While the Maldives’ judiciary is “not the strongest of the democratic institutions in the Maldives”, the international spotlight would encourage a fair trial of former President Mohamed Nasheed, Sir Don McKinnon has told ABC Radio Australia.
The Commonwealth Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Maldives told the channel that the international community was watching the matter “very closely”.
Nasheed was arrested by the police on Monday acting on a warrant from the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court, where the Prosecutor General has filed charges concerning the former president’s detention of Chief Judge of the Criminal Court, Abdulla Mohamed, while in office.
Nasheed has maintained that the detention was justified on grounds of national security following the failure of other institutions to hold the judge accountable, and alleged that the charges against him are a politically-motivated attempt to prevent him from contesting the 2013 elections.
“All the major players that have been talking to the Maldives recently are also saying go through your processes, but do not allow this to disenfranchise the former president,” McKinnon told ABC Radio.
Asked whether he shared Nasheed’s concerns that he would not be tried fairly, “I think on this particular case [the judiciary] know very well that there’s more than just a few Maldivian people watching this trial.”
“The international players are watching and I believe that the Maldivian judiciary will be very careful,” McKinnon said.
“It certainly can be fair and it should be fair. These people know exactly what is expected of a judiciary, but there is a high level of political sensitivity in that country, there’s a tense atmosphere which does get more difficult from time to time. But there is still the possibility of having a fair trial, yes,” he said.
Asked about the country’s future, McKinnon suggested that “we who live in Western countries expect things to happen very fast. I began my dealings with the Maldives probably about seven years ago, encouraging them to have a new constitution, have free and fair elections, which they did. And that was the first time they’d really had free and fair elections in 2008.
“Now on that basis Maldives democracy is really only four years old, so there’s still a lot of elbowing people around, much of the political structure within the Maldives is based on personalities, there’s not great ideological divides, there are six or seven different parties in and out of the margins right now. There are many things that it is grappling with that it’s never had to grapple with before, and the important thing is the international community give them support to allow this very fledgling democracy to mature.”
Failure to defend democracy
Former President Nasheed has meanwhile told the UK’s Guardian newspaper that the international community had failed to defend democracy in the Maldives, saying that it was “difficult for me to believe that democracy is sacred for the international community”.
“The people of the Maldives have lost faith with the international community … which has taken a very narrow view,” Nasheed told the paper.
“It is very certain that they can’t win [the election] with me [standing] as a candidate so they are trying all sorts of ways to stop me … It is really quite chilling,” he said, noting that his party had decided to boycott the election if he was excluded from running.
“No travel ban”
The government has meanwhile issued a statement noting concerns raised by the UK, US and European Union regarding the arrest of Nasheed.
Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dunya Maumoon – daughter of Nasheed’s predecessor Maumoon Abdul Gayoom – said the government was “fully committed to strengthening democracy and rule of law in the Maldives”.
“[Nasheed was released from police custody after the first hearing. He was taken into custody following a court order issued by the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court, after he ignored court summons and refused to appear for the first hearing of the case which had been originally scheduled for 1 October 2012 and rescheduled for 7 October 2012,” she said.
“Contrary to claims by the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), and also by Amnesty International, police did not use excessive force during the arrest of the former President Nasheed. His safety and security had been the priority and no one was harmed or pepper sprayed during the operation,” the statement read.
“The Police Integrity Commission (PIC) and the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) had been invited to observe the operation. While in custody, former President Nasheed was afforded the right to an attorney and meet with his family members. There is no travel ban on him and he is currently travelling out to some of the atolls.”