US Secretary of State John Kerry has welcomed the Maldivian government’s decision to authorise jailed former President Mohamed Nasheed to seek medical treatment in the UK.
Release of @MohamedNasheed is step in the right direction; urge more engagement from Government of Maldives on democracy, shared challenges.
— John Kerry (@JohnKerry) January 18, 2016
Nasheed left for Colombo last night. He is due to fly to London tomorrow to undergo surgery to correct slipped discs in his spine.
After previously denying permission for Nasheed to travel overseas and insisting that the surgery is available in the Maldives, the government’s sudden change of heart followed visits by the Indian foreign secretary and Sri Lankan foreign minister.
Hugo Swire, UK Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, is also believed to have played a part during an official visit this week.
James Dauris, UK High Commissioner to the Maldives, and Juergen Morhad, Germany’s ambassador to the Maldives, also welcomed the development in a tweet last night.
— Nisha Biswal (@NishaBiswal) January 18, 2016
According to Nasheed’s lawyers, the deal was first brokered by Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera and Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake.
New Delhi-based The Hindhu meanwhile suggested that Foreign Secretary Dr S. Jaishankar’s January 11 call on President Abdulla Yameen was aimed at pressing upon the need for the Maldives to treat the opposition leader “in accordance with his status as a former elected leader.”
In return, India reportedly promised a visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who had previously dropped the Maldives from an Indian Ocean tour in the wake of Nasheed’s imprisonment in March last year.
But Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon insisted today that the reversal of the government’s stance was not prompted by diplomatic pressure or the threat of sanctions.
“The decision was initiated by the government, leave was granted to Nasheed considering his medical condition and especially since he is a former president. He has signed documents committing himself to return after treatment,” she said at a press conference this afternoon.
Contrary to media reports, Dunya said the visits by the Indian and Sri Lankan diplomats had been confirmed in December.
“As is customary with such visits, the foreign ministers met with President Yameen and discussed matters of bilateral relations as well as their opinion and counsel on the political situation. The decision to send former president Nasheed to UK is an independent decision by the government,” she said.
Nasheed’s international lawyer Jared Genser meanwhile suggested last night that Kerry may also have been involved in securing the former president’s release. Genser posted a photo of Nasheed on the phone with the secretary of state at the airport VIP lounge.
— Jared Genser (@JaredGenser) January 18, 2016
During a visit to Sri Lanka in May, Kerry had called Nasheed’s imprisonment an “injustice that needs to be addressed soon.”
Nasheed’s 13-year jail sentence on a terrorism charge after a rushed trial in March had drawn widespread condemnation over apparent lack of due process. In October, a UN human rights panel ruled that his imprisonment was arbitrary and politically motivated, but the government rejected the non-binding opinion as “flawed and premature.”
An appeal of Nasheed’s terrorism conviction is now before the Supreme Court. He was found guilty over the military’s detention of a judge during his tenure.
Genser along with UK-based human rights lawyer Amal Clooney have been lobbying the US government to impose targeted sanctions against top Maldivian officials accused of human rights abuses. A confidential list of targets have been shared with the governments of the US and the UK.
Samantha Power, US ambassador to the UN, also welcomed Nasheed’s release last night.
Good to see fmr #Maldives Pres Nasheed allowed to access important medical care. Urge Yameen govt to protect, not restrict, human rights
— Samantha Power (@AmbassadorPower) January 18, 2016
Nasheed’s temporary release from prison was greeted with jubilation by opposition supporters as Yameen’s administration had remained defiant in the face of mounting diplomatic pressure and mass anti-government demonstrations last year.
Richard Branson, British billionaire and founder of the Virgin Group, and Bill McKibben, environmentalist and founder of 350.org, have also tweeted about the former president’s reprieve from detention.
“It’s a good day for human rights,” tweeted Branson, who had called for a tourism boycott until Nasheed is released.
MPs of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives also tweeted well wishes to the opposition leader, including Faris Maumoon, son of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and nephew of the incumbent president.
Defence Minister Adam Shareef Umar meanwhile praised Yameen for his “brave decision” to authorise Nasheed’s medical leave.
Congratulations to the HEP for his brave decision to allow RN to do his surgery in abroad. We see the tip of the iceberg. — Adam Shareef Umar (@Adamshareefz) January 18, 2016