Two top US lawmakers have urged Secretary of State John Kerry to consider all options at his disposal to encourage Maldives President Abdulla Yameen to end a crackdown on democracy here.
In a letter dated April 12, Senators John McCain and Jack Reed, who head the Senate’s Armed Services Committee, said they were concerned over the prosecution of opposition politicians and growing religious extremism in the Maldives.
“Over the past year, we have seen little progress in the Maldives with respect to strengthening democracy and the rule of law,” the Senators said.
“Compounded by a lack of higher educational opportunities and high youth unemployment, violent extremism has found fertile ground for growth. We are greatly worried by reports of foreign fighters from the Maldives flowing to the Middle East.
“Despite the administration’s efforts to urge the Yameen government to reverse course and demonstrate its commitment to respect fundamental freedoms and due process, we continue to witness a negative trajectory. We note with dismay that politically-motivated arrests and trials continue unabated.”
The letter came days after the Senate’s unanimously adopted a resolution calling on the government to “redress the injustice” of former President Mohamed Nasheed’s imprisonment on a terror charge. He was sentenced to 13 years in a trial the UN has called politically motivated.
It lends impetus to a campaign by Nasheed’s heavyweight lawyers Jared Genser, Amal Clooney and Ben Emmerson for targeted sanctions on officials responsible for human rights abuses.
“We would urge the administration to consider all of the options at its disposal, which might be effective in influencing the government’s behavior,” McCain and Reed said. “Together, we want to encourage the Maldives to take steps to restore confidence in its democratic path and judicial independence.”
The foreign ministry and the president’s office declined to comment.
In the face of continuing international pressure, the Maldivian government appears to have softened its stance on all-party talks. It has invited Nasheed to represent his Maldivian Democratic Party, despite insisting earlier that “convicts” would not be allowed to participate in talks.
The MDP and its ally the Adhaalath Party have turned the offer down, demanding that Nasheed and AP President Sheikh Imran Abdulla, also jailed on a terror charge, be released before they sit down.
A top UN official is meanwhile in Malé for “proximity talks” or indirect talks between the government and the opposition.
The Commonwealth has also called for the release of jailed politicians.
Nasheed is currently in the UK on government-authorised medical leave, a decision which is now under review. Imran, who is serving a 12-year jail sentence on a terrorism charge, was transferred to house arrest on April 4.
An overwhelming majority of the European Union parliament endorsed a resolution in December urging member states to “to introduce restrictive measures in the form of targeted sanctions to freeze the assets abroad of certain members of the Maldivian government and their leading supporters in the Maldivian business community, and to impose travel bans on them.”