Four members of the United States Congress have written a letter to President Abdulla Yameen, demanding former President Mohamed Nasheed’s release and expressing concern over the apparent deterioration of democracy in the Maldives.
The members of Congress—Jim McGovern, Joe Pitts, Eliot Engel and Jan Schakowsky—hail from both the Republican and Democratic Parties and sit on the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, a bipartisan caucus of the US House of Representatives.
Their letter adds to a growing chorus of American criticism of Yameen’s administration.
In the July 31 letter, obtained by The Maldives Independent, the members of Congress stated that they are “concerned by several recent events that call into question your government’s commitment to democracy and the rule of law.”
Chief among the concerns are Nasheed’s conviction on a terrorism charge, relating to the arrest of judge during his tenure, and the impeachment of Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed in July.
The members of Congress took issue with irregularities in Nasheed’s trial, including lack of time to prepare defence, call defence witnesses and two presiding judges having acted as witnesses in the prosecution’s investigation.
“While we take the threat of terrorism very seriously, we are troubled by the misuse of that term for the basis of the charges brought against President Nasheed,” the letter read.
The members said they welcomed Yameen’s decision to commute Nasheed’s sentence to house arrest, and said: “we urge you to go further by immediately and unconditionally releasing President Nasheed and other political prisoners, and guaranteeing the rights of all your citizens to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.”
The Maldives Attorney General’s Office, however, now claims Nasheed’s 13-year jail term was never commuted to house arrest.
Nasheed was first transferred to house arrest for three days on the doctor’s recommendation in late June. The period was extended to eight weeks ahead of talks between the government and the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).
Talks now appear to have broken down, with the MDP accusing the government of failing to honor commitments made to release Nasheed and other jailed politicians.
The MDP, however, has not resumed street protests.
In the letter to Yameen, the members of Congress said: “In addition to the troubling aspects of President Nasheed’s case, the recent steps taken by your government to remove Vice President Jameel from office on charges of treason are also of serious concern. This move, so soon after Mr. Nasheed’s conviction, only adds to the impression that the commitment to democracy in the Maldives has diminished.”
Jameel is currently in the UK. He had left the Maldives soon after the parliament amended the constitution to allow his replacement.
The MDP had backed Jameel’s impeachment as part of the talks.
The Congressmens’ letter also highlighted the government’s crackdown on protesters in May and the arrest of several journalists in March.
“We think it is important for your government to take steps to restore confidence in the Maldives’ commitment to democracy and the rule of law, including judicial independence and freedom of press,” the letter said.
In May, US Secretary of State John Kerry had said Nasheed’s imprisonment is an “injustice that needs to be addressed soon.”
UK Prime Minister David Cameron, the European parliament, and influential US Senators John McCain and Jack Reed have called for Nasheed’s immediate release.
Additional writing by Zaheena Rasheed.