The Maldives is on a “largely negative trajectory” following the widely condemned imprisonment of opposition leaders, US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, Nisha Desai Biswal has said.
Speaking at the Centre for a New American Security last Monday on US foreign policy priorities for 2016, Biswal said the “positive momentum” of neighbouring Sri Lanka was in sharp contrast to the Maldives, “which has seen a steady weakening of its fragile democracy and an erosion of the rule of law.”
“Opposition politicians remain behind bars simply because they gave voice to their views, and because the government’s skin is too thin to brook any criticism or competition,” she said.
“History shows that such tactics are short-sighted and counterproductive, and we strongly encourage the Maldives to return to the democratic practices that will best ensure its future success, economic and otherwise.”
The imprisonment of former President Mohamed Nasheed and former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim in March 2015 triggered a year-long political crisis in the Maldives, drawing widespread international condemnation and prompting fears of an “authoritarian reversal.”
President Abdulla Yameen, however, has remained defiant in the face of mounting diplomatic pressure and the threat of targeted sanctions, insisting that the politicians were jailed after independent judicial processes.
Following a meeting in late February, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group – which monitors member states’ observance of democracy and human rights – issued a list of demands for the Maldivian government, including initiating all-party talks, releasing jailed politicians and enabling the return of exiles.
The government had invited opposition parties for talks ahead of the CMAG meeting, but the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party and the Adhaalath Party demanded the release of their respective leaders as a confidence-building measure.
The allied parties say the government reneged on commitments made during negotiations in July last year.
CMAG is due to review the Maldives’ progress in early April.
Yameen had mocked calls for reform in a speech on the day of the CMAG meeting, telling critics to present a list of people they considered to be above Maldivian laws.
But the president has since sought the help of the Malaysian government for the Maldives to “unfair punishment” from the Commonwealth.
The legal affairs minister at the president’s office was meanwhile dispatched to Pakistan yesterday as Yameen’s special envoy. Yameen had said the Maldives avoided action after India and Pakistan “spoke in our defence” at the CMAG.
Since the CMAG meeting, the government has submitted bills to criminalise defamation, strip benefits and privileges for ex-President Nasheed, and require opposition parties to re-register all of its members.
The government has also banned street protests.