Former President Mohamed Nasheed’s imprisonment on a terrorism charge is arbitrary, a UN rights panel has ruled. The government, however, said it “does not accept the decision” and “will not be made to act on the basis of a non-binding opinion.”
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) had found “the complaint submitted by the former President Nasheed ought to be upheld,” the foreign ministry said in a statement issued tonight.
Calling the opinion flawed and premature, the ministry said Nasheed must seek redress through the Maldivian courts.
“This opinion is not accepted by the Government as it is clear that the WGAD has failed to address a number of salient points submitted by the Government in its response to the petition of complaint,” the statement read.
“Further, the opinion of the WGAD makes little if any reference to the submissions made and therefore the question must be asked as to whether the WGAD has given the government’s submission due attention during its deliberation.”
The opposition leader was sentenced to 13 years in prison on a terrorism charge, relating to the arrest of a judge during his tenure. His imprisonment had triggered mass protests and drawn international criticism.
The opinion, issued by a panel of five independent experts, was delivered to the government on September 17. It was to be communicated with Nasheed next week. But the government said it was publishing the WGAD’s findings beforehand in the interest of transparency.
The details of the opinion were not provided.
Nasheed’s heavyweight international lawyers have threatened to lobby for targeted sanctions if the government does not abide by the UN’s decision.
The government contended that it could not adhere to the WGAD’s opinion, as an appeal is ongoing. “To do so, would constitute political interference in a judicial process that is still yet to conclude, and thus would constitute an act of manipulation akin to exactly that of which the former President complains.”
“The Government of Maldives cannot intervene in an on-going process on the basis of who the individual is. To do so would be an example of bias and undermine the judicial process.”
Nasheed must engage with an ongoing appeal filed by the Prosecutor General (PG) Muhthaz Muhsin, the government said.
The appeal is now with the Supreme Court. A three-judge panel at the High Court rejected the case on the grounds that it was the PG who had filed the appeal instead of Nasheed.
In a bizarre twist, the ruling, issued after a single preliminary hearing, also went on to declare the lower court’s verdict valid, despite never having heard oral arguments.
As it stands, the appeal process could take months or even years.
The government had hired London-based Omnia Strategy, a legal and PR firm chaired by Cherie Blair, the wife of former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, to respond to the WGAD. The value of the contract is not known.
Pedestal Group, a prominent US lobbyist, has also been hired for a fee of US$50,000 per month to “strengthen ties” between the US and Maldivian governments.