The United Kingdom is prepared to impose targeted sanctions on top Maldivian officials if former President Mohamed Nasheed and other jailed politicians are not released, Prime Minister David Cameron has said.
“We want to see a change in behaviour from the Maldivian government to make sure that political prisoners are set free and yes we are prepared to consider targeted action against individuals if further progress isn’t made,” Cameron said at the British parliament yesterday.
“Let us hope that diplomatic efforts, including by the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, will lead to the changes we want to see. But Britain and our allies, including India and Sri Lanka, are watching the situation very closely.”
The prime minister’s statement marks the first time a head of government has threatened to impose sanctions on regime officials since the imprisonment of opposition leaders in early 2015 triggered a prolonged political crisis and drew international condemnation.
Cameron was responding to a question from John Glen, Conservative MP for Salisbury, at the House of Commons yesterday, who had asked if Britain would work towards building “an international consensus on targeted sanctions” to pressure the Maldivian government.
Cameron had met with Nasheed at Downing Street on Saturday, a day after the Maldives opposition leader arrived in the UK to seek medical treatment. The Maldivian government authorised a month-long medical leave for Nasheed last week in the face of mounting diplomatic pressure and the threat of sanctions.
After successfully petitioning a UN human rights panel to declare his 13-year jail sentence arbitrary, Nasheed’s heavyweight lawyers Jared Genser and Amal Clooney have been lobbying world leaders to impose targeted sanctions. A confidential list of targets have been shared with the US and UK governments.
Genser, founder of NGO Freedom Now, a renowned campaign group for prisoners of conscience, and Clooney, a UK-based human rights lawyer and wife of Hollywood actor George, have since won support from US lawmakers for a resolution on targeted sanctions.
The European parliament also adopted a non-binding resolution last month calling on member states to impose asset freezes and travel bans against Maldivian government officials and their supporters in the business community.
After November’s Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, Cameron had meanwhile told the UK parliament that CMAG has decided “to put the Maldives under formal consideration and to visit there in early 2016.”
Cameron had urged Commonwealth nations to take action against the Maldives over “unacceptable” events, including the jailing of political prisoners.
In June last year, Cameron became the first head of government to call for Nasheed’s release following his conviction on a terrorism charge in March.
Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in prison after a 19-day trial that drew widespread international condemnation over apparent lack of due process. He was found guilty of ordering the abduction of a judge in January 2012.
After previously denying permission for Nasheed to travel overseas to undergo surgery, the government’s sudden change of heart followed back-to-back visits by the Indian foreign secretary, the Sri Lankan foreign minister and UK’s Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Top diplomats from the US, UK, and India – including US Secretary of State John Kerry – hailed the government’s decision to authorise the medical leave as a sign of progress.
Yameen’s administration had remained defiant in the face of mounting diplomatic pressure and mass anti-government demonstrations last year, slamming alleged meddling in internal affairs by Western powers and insisting that Nasheed must exhaust the domestic appeal process.
An appeal of Nasheed’s terrorism conviction is now before the Supreme Court.
Nasheed has said that he intends to the return to the Maldives and challenge Yameen in the 2018 presidential election. But the opposition leader will only be able to contest the election if the apex court overturns his terrorism conviction.