Ruling former President Mohamed Nasheed’s imprisonment arbitrary, a UN human rights panel has urged the Maldives to release him immediately and compensate for losses.
The details of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention’s (WGAD) non-binding opinion, released publicly by Nasheed’s international lawyers in London today, said the opposition leader’s conviction on a terrorism charge was politically motivated and violated international treaties the Maldives is party to.
“Today is an extraordinary day for me, for my husband and for our family. I am extremely grateful that the UN working group on Arbitrary detention for its decision,” said Laila Ali, Nasheed’s wife.
She called the WGAD’s opinion a “big step forward.” Nasheed is in good spirits and will continue the struggle for democracy in the Maldives, she said.
He was sentenced over the military’s detention of the Criminal Court’s Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012. The following month, a police and military mutiny forced him out of office.
The government last week said it “does not accept the decision of the WGAD” and called the opinion flawed and premature. The decision was communicated to the government on September 17, two weeks before it was delivered to Nasheed’s lawyers.
President Abdulla Yameen has previously declared that he would not bow down to foreign pressure, insisting international calls for Nasheed’s release amounted to interference in domestic affairs.
Nasheed’s lawyer Amal Clooney noted that the government had fully engaged with the legal process that led to this UN decision, and said Yameen must now abide by the recommendations.
Jared Genser, who also represents Nasheed and is the founder of Freedom Now, an advocacy group for political prisoners, said Nasheed’s lawyers will seek immediate action by governments, including travel bans and targeted sanctions against officials guilty of human rights abuses.
The WGAD, comprising of five independent experts, said the Maldivian government was unable to demonstrate the legal basis for the terrorism charge.
“[T]he Government has not explained how the arrest of Judge Abdulla, which was carried out by the MNDF (Maldives National Defence Forces) under an order given by a third party, could constitute terrorism,” the opinion read
The government was further unable to produce evidence that Nasheed had ordered Judge Abdulla’s arrest, the panel said.
Explaining their view that the conviction was politically motivated, the WGAD said:
“In the view of the Working Group, there are several factors which, taken together, strongly suggest that Mr. Nasheed’s conviction was politically motivated. These include: (i) the history and pattern of proceedings brought against Mr. Nasheed, including his arrest and detention in 1994 which was declared by the Working group to be arbitrary and solely motivated by the will to suppress his critical voice, (ii) the sudden way in which charges were reinstituted against Mr. Nasheed after the original case had been inactive for 2.5 years when the Government lost a key coalition partner in the parliament, (iii) the fact that, two weeks after Mr. Nasheed was sentenced, the Government adopted a law banning all prisoners from being members of political parties, and (iv) the fact that Mr. Nasheed will not be able to participate in the 2018 presidential election as a result of his conviction. In this case, the Working Group considers that Mr. Nasheed’s detention has resulted from the exercise of his rights as a political opposition leader to express views contrary to the Government, to associate with his own and other political parties, and to participate in public life in Maldives . . . The Working Group concludes . . . that he was targeted on the basis of his political opinions.”
The opinion also highlighted several violations of due process during the 19-day trial, including the rushed nature of the trial, and conflict of interest on the part of the Prosecutor General Muhthaz Muhsin and two of the three presiding judges.
The panel also found that the criminal court’s refusal to allow Nasheed to call defence witnesses and the absence of legal representation during key points of the trial constituted as violations of due process.
Omnia Strategy, chaired by Cherie Blair, wife of former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, and hired to respond to the complaint has previously said that any lapses in due process were not serious enough to render Nasheed’s detention arbitrary.
The government insists that Nasheed must seek redress through the Maldivian courts. The appeal is now with the Supreme Court, but the apex court could take months or even years to reach a decision.
World leaders have called for Nasheed’s release. Most recently, Ban Ki-Moon, the UN secretary general, urged the government to grant him clemency and restart political dialogue with the opposition.