Four Maldivian nationals imprisoned by the Pakistani government for alleged militant activities have been repatriated to the Maldives and released to their families.
They join another five who were returned to the Maldives last week and also released. The government confirmed that one of the men had stood trial in the Maldives after being accused of involvement in the Sultan Park bombing, but noted that the case had been dropped.
The president’s press secretary Mohamed Zuhair said the Pakistani government had returned the men, who were picked up during a military raid on several armed groups, with no information on charges against them or conditions on their imprisonment, making them innocent under Maldivian law.
“Our information suggests there were originally 12 [Maldivians] but three died while they were being transported between facilities,” Zuhair said, adding that reports the men had been carrying firearms at the time of their arrest were conflicting.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmed Shaheed said the nine men had not been formally charged, and stressed that “the types of activities they are alleged to have been involved in, while illegal, do not necessarily fall under terrorism.”
Shaheed said the Maldives Police Service had determined that “the best thing to do was to release them to their families and put them under surveillance”, while their activities abroad were investigated. “There are a lot of stories about the nature of what they were doing. If we release anybody, it is because our laws require them to be released,” he said.
The home minister had travelled to Pakistan to investigate the matter, he said, emphasising that the role of foreign ministry was to “repatriate Maldivians when it is in the national interest to do so” and not “to mix that up with judgements of character”.
Shaheed noted that the Maldives does have an arrangement with Pakistan regarding prisoner exchange, particularly regarding the repatriation of Pakistani nationals currently serving time in the Maldives, but stressed that this arrangement “is unrelated to this case [of the nine Maldivians].”
He took exception to stories published today that the government was “releasing jihadists”, acknowledging that such allegations “will hurt the national brand upon which our economy depends.”
“People should not use the term jiahdist lightly,” he said. “To some it means people who mean harm, to others it means someone pious on the path to Heaven. People need to be careful what they are saying.”
Shaheed also expressed concern that the Maldives was last week described as a “safe haven” by Taliban-linked resistance fighters, who recently visited the Maldives to meet with members of the Afghan government.
“We are a soverign country and if we hear of a government [coming to the Maldives] to be involved in talks we expect them to tell us,” he said, suggesting that the country’s safety and reputation could be undermined by such “political gaming.”