Lawyers representing Maldives’ jailed opposition leader say they have won support from the US Senators for a resolution imposing targeted financial sanctions against officials responsible for human rights violations here.
In her first-ever interview with a US television network, Mohamed Nasheed’s heavyweight human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, wife of actor George, said she had won support for the introduction of a congressional resolution calling for sanctions against members of the Maldives’ current regime until they free her client.
Confirming the move, sources close to Nasheed’s lawyers said: “There is strong support in Congress for a resolution calling for targeted sanctions on top regime officials.”
Clooney’s interview made headlines across the world including Vanity Fair, Washington Post, USA Today, Marie Claire and Elle.
“Democracy is dead in the Maldives. Literally, if there were an election now there would be no one to run against the president. Every opposition leader is either behind bars or being pursued by the government through the courts,” she said in her interview.
The Maldives now has the highest per capita ISIS recruits, she noted.
US values are now at stake, she said.
Nasheed was imprisoned last year and sentenced to 13 years in jail in a trial the UN has called politically motivated.
“Here we are a year later, and he still sits in prison. And so we’re calling on states like the U.S. to now use the tools at their disposal, including targeted sanctions — which means travel bans, which means freezing assets of those officials in the Maldives who are most responsible for human rights abuses.”
Clooney and her colleague Jared Genser, founder of renowned campaign group for political prisoners Freedom Now, had met with Republican Senator John McCain, Democrat Senator Patrick Leahy and White House officials including Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labour Tom Malinowski.
McCain, in a tweet, said he was standing for human rights in the Maldives, while Malinowski said Maldives must restore democracy, rule of law and release political prisoners.
Home Minister Umar Naseer hit back at their tweets saying Nasheed had padlocked the Supreme Court and abducted a sitting judge. MP Riyaz Rasheed of the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives also called for Nasheed’s lawyers to be blocked from entering the Maldives.
@Malinowski Truth they dont want u to know: Nasheed, using miltary ●padlocked the Supreme Court(3days) ●abducted & detained a Judge(22days)
— Umar Naseer (@UmarNaseerPPM) January 15, 2016
Genser has also submitted a report to White House officials urging President Barack Obama to issue an executive order imposing financial sanctions.
President Abdulla Yameen’s repressive rule, “blind-eye” to religious extremism, and pervasive human rights abuses, including the jailing of former President Mohamed Nasheed, “constitute an extraordinary threat to US national security and foreign policy,” the Freedom Now report said.
A confidential list of potential targets has now been delivered to the governments of the UK and the US.
Pressure is mounting on Yameen. Top Indian and Sri Lankan diplomats called on the president this week, lobbying for Nasheed’s release, according to media reports. Hugo Swire, the UK minister of state at the foreign and Commonwealth office, arrived in the Maldives today on an official visit.
In an unexpected twist, the government has allowed Nasheed to travel to the UK for a surgery on his spine.
An appeal of Nasheed’s terrorism conviction is now before the Supreme Court, but Clooney said she has no confidence in the Maldives judiciary, noting that a quarter of judges have criminal records.
An overwhelming majority of the European Union parliament endorsed a resolution in December urging member states to “to introduce restrictive measures in the form of targeted sanctions to freeze the assets abroad of certain members of the Maldivian government and their leading supporters in the Maldivian business community, and to impose travel bans on them.”