The government of Maldives said Monday it “does not agree” with a United Nations judgement that found a former defence minister’s imprisonment on weapons smuggling charges illegal.
In a formal response to the finding of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the foreign ministry insisted that Mohamed Nazim was afforded a fair trial under Maldivian laws.
It went on to dismiss “any notion of arbitrariness” arguing Nazim was not regarded as a political opponent to President Abdulla Yameen at the time of his arrest and because he was currently serving his 11-year-jail term “under house arrest at his residence with his family”.
Decrying bias by the WGAD and asserting the Maldives’ sovereignty, the foreign ministry also said that the 48-year-old retired colonel is yet to petition a Maldivian court over arbitrary detention.
The WGAD must encourage him to use domestic procedures, it added.
In a subsequent press conference, Attorney General Mohamed Anil admitted that the Maldives criminal justice system required reform, including legal changes, but continued to claim that the government can only accept recommendations that were in line with domestic laws.
“We accept their decision, but in doing so, we must consider whether their recommendations flout Maldivian laws,” he said, adding: “Is it [the judgment] legally binding on us? No. No.”
Anil went on to highlight the passing of a modern penal code and a new law on criminal justice procedures as steps taken for reform.
The government has long maintained the courts were independent, despite allegations of politicisation by the UN, foreign governments and a wide array of human rights groups, and has brandished the country’s sovereignty when urged to comply with international human rights standards.
The president has used the Maldives’ reservation to allowing freedom of belief to shun calls for respect for fair trial standards. Speaking Monday Yameen reiterated the statement and added that the international community had no right to criticise Maldivian courts.
“We are only obliged to follow what is decided by the three-tier court system in the Maldives. That is what Maldivians are obliged to obey,” he said.
Yameen had also previously rejected a WGAD ruling declaring former President Mohamed Nasheed’s imprisonment on a terror charge arbitrary. Meanwhile, the cases of two other opposition politicians are also before the panel.
In Nazim’s case, the rights panel had urged the Maldivian authorities to free him immediately, and backed his contention that rogue police officers had planted the weapons at his home.
It also said that the rule of law should not be confused with the rule of law – “the subversion of law as a tool for arbitrary rule by the government in collusion with the judiciary”.
Nazim’s arrest, detention and imprisonment “appear to fit this pattern of rule by law,” it said.
The government, however, suggested that the WGAD was biased.
“The government expects the WGAD to be scrupulously impartial and independent in its deliberations in examining cases before it, and not be swayed by media reports,” the foreign ministry statement said, referring to the WGAD making note of the range of international human rights experts who had criticised due process violations in Nazim’s case.
These included the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the International Commission of Jurists, the South Asians for Human Rights, the Asian Center for Human Rights and the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative.
Responding to the government’s statement, Nazim’s brother Adam Azim said that the government should “not reject the outcome just because they don’t like it.”
He said: “The ruling is an informed opinion based on the argument of two cooperating sides, Nazim’s and the government’s. They assessed the arguments and ruled that Nazim was framed, that the police were involved.
“The government cooperated with the panel, they made their case. The government has acceded to the ICCPR [International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights]. The panel researched the relevant Maldivian laws and found Nazim’s detention to stand in violation of both.”
Azim went on to describe the ruling as “a huge boost” and reiterated his hope that it could be used to increase pressure to release Nazim.
The ruling was widely welcomed in the Maldives, with Nasheed, who currently lives in exile in the United Kingdom, and former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom calling for Nazim’s immediate release.
Fisheries Minister Dr Mohamed Shainee reacted furiously, labelling the call “disrespectful” and “an insult to the people.”
“Seeing something like this from two former presidents is regrettable” he said over the weekend.
Making note of the call by the two former presidents, Amnesty International’s former South Asia researcher, Abbas Faiz, who played a lead role in submitting Nazim’s case to the UN, questioned the silence of the country’s third former president, Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan.
— Abbas Faiz (@tweetafaiz) January 27, 2017
Xiena Saeed contributed reporting