Government assures investigation of alleged bugging of ex-president’s meeting with lawyers
Following international media coverage of the alleged secret surveillance, the prisons authority said in a statement – posted in English on Twitter by the foreign ministry yesterday – that the “suggestion that the Maldives Correctional Services or the government is responsible for this infringement is wholeheartedly rejected.”
The government has assured that allegations of spying on former President Mohamed Nasheed’s meeting with his high-profile international lawyers Amal Clooney and Jared Genser will be “investigated to the fullest extent.”
Genser told the press on Thursday that the pair’s meeting with Nasheed at the high-security Maafushi prison earlier in the day was “bugged” as it was revealed that government officials were aware of the “sensitive conversation”.
Shortly after the meeting, Nasheed’s wife, Laila Ali, received a phone call from a friend “who had spoken to a government official and asked her if the information that they had just heard was in fact accurate,” Genser explained.
Laila’s friend “indicated in fact that [the information] came from Maafushi prison and the conservation that President Nasheed had just had with counsel,” he added.
The bugging allegation has been widely reported in international media.
The Maldives Correctional Service (MCS) said in a statement released on Thursday – and posted in English on Twitter by the foreign ministry yesterday – that the “suggestion that the [MCS] or the government is responsible for this infringement is wholeheartedly rejected.”
“Given that these allegations have been made, however, it is only appropriate that they are investigated to the fullest extent,” the prisons authority said, adding that the findings of the investigation will be reported.
“If it is that there has been such a flagrant breach of the former president’s rights, appropriate action will be taken and any individuals who are found responsible will be dealt with accordingly,” the MCS said.
The MCS said it has made “every accommodation to ensure that former President Nasheed was able to speak freely and without interference with his legal team, thus ensuring that the content of these conversations remained private.”
Genser and Clooney arrived in the Maldives last week for meetings with Nasheed and departed for Sri Lanka on Thursday night. Genser is the founder of ‘Freedom Now,’ a renowned campaign group for political prisoners. Clooney is a UK-based human rights lawyer and wife of Hollywood actor George Clooney.
The pair are working with Ben Emmerson, a UN rights chief on counter-terrorism and human rights, to secure Nasheed’s release. At Thursday’s press conference, Clooney warned that a likely judgment by the UN working group on arbitrary detention declaring Nasheed’s imprisonment unlawful would pave the way for imposing “targeted sanctions” on the Maldives if the government continues to detain the opposition leader.
The heavyweight lawyers had filed a petition with the specialised UN agency on April 30. A judgment will be made public in mid-October.
Genser told the press that the secret surveillance was “a flagrant breach of the right for criminal defendants to confidential attorney-client communication”.
He added that the legal team has evidence that suggests the bugging “was not a singular occurrence and that this happens on a regular basis.”
The evidence also suggests that the information is shared with the prosecutor general “to inform his ability to prosecute President Nasheed.”
Genser meanwhile told The Telegraph that the lawyers had scanned the meeting room for any sign of a hidden recording device, but found nothing suspicious.
Genser said he had contacted Toby Cadman, a lawyer with Omnia Strategy, an international law firm representing the Maldivian government, and sought assurances that the lawyers’ meeting with Nasheed would be private.
“He said he would pass on our message but it is obvious that they were listening to us in real-time,” Genser said.
The government had employed Omnia Strategy – chaired by Cherie Blair, the wife of former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair – for an undisclosed fee to prepare its response to the UN working group.
Cadman told The Telegraph that that the government will investigate the claims.
“As a barrister, I can only reiterate the importance of client-attorney privilege,” he added.
Cadman was in attendance at a preliminary hearing held by the High Court on Wednesday to determine whether to proceed with the prosecutor general’s appeal of Nasheed’s terrorism conviction. The appellate court rejected the state’s appeal on Thursday night.
Nasheed was found guilty of terrorism over the military’s detention of criminal court chief judge Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012. The 19-day trial at the criminal court was widely criticised over its apparent lack of due process.
On August 23, Nasheed was taken back to Maafushi jail after two months under house arrest, prompting the UN human rights chief as well as the American and British governments to renew calls for his release.