UN opinion on Nasheed’s jailing revives Maldives opposition

UN opinion on Nasheed’s jailing revives Maldives opposition
October 03 16:04 2015

A UN human rights panel’s finding that former President Mohamed Nasheed’s detention was arbitrary has revived the opposition’s streets activities, while the government’s refusal to adhere to the decision has triggered a storm of criticism online.

Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has now resumed its street gatherings, protest marches and mass rallies. Some 200 people attended street gatherings in Malé on Wednesday and Thursday night,and nearly 300 people marched in capital Malé yesterday afternoon.

More than a thousand people attended a rally in southern Addu City last night, according to the MDP.

Police officers broke up the street corner gatherings in Malé, claiming opposition supporters were blocking traffic, but allowed the rallies to continue. The MDP has lodged a complaint with the human rights watchdog over restrictions on freedom of assembly.

The main opposition party’s activities had come to a near halt after the government returned Nasheed to jail in August despite having committed to reconciliation and commencing talks in July.

The government has called the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention’s (UNWGAD) flawed and said it “will not be made to act on the basis of a non-binding opinion.”

Riyaz Rasheed, MP of the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) said on Twitter that the UNWGAD was similar to MDP’s appeals committee. “We are not obliged to act on decisions by such a committee,” he said.

Other PPM activists took to Twitter with photos of criminal court Judge Abdulla Mohamed, whose 2012 military detention had resulted in the terrorism charge against Nasheed. “The UN does not have the authority to annul verdict that proved [Nasheed] abducted a judge,” one supporter said.

“This government will not be made to obey the UN,” said another tweet. “There’s no action that can be taken against the Maldives,” said another.

Nasheed’s supporters, however, noted that the UNWGAD bases its opinion on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), a treaty Maldives had signed in 2006.

Marc Limon, who heads Geneva based Universal Rights Group and acted as an advisor to former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom on democracy and human rights, said the Maldives is now in violation of its obligations under the ICCPR.

The UNWGAD is not a court and so Maldives cannot be compelled to adhere to the opinion, he said. But because the Maldives is party to the ICCPR, President Abdulla Yameen, Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon and members of the judiciary can be held accountable for violating international human rights law, now or in the future, he said.

Jared Genser, part of Nasheed’s heavyweight international legal team, said he was “thrilled” by the UN decision.

The WGAD’s decision will be communicated with Nasheed’s lawyers on October 5. It was delivered to the government beforehand on September 17. Genser, Amal Clooney and Nasheed’s wife Laila Ali will hold a press conference  on Monday in London. Genser has previously said the UN’s opinion will allow the lawyers to lobby for targeted sanctions against government officials.

Shahindha Ismail, the executive director of Maldivian Democracy Network, slammed the government’s refusal to release Nasheed in an interview with The Maldives Independent. “The government keeps on repeating the mistake of rejecting recommendations from different UN mechanisms, which to me demonstrates its insincerity to instituting reform.”

An official with another human rights advocacy group, who was reluctant to give his name, said: “The government engaged in the WGAD process, and now rejects its findings. What kind of message are they sending to the world? This is a grave mistake.”

Since the government publicized part of the WGAD’s ruling, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has urged the Maldives to grant Nasheed clemency, while Amnesty International also called for his immediate release.

Meanwhile, lawyers of Mohamed Nazim, a former defence minister who was jailed on a weapons smuggling charge, have said they too will petition the UN panel for his release.

The government appears to be increasingly rattled by the calls for sanctions. It emerged last week that it had hired Washington’s most prominent lobby firm Podesta Group for US$50,000 per month.

International pressure has been crucial in the Maldives’ battle for democracy. The European Union Parliament’s decision in 2004 to halt non-humanitarian aid and call for travel bans were key in forcing President Gayoom to institute liberal reforms. Most recently, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) in 2012 placed the Maldives on its agenda following Nasheed’s ouster. India placed visa restrictions and banned the export of construction materials in 2012 following the abrupt termination of an airport development contract with GMR.

The foreign ministry says the CMAG’s decision had caused economic harm, while India’s economic sanctions had tanked the construction sector here. The restrictions were lifted in 2014.

MDP members and MPs are now warning the government of similar punitive measures against its officials if it fails to adhere to the WGAD’s opinion.

Ahmed Thasmeen Ali, a former MP and Gayoom’s running mate in 2008 who defected to the MDP in 2013, said Yameen is refusing to release Nasheed because of his fear he may not win elections in 2018.

Ali Niyaz, MDP’s deputy chairperson, has called on the government to compensate Nasheed for the arbitrary jailing. He noted Nasheed had been jailed a number of times previously and expressed confidence that the government will once again be forced to release him with international and domestic pressure.

Photo by Ahmed Azim

This article’s headline was amended on October 3. 

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