An expected ruling by the UN working group of arbitrary detention declaring former President Mohamed Nasheed’s imprisonment unlawful would be an “authoritative pronouncement” that could pave the way to impose targeted sanctions on the Maldives, the opposition leader’s high-profile lawyers Amal Clooney and Jared Genser told the press today.
Asset freezes and travel bans could also be imposed on government officials if Nasheed is not released, the lawyers said. Nasheed’s international lawyers filed a petition with the working group on April 30.
Speaking at a press conference in Kurumba Resort, Clooney said a judgment from the specialised UN agency comprised of five experts is expected “in a matter of a few weeks.”
“The next stage will be to pursue targeted sanctions, travel bans, and any action and recourse that we have against the government until this matter is resolved,” she said.
Clooney said the UN working group has concluded its deliberations and adopted its opinion, which will be communicated by mid-October.
A ruling in Nasheed’s favour would be “the ultimate determination at the international level of the unfairness of his conviction and his sentencing,” she said.
While the US, UK, and the UN have recognised that Nasheed’s conviction on terrorism charges was “a travesty of justice” and called for his release, Clooney said the working group judgment would be “a detailed and authoritative pronouncement at the international level”.
Genser meanwhile explained that “an authoritative pronouncement from the UN working group on arbitrary detention when combined with political and public relations pressure puts an enormous weight on the back of any government to comply with the judgment.”
The decision would have an “extremely important impact on mobilising international action,” he added.
Clooney and Genser, the founder of the renowned campaign group for political prisoners ‘Freedom Now,’ are working with Ben Emmerson, a UN rights chief on counter-terrorism and human rights, to secure Nasheed’s release. The pair have previously accompanied Nasheed’s wife, Laila Ali, on visits with UK Prime Minister David Cameron, US Secretary of State John Kerry, the UN human rights chief and EU parliamentarians.
Clooney, a human rights lawyer and wife of Hollywood actor George Clooney, arrived in the Maldives on Monday whilst Genser arrived yesterday. The pair are due to depart for Sri Lanka tonight.
Genser said Nasheed’s legal team was “pleased” that the government hired an international law firm to prepare its response to the UN working group. The government had employed UK-based Omnia Strategy – chaired by Cherie Blair, the wife of former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair – for an undisclosed fee.
The government submitted a 110-page response in July and held a press conference in Geneva, which Genser said constituted “a tacit and unequivocal acknowledgement of the importance of this critical international legal process.”
As the government has engaged with the UN process, Genser said he expects it will “fully abide” by the judgment.
If the government does not release Nasheed in the wake of the UN ruling, Genser said the international lawyers would “work tirelessly to ensure that the government faces serious consequences for its intransigence.”
The UN ruling would provide “the justification to go to many governments around the world and call for targeted sanctions and asset freezes, travel bans”.
He added: “The government can do this the easy way or the hard way. So far they have chosen the hard way. But it’s been my experience that governments in these circumstances will have to weigh a range of factors as to whether they want to persist with the arbitrary detention of a prisoner of conscience. It’s our job to dramatically escalate the cost to them of keep detaining President Nasheed.”
Asked about the next step if the ruling is in the government’s favour, Genser said “the odds are exceptionally low that that would happen.”
Genser told the press that the purpose of the international lawyers’ visit is to “make it clear that securing President Nasheed’s release is our top priority and that the world sees that his ongoing detention is not merely about him, but is a symbol of the oppression that has returned to the Maldives under this repressive regime.”
Clooney meanwhile vowed to “remain on this case until President Nasheed is released.”
“I look forward to visiting this country when President Nasheed is a free man,” she said.
The High Court meanwhile held a preliminary hearing yesterday to determine whether to proceed with the state’s appeal of Nasheed’s conviction. A decision is expected in the coming days.
But Genser said he wished to “emphasise to the people of Maldives that like you we do not see the judiciary in Maldives as an effective remedy to President Nasheed’s arbitrary detention.”
“This is why we are in parallel pursuing a range of potential remedies to secure his release from prison,” he said.
Clooney also met with Attorney General Mohamed Anil on behalf of Nasheed yesterday.
“We had a constructive meeting. We discussed different ways consistent with the Maldivian domestic legal framework according to which President Nasheed could now be released,” she said, adding that it includes President Abdulla Yameen’s powers to grant clemency.
The AG recommended that Clooney meet with Prosecutor General Muhthaz Muhsin to discuss other avenues for Nasheed’s release, “but unfortunately today I was informed the prosecutor general was not willing to meet with me.”