Lobbying by Maldives’ neighbours India and Sri Lanka played a pivotal role in President Abdulla Yameen’s sudden change of heart in authorising jailed former President Mohamed Nasheed’s travel to the UK for medical treatment, according to media reports.
The dramatic turnaround “came after strong representations by India, and will effectively pave the way for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to visit the Maldives,” New Delhi-based The Hindhu said today.
Dr S Jaishankar, Modi’s special envoy and India’s foreign secretary, called on Yameen last week.
The Sunday Times, a Colombo-based newspaper, meanwhile reported that Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera and Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake’s unannounced visit last week was also aimed at negotiating for Nasheed’s release.
Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe “had given their consent to their mediatory role,” the paper said today.
The ministers met with Yameen on Thursday morning.
Quoting a high-ranking Sri Lankan government source, the Sunday Times said: “Yameen is expected to take a decision soon on the case made by the two ministers.”
The visits by Sri Lankan and Indian top diplomats are closely followed by that of Hugo Swire, UK minister of state at the foreign and Commonwealth office, who arrived in Malé today for talks with the government, suggesting a coordinated and concerted effort between the Maldives’ neighbours and the West on Nasheed’s case.
Swire is scheduled to meet with Yameen, Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon, and former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom today.
Nasheed is expected to depart the Maldives tonight. He has been granted 30 days leave.
The foreign ministry in a brief statement said that permission was granted on the condition he serve the remainder of his 13-year jail term upon his return.
The trial on terrorism charges was widely condemned and world leaders including UK Prime Minister David Cameron and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon have called for the opposition leader’s release
Modi had dropped the Maldives from his Indian Ocean tour in March after Nasheed’s sentencing. India has adopted a softer line since then, refraining from public statements on the deteriorating human rights conditions in the Maldives.
Sri Lanka, which has remained silent throughout the multiple political crises that have gripped the Maldives in recent years, only issued an statement when Yameen declared a state of emergency in November last year. The statement warned the Maldives against regional instability.
In meetings with Yameen in recent months, both External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Foreign Secretary Jaishankar had pressed upon the need to treat the opposition leader “in accordance with his status as a former elected leader,” anonymous officials told The Hindhu.
“We needed to see some relief for the former president before PM Modi could plan a visit,” the official was quoted as saying.
Soon after Swaraj’s visit, Nasheed urged Modi to visit the Maldives to “disentangle us from the mess we are in,” according to his lawyers.
Home Minister Umar Naseer told Haveeru that Nasheed’s departure was authorised after the Attorney General had advised that he was entitled to special privileges as a former president.
The AG’s legal opinion means Nasheed does not have to seek authorisation from the Maldives Correctional Service’s medical board, Naseer added. The home minister had previously insisted that the surgery to correct slipped discs in Nasheed’s spine could be carried out in the Maldives.
Nasheed’s international lawyers are also lobbying the governments of the US and UK for targeted sanctions on officials responsible for deteriorating human rights here. The European Union parliament in December passed a resolution calling on member states to impose sanctions including asset freezes and travel bans on top officials.
Cameron, during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Malta last November, called events in the Maldives “unacceptable” and said member states must do more to “hold countries to account when they fail to live up to their responsibilities as member states.”
Briefing UK MPs on the Commonwealth summit, Cameron also revealed that the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group was scheduled to visit Malé in early 2016.