The government will not bow to mounting foreign pressure to release imprisoned former President Mohamed Nasheed, President Abdulla Yameen declared yesterday.
Speaking at a ceremony held in Muleeage to welcome five island councillors to the ruling party, Yameen said there are “things I will not do no matter how much pressure” is brought to bear on the government.
Yameen once again insisted that releasing imprisoned opposition politicians would be unlawful as they were sentenced following independent judicial processes.
The president’s remarks follow renewed calls from the UN human rights chief and the UK for Nasheed’s release at the 30th session of the UN Human Rights Council on Monday.
High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussain said that the “rule of law continues to be manipulated for political ends” in the Maldives and urged the government to release the opposition leader “given the deeply tainted nature of the case”.
UK foreign office minister of state, Hugo Swire, reiterated concern over Nasheed’s trial on terrorism charges in March, “which was neither carried out in a transparent and impartial manner, nor held in accordance with due legal process.”
“Furthermore, intimidation of human rights defenders, NGOs and journalists – and rapid constitutional amendments – all indicate an erosion of democracy,” Swire said in his address to the council.
The UK welcomes the UN human rights chief’s engagement, he added, and urged the Maldivian government to release “all political prisoners” and “engage in a genuine political dialogue with all parties.”
Nasheed was taken back to Maafushi jail on August 23 after two months under house arrest, during which the government and the opposition had engaged in talks for political reconciliation. The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party withdrew from the talks shortly after Nasheed’s transfer to prison.
Meanwhile, on September 11, the New York Times’ editorial board joined the international chorus of condemnation over Nasheed’s imprisonment in an op-ed titled ‘A Maldives Leader Unjustly Jailed.’
“The country’s leaders must recognise that their malicious prosecution of a democratic leader has generated instability and turmoil, which severely tarnishes the image of a country that markets itself as a dream vacation spot,” the editorial board warned.
The opposition leader was found guilty of terrorism in March over the military’s detention of a judge during his tenure and sentenced to 13 years in prison following a 19-day trial that drew widespread international condemnation over its apparent lack of due process.
In a statement issued shortly after Zeid’s remarks, the foreign ministry said seeking Nasheed’s release “purely on the basis of his political standing and having [no] regard to the allegations against him is inappropriate, and clearly seeks to circumvent the rule of law.”
Yameen went on to say that the current administration will not compromise Maldivian sovereignty despite facing international sanctions. He has repeatedly slammed “foreign interference” in domestic politics since the current political crisis began.
“The Maldivian state is a small state, but a state in the UN family. We should be respected by other countries. We should get respect from other countries the way we respect all other countries,” he said.
Certain international organisations and foreign powers did not respect the Maldives’ independence and sovereignty, he reiterated.
In July, Yameen sought the parliament’s counsel on the country’s membership of the Commonwealth following lobbying efforts for an assessment of Maldives’ alleged violations of the organisation’s principles with the imprisonment of opposition politicians.
Yameen also accused the opposition of calling for a tourism boycott as part of the campaign to secure Nasheed’s release.
“When they call for sanctions on the Maldives economy, and for obstacles to Maldivian citizens traveling to other countries, what Maldivian will benefit from this?” he asked.
Nasheed’s high-profile lawyers Jared Genser and Amal Clooney told the press during a visit to the Maldives last week that a likely ruling in Nasheed’s favour by UN working group on arbitrary detention – expected in mid-October – would be an “authoritative pronouncement” that could pave the way to impose targeted sanctions, overseas asset freezes, and travel bans on Maldivian government officials if the opposition leader is not released.
Genser later stressed in a tweet that the lawyers would pursue “targeted travel bans and financial sanctions against individual human rights abusers” rather than the Maldives.
Yameen meanwhile said yesterday that Maldivian law and punishments prescribed in Islamic Shariah will be enforced equally on all Maldivian citizens “without any exceptions.”
“So it’s because they can’t accept these principles that they’re calling for sanctions against us. But I don’t believe that there should be any space for a religion other than Islam in the Maldives,” he said.