Urging the international community to escalate pressure on the government through targeted sanctions, jailed former President Mohamed Nasheed told the UK press today that he will return to the Maldives after medical leave.
“I will definitely go [back] to the Maldives. There’s no doubt about that. The only question is how and when. For now I just want to spend some time with my wife and family,” Nasheed said in his first media appearance since his imprisonment in March 2015.
“I have more people to meet. I need to consult with my lawyers on should I stay or should I go.”
Flanked by his heavyweight lawyers Jared Genser, Amal Clooney, and Ben Emmerson, the opposition leader said his temporary release does not signal an end to the “repression” of President Abdulla Yameen’s administration.
Despite mass protests, intense international criticism, and diplomatic pressure on the government last year, Nasheed said Yameen only felt “compelled to act” when faced with the threat of sanctions.
Other opposition leaders and hundreds of opposition supporters are either in jail or facing criminal charges and intimidation, he said, whilst the government continues to undermine the country’s nascent democratic institutions.
“At this moment of maximum visibility for the Maldives, it is essential that the international community is not deceived into thinking that because I am here today that the battle is over,” he said.
After successfully petitioning a UN human rights panel to declare his 13-year jail sentence arbitrary, Genser and Clooney have been lobbying the governments of the US and UK to impose targeted sanctions against top Maldivian officials to secure Nasheed’s release. A confidential list of targets have been shared with both governments.
The European parliament has also adopted a non-binding resolution calling on member states to impose asset freezes and travel bans against Maldivian government officials and their supporters in the business community.
“Sanctions imposed can easily be rolled back. But unless they are imposed, President Yameen will have no incentive to take further action,” Nasheed said.
Sanctions should target individuals “directly responsible for gross human rights abuses,” he added.
He noted that Yameen had reneged on a “comprehensive understanding” negotiated in July last year.
“Until the government takes permanent and irreversible steps to end the repression, the international community should not relent. Instead, it must increase the pressure on President Yameen,” he said.
Meanwhile, ahead of today’s press conference, Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon accused Nasheed of “exploiting the terms of a 30-day medical release to embark on a lobbying and media campaign abroad.”
Nasheed’s unexpected release was secured by a lobbying effort led by India, Sri Lanka, UK, and the US.
Despite visits by the Indian foreign secretary and Sri Lankan foreign minister before the sudden change of heart, the government insists it did not cave in to diplomatic pressure.
“It is now clear the former president has been disingenuous at best, and misleading at worst, in seeking medical leave in the UK,” Dunya said in a statement released shortly before the press conference began.
“The government acted in good faith in allowing Mr Nasheed to travel abroad for treatment. Yet it is now clear his primary goal was to court publicity in the United Kingdom. This is not medical leave, but media leave,”
Nasheed told the press today that his medical condition is “serious” as he has to undergo surgery to correct slipped discs in his spine.
“In my 20s, I was tortured twice by the Gayoom regime. So I have chronic back problem,” he said, referring to long periods in prison during the 30-year reign of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom – Dunya’s father and half-brother of the incumbent president.
Prior to his departure to the UK last week, Nasheed had also met with top diplomats from UK, Canada, Norway, Australia, Italy, Switzerland, Germany and the European Union in Colombo.
On his meeting Saturday with UK Prime Minister David Cameron, Nasheed said he was “encouraged and delighted” with the prime minister and the Conservative Party’s assurances of working together “to restore democracy, human rights and good governance in the Maldives.”
Dunya meanwhile went on to accuse Nasheed’s “American PR team” of refusing entry to the press conference for a member of the Maldives High Commission in the UK.
“No amount of PR stunts will alter the fact that Mr Nasheed lost an election that was recognised as in line with international standards by the EU, amongst others,” Dunya continued.
“Neither will it change the fact that Mr Nasheed ordered the arrest of a senior judge – a serious crime that he admitted to himself in a BBC interview – the charge in which he was convicted. The judge in question had released one of Nasheed’s most vocal critics: that he was then arrested puts pay to the idea that Mr. Nasheed believes in freedom of expression.
‘The opportunity for Mr Nasheed to clear his name remains in the Maldives, not in the TV studios of London or Los Angeles. The Supreme Court appeal in Mr Nasheed’s conviction will continue while he meets politicians and the media in London. We look forward to his return and wish him speedy recovery from his medical treatment.”