Government-initiated all-party talks are an “exercise in futility” unless jailed political leaders are freed, the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party told a visiting Commonwealth representative today.
MP Abdulla Shahid who met with the Commonwealth Deputy Secretary General Dr Josephine Ojiambo, said the MDP had briefed her on the government’s “intensified anti-democratic behavior.”
“The MDP updated the Commonwealth on systematic denial of any space for the opposition and the use of politicized courts to stifle democracy. We highlighted the deliberate restrictions on individual freedoms and media freedom by criminalizing defamation and the complete denial of the right to assembly,” he said.
Ojiambo’s visit to the Maldives comes ahead of a review by the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, a body that monitors member state’s observance of democracy and human rights, later this month.
The CMAG in February issued a list of demands on President Abdulla Yameen, including the release of political prisoners and inclusive political dialogue, to avoid action.
The Maldives, however, has made little progress, with Yameen refusing to bow down to pressure and release his opponents, who include former President Mohamed Nasheed, former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim and Adhaalath Party President Sheikh Imran Abdulla.
Yameen had extended three invitations, but the MDP and the AP are demanding the release of political prisoners as a trust building measure.
“The MDP, in principle, welcomes political dialogue. However, the government has categorically failed to create an environment conducive to meaningful dialogue by: its refusal to release political prisoners, stepping up attacks on the media, and failing to give space for civil society or the political opposition,” the party said in a statement.
Nasheed and Nazim are abroad on government-authorized medical leave, but have been ordered to return to prison, while Imran was transferred to house arrest last week.
The opposition says it is wary of talks with the government as Yameen had failed to honour commitments made during the first round of talks in June last year. At the time,the MDP had backed key legislation, including two constitutional amendments.
Ojiambo’s visit comes amidst a lobbying effort by the Maldives to avoid Commonwealth action. Yameen traveled to India today to meet Prime Minister Modi, while his ministers have traveled to key Commonwealth countries, including Pakistan, UK and the Solomon Islands.
Yameen had also made an official visit to Malaysia in March.
Ojiambo called on Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon on Saturday, where the government’s national master plan for strengthening governance was discussed, according to the foreign ministry.
Ojiambo is deputy to the new Commonwealth Secretary General Baroness Patricia Scotland, who advised the Maldives when it was placed under scrutiny following Nasheed’s ouster in 2012.
Lady Scotland meanwhile sits on the advisory board of London-based Omnia Strategy, a firm the government had employed to respond to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on Nasheed’s imprisonment.
The specialized UN agency had called for Nasheed’s immediate release, but the government contended that its opinion was non-binding.
Omnia, chaired by Cherie Blair, the wife of former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, said it terminated its £420,000 contract with the government following a blast on Yameen’s speedboat in September that led to a the arrest of his vice president and unearthed a historic corruption scandal.
The US Senate has meanwhile unanimously called on the Maldives to redress the injustice of Nasheed’s imprisonment. The parliament of the European Union has also urged member states to impose targeted sanctions over human rights abuses.