President Abdulla Yameen has made it clear that he considers the release of jailed politicians to be abuse of his powers, despite international calls to do so as a show of good faith ahead of all-party talks.
“Which rights have we violated? Whose, which human right have we violated?” he repeatedly said during a speech on the island of Vashafaru in northern Haa Alif Atoll on Tuesday, just a day before a first meeting was to take place between political parties.
Yameen, whose administration narrowly avoided action by the Commonwealth last week, went on to mock calls for freedom for leading political figures.
“Now I am thinking that my government has to appeal to some parties to present me with a list of people who they think are above the law…Then they will not have to be summoned to a courtroom or investigative body no matter what they do here in the Maldives. They would not be penalized,” he said.
The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party and the religious conservative Adhaalath Party are refusing to sit down until their leaders are freed.
MDP’s Mohamed Nasheed, a former president who was jailed on a terror charge last year, is currently in the UK on government-authorised medical leave. The AP’s President Sheikh Imran Abdulla was jailed in mid-February, also on terrorism over a public speech. His sentence came just days after the government invited the country’s major political parties to the table.
Nasheed’s 13-year jail term was labeled politically motivated by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, but the government promptly dismissed the ruling.
Referring to the United Kingdom’s refusal to accept a similar WGAD ruling on whistleblower and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, Yameen said the UK was learning from the Maldives.
“When the UN working group ruled on events in England, the British government labeled them the most ridiculous people in the world. I am therefore very happy and proud by the example the Maldives is setting… it appears that we are able to do something right.”
Yameen said he would not propose an agenda for talks and would be open to discussing grievances. “I am opening my book for the meeting tomorrow. My pages are blank,” he said.
The Commonwealth’s human rights and democracy arm last week laid out a list of demands on the Maldives, including initiating inclusive dialogue, taking steps to free jailed opponents and enable the return of exile, ensuring judicial independence and the separation of powers.
Yameen denied that his government influenced the judiciary or abused rights, saying: “When I say there is no executive influence over the judiciary, that this president does nothing to suggest so, the question they raise is that everyone there obeys the president. But if everyone in this state obeys the president, how is that the president’s problem?”
He added: “I am proud to say there is no one under arbitrary arrest in my government.”
The Maldives’ membership of the UN Human Rights Council demonstrated that it respected human rights, he continued. The Maldivian state must decide on action against those who “violate the human rights of the state,” he said, explaining that respecting the state’s human rights meant “obedience to the state’s norms by everyone.”
Later on, responding to criticism that his government is cracking down on civil and political liberties, he said: “Think about the number of countries where Twitter accounts are shut down over social media posts. Think about the number of countries where those who tweet are arrested.”
The number of opposition activists arrested would be reduced if “the political parties present a “formula” to stop protesters from harming police officers and vandalizing property. I want to know where they want to protest. To what extent they should be allowed to disturb their neighbors,” he added.
The government would try to meet opposition demands, but “in return they must support the government’s development plans,” he said. “When the budget is sent for approval, there should not be any MP who votes against it.”
He went on to blame the failure of talks last year on MDP’s intransigence over Nasheed’s release.
“I have no time for those who call for action against the Maldives,” he said, on concluding his speech.
Only the Jumhooree Party and the Maldives Development Alliance, both Yameen’s allies, have appointed representatives for tonight’s talks.
Amnesty International meanwhile has slammed the Maldives for lack of action on judicial reform, noting: “The authorities frequently claimed that they would not address any complaints against the judiciary because courts were independent. At the same time, the government failed to strengthen the Judicial Services Commission to enable it to address impartiality and other issues related to the judiciary.”
The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, a New-Delhi based human rights group, has also noted that while Yameen claims watchdog bodies to be independent, they are in fact subject “to incessant interference from the judiciary and the government, as demonstrated by arbitrary dismissals and pro-ruling party appointments.”