The ambassador-designate to Sri Lanka has stood by threats to detain former President Mohamed Nasheed after the exiled opposition leader’s high-profile international lawyers expressed concern about their client’s safety.
Mohamed Hussain Shareef ‘Mundhu’ told the pro-government Sun TV last week that the Maldivian embassy would enforce orders to detain Nasheed in Colombo and return him to the Maldives to serve his 13-year jail sentence on a terrorism conviction.
The remarks prompted Nasheed’s international counsel Amal Clooney to warn that “any attempt by a Maldivian diplomat to detain President Nasheed in Sri Lanka would constitute a violation of international law as well as Sri Lankan criminal law.”
The heavyweight human rights lawyer added: “President Nasheed should not be returned to the Maldives to serve a sentence that resulted from a sham trial, and it is incumbent on the Sri Lankan authorities to ensure that his rights are respected while he is in their country.”
Her co-counsel Jared Genser called Shareef’s remarks “outrageous” and a “flagrant violation of international law”.
“No country can violate another’s sovereignty by abducting their citizens from a foreign territory,” said the founder of Freedom Now, a renowned campaign group for political prisoners.
Along with Ben Emmerson, Clooney and Genser successfully petitioned a UN panel to declare Nasheed’s imprisonment arbitrary in late 2015. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ruled that Nasheed’s conviction and detention violated international law, but the government rejected the “non-binding opinion”.
The former president was found guilty of ordering the “abduction” of a judge. The 19-day trial in March 2015 was widely condemned as “vastly unfair, arbitrary and disproportionate” and “politically motivated”.
The 50-year-old opposition leader was granted political asylum in the UK last year after he was authorised to seek medical treatment there amidst mounting foreign pressure.
He has since frequently travelled to Sri Lanka to meet with opposition figures.
Nasheed’s office said in a statement that Shareef’s remarks should not be taken lightly, accusing staff at the Maldivian embassy in Colombo of “conspiring to illegally abduct a Maldivian blogger” named Ahmed ‘Shumba Gong’ Ashraf.
“The Sri Lankan foreign ministry took the highly unusual step of publicly chastising the Maldivian government over the incident, noting that it found it ‘deeply disturbing that Sri Lanka … is being used to initiate questionable action against political … activists,'” the former president’s office noted.
Responding to the former president’s heavyweight lawyers, Shareef meanwhile told the foreign press that the accusation of attempted kidnapping was ironic because Nasheed was “a fugitive from the law for the well-publicized kidnapping of a chief judge when he was in power.”
Shareef stood by the threat to detain Nasheed in Colombo. “Should a relevant authority in the Maldives request the embassy to seek the assistance of relevant authorities in Sri Lanka to return him or any other fugitive in accordance with our constitution and laws, all avenues available through diplomatic channels will be utilized to fulfill the obligation,” he repeated.
He went on to insist that relations with Sri Lanka remain close and unstrained.
“The close ties between our two governments and responsibility of officials on both sides have been instrumental in avoiding misunderstanding in spite of erroneous claims by Nasheed and senior officials in his 2008-2013 regime,’ Shareef said.
“Among their most recent claims is the ongoing social media campaign to create friction between the two governments on the procedural issue of agreement to my appointment as Ambassador. I thank the Sri Lankan authorities for the speed with which our request was processed favourably, and am looking forward to working closely with Sri Lankan authorities in promoting bilateral ties.”