President Abdulla Yameen has said he has no role in releasing jailed opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed, despite growing calls for negotiations over the imprisonment of political rivals.
“I cannot do anything. A verdict has been issued. I would like to encourage former president Nasheed and his party officials to seek an appeal. There are two more appeal stages, the matter should be resolved through the courts,” President Yameen said at a rare press conference on Thursday.
Nasheed was convicted of terrorism last month and sentenced to 13 years in jail in a trial widely criticized by foreign governments for its apparent lack of due process.
The former president has refused to seek an appeal stating he has no faith in the judiciary.
Thousands of opposition supporters have signed an ongoing petition requesting the president Yameen to release Nasheed, and are continuing daily protests in the capital.
International NGOs, businessmen and environmental activists have called for sanctions on the Maldives, while some 15 religious scholars last week pleaded with the president to heed the calls for dialogue.
The opposition Maldivians Against Brutality coalition has meanwhile called for a mass protest on May Day in the hopes of forcing president Yameen to initiate talks.
The coalition has also called for the release of ex defence minister Mohamed Nazim, who was jailed last month for 11 years on smuggling illegal weapons. The coalition accuses the government of breaching the constitution and unfairly targeting the businesses of rival politicians.
But reiterating the claim he has no power over the judiciary, Yameen said Nasheed will be released immediately if the courts overturn his sentence.
“The President’s Office did not rule on this case,” he said, noting Nasheed was first charged over the judge’s arrest in 2012 before he assumed power.
Yameen maintained that the opposition was unable to prove allegations of constitutional breaches or brutality.
“These politicians cannot point out how this government has been brutal. [They say] it’s by punishing offenders through the courts. If that is brutality, then this government is indeed enforcing their sentences,” he said.
Yameen said Nazim must also appeal his sentence. The ex defence minister’s lawyers filed an appeal at the High Court last week.
The opposition’s campaign is aimed at obstructing the government’s agenda, he alleged, but said he believed the campaign was proving to be unsuccessful.
The opposition coalition is made up of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), former ruling party ally Adhaalath Party, members of Nazim’s family, and members of Jumhooree Party (JP).
JP leader and tourism tycoon Gasim Ibrahim has ceased his vociferous criticism of president Yameen after his Villa Group was slapped with a US$90million fine.