This year, my country of the Maldives – an Indian Ocean island archipelago of just over 300,000 people – has been the subject of a US Senate resolution, a statement by 10 Downing Street, and a report from the All-Party Maldives Group, a caucus of the British Parliament.
The reason for this increase in international attention is simple: a former President of our country is waging a global campaign of concern about democracy and governance, that in reality is not about the promotion of democracy and human rights and is simply a bid to return to office through external pressure aimed at destabilizing the administration that in 2013 defeated him in a free and fair election.
The Government and the people I serve do not doubt the genuine concern US Senate Resolution 392 expresses when it calls for the Maldives to address questions over legal process in my country. Neither can there be doubt as to the sincerity the Prime Minister of Great Britain expressed some months earlier on the same matter.
What is clear however is that the court case over which concerns have been expressed – the prosecution and subsequent jailing of Mohamed Nasheed, a former Maldivian President – was conducted without the accused ever having denied the actions that led to his trial. Nasheed has admitted that, while in office, he had ordered the abduction of the Chief Judge of the Criminal Court after he had released one of his political opponents. Indeed, Nasheed has admitted that this was the case in both an Op-Ed for the New York Times, and in a BBC Television interview.
Whether the trial of Nasheed was in accordance with the highest international standards is not for me to comment upon and is a matter that is currently being deliberated upon in the Supreme Court: as in the United States, in the Maldives the government and the courts work independently. However, what is beyond doubt is that he has admitted on more than one occasion, and in public, to the crime for which he was charged and later found guilty.
It is deeply regrettable that some of these straightforward facts are missed in media reporting on the matter. Neither can it help, when it comes to informing resolutions in the Senate or statements from the British Government, that neither the US nor the UK maintains diplomatic representation in my country. Both instead operate “virtual” Embassies for the Maldives from permanent diplomatic missions in Sri Lanka – nearly a thousand miles away.
Perhaps it is because of the lack of direct access to information on the ground that both the Senate resolution and the British Government statements are so similar in their support for the former President, and questioning of the position of the Government. What is clear is that this year’s third report – that of the All Party Parliamentary Group of the British Parliament whose caucus members took the time to visit my country in February to understand the situation directly – has taken a different view.
Take the matter of the prison in which the former President was jailed. According to Nasheed’s lawyers – led by Amal Clooney, wife of the movie star George Clooney – he was incarcerated in an “isolated cell located next to the prison garbage dump” and in “cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment in violation of the Convention Against Torture”. Unlike his lawyers, who declined to visit the prison, the British parliamentarians visited Nasheed’s cell, describing it as containing: “a private dining area, a garden and a swing seat. We are not suggesting he is held in the lap of luxury, we accept that the freedom denied is the sentence but in terms of prison standards, it is high”.
The British MPs expressed similar concerns on the legitimacy of the issue raised by the opposition of political prisoners, and on the position of Nasheed’s party that all must be released and charges dropped before planned multi-party talks about the future of the Maldives can proceed. The report outlines that Ian Paisley Jr. – the son of the late First Minister of Northern Ireland Reverend Ian Paisley – explained that in Northern Ireland prisoner releases only came at the very end of the political reconciliation process, and that to demand them at the beginning was tantamount for calling for the “suspension of the rule of law”. The Government maintains its position that there are no political prisoners in the Maldives and the UK delegation strongly criticised the notion that such numbers are illogical. The mere fact that persons in prison belong to political parties does not automatically signify that they are political prisoners.
The simple fact is that for many months the international media and political leaders in the US, UK and Europe have heard only one side of the story about the Maldives: that promoted by Nasheed and his high-profile media lawyers.
Many Maldivians are understandably tired of hearing their country described in a way they do not recognise. Those include not just members of the Government and its supporters, but even those from Nasheed’s side. Indeed, in a submission to the British parliamentary report, the deputy Speaker of the Maldives parliament – a founder and still a member of Nasheed’s political party said: “Nasheed has not initiated any sincere negotiations with the government. It is focused on toppling a legitimate and democratically elected government through street demonstrations while projecting the Maldives as an extremist country”.
There are two sides to every story, and the Government of the Maldives is more determined than ever – and in the face of the continued efforts of the former President to discredit the country and paint a one-sided version of recent events – to put the record straight.
The government I serve is not accountable for its actions to anyone other than the people of the Maldives who elected us in 2013 and who, we hope on the basis of our record, will re-elect us at the General election of 2018. We recognise our international obligations and the interest of our international partners in maintaining fundamental principles of democracy and human rights and we will continue to deliver in that regard by developing our domestic institutions. However, we wish for others – and particularly our international partners in the USA and UK – not to merely accept as complete the publicity of those who have personal agendas. The need to consider balanced information is even more critical when neither maintains permanent diplomatic presence in the Maldives. We ask therefore for consideration of the facts on the ground, before passing judgment. Some have seen them, and drawn different conclusions. We invite more of our American and British allies to come and experience the same.
Dunya Maumoon is the foreign minister of the Republic of Maldives
This op-ed was first published on The Hill’s Congress blog. Republished with permission.
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