Top diplomats brokered a deal with Maldives President Abdullla Yameen to allow jailed opposition lawyer President Mohamed Nasheed travel to the UK for medical care, but a bitter row over criminal liability for his family has jeopardised plans.
The former president was expected to board a Sri Lankan airlines flight at 9pm tonight, but continues to sit in a high security prison jail only because he refused to allow the government to hold a family member liable for his return, his lawyers said at a press conference tonight.
Home Minister Umar Naseer, who had refused to meet UK Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Office Hugo Swire today, is now claiming Nasheed tore up state documents.
“President Nasheed is playing a new political drama. That cannot happen. This drama began this evening when he signed the documents and tore them up,” he told pro-government newspaper Avas.
Nasheed’s lawyers have denounced Naseer’s claims, saying Nasheed had signed and fingerprinted an agreement to return to the Maldives and handed it over to officers of the Maldives Correctional Services in the presence of six others, including his team of four lawyers.
Nasheed had only objected to restrictions on his family.
“The issue here is with an agreement Nasheed’s family member has to sign. The document says that Nasheed’s family member agrees to stay in Malé, and to seek permission from Maldives Correctional Services to leave Malé, and also agrees to having criminal charges lifted against them if any provision in the document is violated. This means there is opportunities for the arrest and jailing of the family member, the family member has to agree to be criminally liable, agree to criminal charges. President Nasheed does not want any of his family members to be arrested for him to travel abroad,” said lawyer Hisaan Hussain.
MCS regulations do not allow the government to restrict a family member’s movements or prosecute them for an inmate’s actions, she stressed.
“This is who President Nasheed is. He does not want others to suffer for him. That is his nature.”
Lawyer Hassan Latheef said two Sri Lankan ministers had extracted a promise from Yameen during an unannounced visit on Thursday to temporarily release Nasheed on the condition that he returns after a surgery to correct slipped discs in his spine.
From the outset, Nasheed had two requests, Latheef said. “The first was that the opportunity must be provided to travel to the UK without a specific timeframe. The second request was that the government must not ask for any of President Nasheed’s family members to sign any documents relating to medical care.”
When Yameen agreed, the government announced the decision in a tweet on Saturday. In a brief statement, the foreign ministry subsequently said permission was granted on the condition that Nasheed returns.
Then at noon today, Home Minister Naseer announced that Nasheed would only be allowed 30 days. When legal documents were presented at 5pm today, the former president even agreed to the 30-day condition, lawyers said.
Naseer had previously said procedures for inmate’s travel do not apply to Nasheed as permission was granted under special privileges for former presidents.
Neither the home ministry nor the MCS were responding to calls at the time of going to press.
“Loss of confidence in the head of state is loss of confidence in the entire Maldivian state… we want President Yameen to honour his commitments to Nasheed and allow his travel to the UK for medical treatment,” Latheef.
The dramatic turnaround has frustrated diplomats, especially that of the UK, Sri Lanka and India, according to sources.
Even if a deal is reached, it is unlikely that Nasheed would leave tonight, as the airport runway is closed from midnight to dawn for runway repair work.
Yameen has repeatedly insisted calls for Nasheed’s release amount to an assault on Maldives’ sovereignty.
Nasheed’s lawyers are now pursuing targeted sanctions on regime officials and businessmen who back them, to secure his release. A confidential list of potential targets has now been delivered to the governments of the US and UK.