The United States senate unanimously adopted Thursday a bipartisan resolution calling on the Maldivian government to redress the “injustice” of former President Mohamed Nasheed’s imprisonment and release other political prisoners.
The non-binding resolution states that since January last year President Abdulla Yameen has “increasingly cracked down on dissent within his own party and the political opposition, presided over the erosion of judicial impartiality, and put increasing pressure on civil society.”
The Maldives is “strategically important due to its location, which straddles major trade routes in the Indian Ocean,” whilst “increasing civil rights violations in the Maldives fuel instability and pose a threat to regional security,” it added.
The senate resolution comes ahead of an upcoming review by the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group of the Maldives’ progress on resolving a year-long political crisis, which was triggered by the imprisonment of Nasheed and former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim in March 2015 after rushed trials that drew widespread condemnation over apparent lack of due process.
However, expressing “profound disappointment” with the text of the resolution, the government yesterday defended the opposition leader’s jailing and insisted that there are no political prisoners in the country.
“It was determined by the courts that the former president had ordered the army to abduct a judge – a matter that he has on more than one occasion publicly admitted,” the foreign ministry said in a statement yesterday.
“The allegation he did not receive a fair trial is something that has to be argued at the relevant courts in the Maldives. Mr Nasheed has now chosen to engage in the process, and the Supreme Court is presently considering his appeal.”
The apex court concluded hearings in February.
The government maintained that it cannot interfere with the judiciary, prosecutorial authorites, and law enforcement agencies “irrespective of the standing of the person under consideration.”
The government has “the utmost respect for the integrity of the US Senate and the dignity of the US government,” but “it is clear that the senate has considered this matter without being aware of the full facts of this case.”
The resolution – which expresses the sense of the senate and is not enforceable – was submitted in November by a coalition of 13 senators from both the Republican and Democratic parties after a UN rights panel declared Nasheed’s terrorism conviction illegal and politically motivated.
Nasheed’s heavyweight international lawyers Jared Genser and Amal Clooney have since been lobbying top US lawmakers for targeted sanctions against Maldivian government officials responsible for alleged human rights abuses.
Genser, founder of renowned campaign group for political prisoners Freedom Now, told The Hindu yesterday that the unanimous resolution is “a direct rebuke [to the Maldivian government] not only to their wrongful prosecution, conviction and sentencing of President Nasheed but also to their arbitrary request for him to return to the country against medical advice.”
In the face of mounting diplomatic pressure and the threat of sanctions, the government in January authorised a 30-day medical leave for Nasheed in a deal brokered by Sri Lanka, India, the UK and US.
But the prisons authority on Thursday ordered Nasheed to return to the Maldives to serve the remainder of his 13-year jail sentence.
Home Minister Umar Naseer said yesterday that Nasheed “failed to submit proper medical records.”
“He can still submit them and appeal for an extension,” he tweeted.
Nasheed applied for a 60-day extension of medical leave in February.
Nasheed’s lawyer Hisaan Hussain said Thursday that the Maldives Correctional Services had asked for four more documents, including a doctor’s letter confirming the need for further medical attention, proof of hospitalisation, and an estimate of the time period required for treatment and status of health.
While lawyers had already submitted a doctor’s letter with all the required details, Hisaan said it “may have been rejected because all of the details were contained in one letter.”
The lawyers have since informed the MCS that they will submit separate documents.
The foreign ministry meanwhile went on to deny that the current administration has curtailed civil liberties and fundamental freedoms.
“It must be remembered however that such rights are not absolute, and must be exercised within the confines of the law, which is there to ensure that all citizens are protected,” the statement continued.
“Further, citizens must be allowed the freedom to express themselves and the freedom to protest against those acts that they do not agree with. However, such freedoms should not be exercised at the cost of those that do not wish to partake. Therefore, a balance must be struck.”
However, since the CMAG – which monitors member states’ observance of democracy and human rights – issued a list of demands for the Maldivian government in February, including initiating all-party talks and releasing jailed politicians, the government has submitted bills to criminalise defamation, strip benefits and privileges for ex-President Nasheed, and require opposition parties to re-register all of its members.
Street protests have been banned since last November.