Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird has issued a statement expressing “deep concern” over ongoing political tensions in the Maldives, in particular the government’s “politically motivated threats to arrest its opponents.”
As Canada’s foreign minister, Baird is a member of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), the international body’s democracy and human rights arm that suspended the Maldives following the controversial transfer of power on February 7, and was behind the strengthening of President Mohamed Waheed’s Commission of National Inquiry (CNI).
“It is clear that the arrests of senior officials of the Nasheed government are politically motivated. Such actions are completely unacceptable and must be reversed,” Baird stated.
“The threats of the present government to arrest its opponents, including former President Nasheed – the only democratically elected president in the last four decades – so as to prevent his candidacy, undermine that government’s credibility and violate its undertakings to the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group. They also fly in the face of the core Commonwealth values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law,” Baird stated.
“The Maldives has been given the benefit of the doubt by the Commonwealth so far. Continued intimidation, illegal arrests and other authoritarian tactics by the present government may require the Commonwealth to consider a different approach, in our view.”
Nasheed was today ordered to attend police headquarters on August 2 concerning comments made during a tapped phone conversation released by police last week, in which the former President states “I think we need to fight back [against police].”
The government’s actions were, Baird said, “further evidence of the need for early elections, as Canada has repeatedly urged. These disputes must be settled, and the will of the people must be heard.”
“In order to safeguard the important democratic progress made in recent years, an inclusive political solution is critical to the future of Maldives. Canada will continue to work with the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group to push for greater respect for democratic values.”
Canada’s statement on the state of the Maldives is among the most strongly-worded issued by another nation following the political turmoil of February 7, with the exception of Timor Leste (East Timor).
Nobel Peace Prize recipient and President of Timor Leste, José Ramos-Horta, issued a statement on February 21 condemning “the ousting under military pressure” of President Mohamed Nasheed in an ““obvious” coup d’état.
“It should be of concern to the World that extremist elements abusively invoking Islam were instrumental in stirring up violent demonstrations, religious intolerance and social upheaval as the coup d’état set in motion,” Ramos-Horta said at the time.
“Therefore, it is all the more strange and unsettling the silence with which big powers and leading democracies respond to the undemocratic developments in the Maldives. It has been a sad day for democracy in the Maldives and beyond.”
President’s Office Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza said the Canadian Foreign Minister’s statement was “based on misinformation” as “no arrests have been made and all political opponents are free to conduct their protests every day.”
Riza suggested that the statement was based on information “received only from one side”.
As for the suggestion of a “different approach” by the Commonwealth, Riza said the government was “very much engaged” with the international body, and that Baird’s was “one isolated view” that the Maldives Foreign Ministry would look into.
“We met with several [international] authorities while in Geneva and the Maldives is not much of a concern [to them]. They welcome the work the government is doing regarding human rights and development,” Riza said.
According to tourism statistics 2243 Canadian tourists had visited the Maldives as of June this year, an increase of 4.5 percent on the same period last year.