 2008 constitution established an independent judiciary and ensured that the executive would have no authority over the courts, he said.
But foreign powers were writing to the president over “every problem we face,” he said.
“Will people write to Barack Obama over a decision made by the American Supreme Court?” he asked
In his speech at the closing ceremony of the first round of the symposium earlier this month, Yameen had said that foreign powers would not come to the Maldives without “an ulterior motive”.
Prior to his administration assuming office in November 2013, Yameen said last night that international organisations and foreign powers routinely dictated courses of action to the Maldivian government.
Meanwhile, UK foreign office minister for Asia, Hugo Swire, told The Telegraph last week that Nasheed’s trial was “very damaging for the Maldives’ international reputation.”
“It is in the Maldives’ own interest that they restore confidence in their judicial independence and in their respect for democratic principles. This means releasing all political prisoners, Mr Nasheed included. We have set this out in public and in private repeatedly to them,” he was quoted as saying.
“Without progress in these areas, the Maldives risks increasing and unwelcome international attention through the autumn, with the next session of the UN Human Rights Council approaching, the UN General Assembly later this month and of course the Commonwealth Heads of Government summit in November.”