The Indian government has said it is “closely monitoring” the situation in the Maldives following the arrest of former President Mohamed Nasheed yesterday (March 5).
The court warrant to produce Nasheed before the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court ahead of his hearing on Wednesday at 4:00pm was signed by Senior Judge Usman.
At 1:30pm the same day, several dozen police wearing riot gear and balaclavas escorted Nasheed from his family home in Male’ to the jetty, where he was taken to the detention centre on Dhoonidhoo island.
A video of the arrest released by police shows Nasheed being mobbed by several dozen riot police in balaclavas outside his home, one of whom reads from a piece of paper.
Nasheed’s Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) bodyguard attempts to remain beside the former President, but is pushed away by the police. He is seen to follow the group, arguing with the officers.
Nasheed had evaded earlier court summons by seeking refuge in the Indian High Commission for 10 days, prompting calls from the UK, US, EU, Commonwealth and UN that the government ensure elections in September were “free, fair, and inclusive”, and that all parties be free to field the candidate of their choosing.
Nasheed emerged from the High Commission only after a purported “understanding” was reached between the government and a high-level Indian delegation including Joint Secretary of the Indian External Affairs Ministry Harsh Vardhan Shringla, that Nasheed would be “allowed to continue his social and political life” ahead of the September 7 elections.
Yesterday, the government denied such an understanding, the arrest of the former President sparked protests in Male’, a blockade of the main street, an assault on the President’s brother, the upturning of several vehicles, and by 7:00pm, 47 arrests, including 16 women.
“India expects due process and the Rule of Law would be followed; We would urge all concerned to exercise caution and restraint and not to resort to any violence or extra-constitutional means and steps which would weaken the democratic system,” said India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) in a statement, following Nasheed’s arrest.
“We have received information that former President Nasheed was taken into (police) custody following an order issued by the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court to produce him at 1600 hrs on March 6, 2013. We have been informed that former President Nasheed’s lawyers and family are going to meet him now as allowed by the authorities,” the statement added.
“We are monitoring the situation closely.”
Parliamentary Under Secretary of the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth office, Alistair Burt, meanwhile informed the British parliament that the UK was “puzzled” over the arrest of Nasheed.
“At present we remain puzzled about the turn of events. It was widely believed that an arrangement was in place following former President Nasheed leaving the Indian high commission a couple of weeks ago, in relation to his trial and his part in the forthcoming elections,” said Burt, in response to a query from MP Karen Lumley.
“We are watching the situation carefully and have made it clear to the Maldivian authorities that no harm must be orientated towards the former President,” Burt said.
The Canadian government meanwhile issued a statement expressing “deep concern” over the “violation of clear commitments made by the current President, Mohammed Waheed, at Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) meetings in New York City last September.”
“[Nasheed’s arrest] also violates key Commonwealth values and principles and directly threatens the prospect of fair and inclusive elections in the Maldives this fall.,” warned Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs, John Baird.
“Canada calls on President Waheed to release the former president and to guarantee his safety while also committing to free and fair elections. We continue to encourage Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma to engage fully in defence of Commonwealth principles in the Maldives,” Baird stated.
“These developments of serious concern reaffirm the need to maintain the situation in the Maldives on the agenda of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, which will have its next formal meeting in London in April,” he added.
Amnesty International meanwhile labelled Nasheed’s arrest an example of “selective justice”, which “highlights the failure of the Maldives authorities to investigate other serious human rights abuses in the country.”
“Of course political leaders, including Nasheed, should be held to account – but the targeting of Nasheed is an example of selective justice,” said Abbas Faiz, Amnesty International’s Maldives Researcher.
“Amnesty International, and many others, have documented a wide range of human rights violations committed by security forces following Nasheed’s resignation. These include police violence against peaceful protesters and the deliberate targeting of Nasheed’s supporters.
“No one has yet been held to account for these abuses despite the huge amount of documentary evidence available. The Maldivian authorities must carry out a full investigation into alleged abuses by anyone, and not just target political opponents.
“Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom (1978-2008) has never been investigated or held to account for alleged abuses committed during his rule. All leaders should be held to account for alleged abuses and in fair trials,” Faiz said.
The United States also expressed concern at “ongoing events in Male”, stating that “the integrity of and public confidence in the Maldivian electoral process must be maintained.”
“Accordingly, we note that all parties participating in these elections should be able to put forward the candidate of their choice. We also call upon the Government of the Maldives to implement all the recommendations of the Commission of National Inquiry (CONI) report, including the recommendations related to judicial and governmental reforms. We continue to urge all parties to chart a way forward that strengthens Maldivian democratic institutions, the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms,” the US Embassy in Colombo said in a statement.
Hulhumale Court challenged
Several recent reports produced by international bodies have challenged both the legitimacy of the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court, the charges against the former President – of detaining Chief Judge of the Criminal Court during the final days of his presidency in 2012.
Last week, UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, criticised the “arbitrary” appointment of the judges in the Nasheed case “outside the parameters laid out in the laws.”
Knaul furthermore stated that the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) – responsible for establishing the Hulhumale Magistrate Court and appointing the three member panel of judges – was politicised, subject to external influence, and hence unable to fulfill its mandate effectively.
The UK’s Bar Human Rights Committee (BHRC) also recently published a report based on its observation of the first hearings of the Nasheed trial.
“BHRC is concerned that a primary motivation behind the present trial is a desire by those in power to exclude Mr Nasheed from standing in the 2013 elections, and notes international opinion that this would not be a positive outcome for the Maldives,” the report concluded.
Police video of the Nasheed arrest on March 5: