Former President Mohamed Nasheed’s high-profile international lawyers have reiterated calls for targeted sanctions against Maldivian government officials if the opposition leader is not released in the wake of an expected UN judgment declaring his imprisonment unlawful.
Nasheed’s lawyers Amal Clooney, Jared Genser, and Ben Emmerson filed a petition at the UN working group on arbitrary detention in late April. Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in prison on terrorism charges in March.
Following a visit to the Maldives earlier this month, Clooney and Genser expressed confidence that the specialised UN agency will rule in Nasheed’s favour and said they will pursue targeted sanctions if the government fails to abide by the ruling.
A judgment will be made public in mid-October.
The government had meanwhile hired UK-based law firm Omnia Strategy – chaired by Cherie Blair, wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair – for an undisclosed fee to assist with its defence at the UN working group.
In a joint statement with Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon on September 16, Blair said the call for sanctions was “inappropriate and unjustified,” and that such action should only be taken “where there is a threat to peace, or where they are imposed in response to a specific policy.”
“They ought not be used when dealing with a single individual. Further, the use of such sanctions threatens the economic stability of the Maldives,” she said.
Nasheed’s international lawyers said Blair’s “suggestions are entirely misplaced.”
In a press statement yesterday, the heavyweight lawyers referred to precedents in similar cases, “where state authorities violated an individual’s human rights by subjecting him to a politically-motivated prosecution, an unfair trial and an unjustifiable sentence.”
“Such sanctions can be imposed by a single state or by an international organisation and – far from affecting the entire population or the economy of the Maldives as a whole – they can be targeted to specific individuals directly responsible for the relevant human rights violations,” the lawyers explained.
The statement referred to the US imposing travel bans and freezing the assets of 18 Russian officials involved in prosecuting lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, “who was unfairly denied bail and remanded for an extensive period in custody, where he ultimately died.”
In other similar cases, the EU froze the assets of several Iranian and Belarusian officials involved in human rights abuses. The statement noted that judges, prosecutors, and government officials involved in unfair trials were sanctioned.
“Targeted sanctions can therefore be appropriate even to address individual cases of human rights violations, where a government persists in flouting its obligations under international law,” the statement continued.
“But in the Maldives, President’s Nasheed’s case is not about one individual. His conviction is emblematic of a broader, brutal crackdown on democracy and human rights involving not only the former President, but also large parts of the population.
“Over 1,700 persons in the Maldives are currently subject to politically motivated charges for exercising their right to peaceful protest and freedom of expression. The leaders of every single opposition party in the Maldives are currently either in prison or facing charges and intimidation by the government. This makes the pursuit of targeted sanctions at the international level all the more appropriate and urgent.”
The lawyers, who are working pro bono for Nasheed, also noted that the government had submitted “extensive written pleadings to contest the case” at the UN working group.
“Having fully participated in this legal process, it is expected that they will abide by any decision that is reached,” the lawyers said.
Nasheed was found guilty of terrorism over the military’s detention of criminal court chief judge Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012 after a rushed trial drew widespread international condemnation over its apparent lack of due process.
The prosecutor general (PG) meanwhile filed an appeal at the Supreme Court last week after the High Court decided that the PG’s appeal of Nasheed’s conviction was inadmissible.
Nasheed’s international counsel said they are awaiting a copy of the PG’s case document and noted that “the deadline for appealing the High Court judgment – which shamefully rubber-stamped the trial court’s findings without even hearing argument on the merits – is 60 business days from the date of the relevant decision.”
The lawyers also reiterated that Nasheed’s “unjust imprisonment” was in violation of the Maldives’ commitments under both domestic and international law, including the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, which the Maldives ratified in 2006.
“This travesty of justice has been recognised by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, the EU, the US, the UK, Canada, Amnesty International, Transparency International, the Bar Human Rights Committee and many others,” the statement noted.
“In the last week alone the High Commissioner has stated that ‘the rule of law continues to be manipulated for political ends’ and that ‘the Government [should] release [Nasheed], and … review several hundred pending criminal cases against opposition supporters in relation to protests in recent months’.”
The government had dismissed the UN human rights chief’s renewed calls for Nasheed’s release as “wholly inappropriate” whilst President Abdulla Yameen declared that the government will not bow to foreign pressure to release Nasheed and other jailed politicians.