The government today vehemently denied commuting former President Mohamed Nasheed’s 13-year jail term to house arrest, suggesting official documents publicised by his lawyers may have been forged.
Acting Home Minister Mohamed Shainee told the press that the release of jailed politicians had been discussed in talks with the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), but the government had never agreed to the demand.
“We never agreed to commute or pardon any sentence, and we never communicated such a decision to any opposition members,” said Shainee, who had also represented the government at the July talks.
Nasheed was first transferred to house arrest on June 19 for three days. The period was later extended to eight weeks, as part of a deal made in exchange for the MDP’s backing for several crucial votes in parliament, including the impeachment of the Vice President.
A presidential pardon was expected on July 23, but the state instead announced it will appeal Nasheed’s guilty verdict. The next day, lawyers announced his sentence had been commuted on July 19 in writing.
The opposition leader, however, was taken back to jail by prison officers acting with Specialist Operations (SO) police officers last night, who damaged the front gate and pepper sprayed his family members, MDP MPs and supporters.
SO officers were called to the scene only when members of Nasheed’s family held hostage the staff of the Maldives Correctional Services (MCS), Shainee alleged. A reporter with The Maldives Independent who was inside Nasheed’s residence at the time refutes the claim.
Responding to a July 24 AFP report which said that the Maldivian High Commission in Colombo had confirmed Nasheed’s permanent transfer, Shainee said the wire agency had misunderstood the government’s comments.
Shainee said the document publicized by lawyers, an agreement signed by Nasheed to abide by the terms of his permanent house arrest, is inauthentic and is under investigation.
The agreement is similar to two documents Nasheed had signed on June 19 when he was first transferred to house arrest and on June 23 when the three-day period was extended to eight weeks.
Nasheed’s lawyers last night said the document had been brought by an MCS staff and handed to him in the presence of family members and lawyers.
Shainee noted important differences such as the lack of a section requiring a guardian’s signature, and suggested that the state seal on the document could be forged. He blamed lawyers for failing to check the document’s validity with the government.
When asked why the government had failed to refute the statements when it was first made nearly a month ago, Shainee said the government is not required to respond to every claim by the opposition.
The formal process for commutation was never followed in Nasheed’s case, Shainee said, reiterating that President Abdulla Yameen would only consider a pardon after the opposition leader had exhausted all appeal processes.
He said lawyers were irresponsible to think Nasheed’s sentence had been commuted when the necessary procedures were not followed.
Nasheed’s lawyers, however, maintain special provisions in the Clemency Act allow the president to reduce sentences on his own initiative.
Commissioner of Prisons Mohamed Husham, meanwhile, said Nasheed’s doctor had recommended he be transferred to house arrest permanently, but said that the government was unable to comply with the recommendation.
The doctor had also advised a daily swim, which could be easy to facilitate at prison than in the city, Husham said.
World leaders including UK Prime Minister David Cameron have called for Nasheed’s release.
The UN working group on arbitrary detention will rule on the legality of Nasheed’s imprisonment in September or October.
Additional writing by Zaheena Rasheed