The US Senators chairing the Senate Armed Services Committee have urged their government to press for the release of all political prisoners in the Maldives, including former President Mohamed Nasheed.
The letter by US Senators John McCain and Jack Reed adds to the growing calls for Nasheed’s release, and warns that the Maldives’ decisions are “having serious adverse consequences on its relationships abroad.”
Mc Cain, a Republican, and Reed, a Democrat, have also filed today an amendment to the annual military policy bill, which expresses Congressional support for Nasheed and other political prisoners’ release.
The bill, now on the floor of the Senate, tops US$600billion in costs. Important provisions include authorising and funding lethal arms for Ukrainians against Russian-backed separatist forces.
In their June 2 letter to the Secretary of Defence Ash Carter, and Secretary of State John Kerry, the senators had warned that a deteriorating human rights situation in the Maldives “would greatly impact our ability to work with the government of Maldives and to engage on a host of issues, including military to military activities. ”
The president’s office was not responding to calls at the time of going to press.
President Abdulla Yameen insists that Nasheed was granted due process, and said he has no constitutional authority to release the former president.
He has now called for separate talks with the three allied opposition parties. But there has been no substantial progress yet.
Kerry had previously said there were “troubling signs that democracy is under threat in Maldives, where former President Nasheed has been imprisoned without due process,” and added this “is an injustice that must be addressed soon.”
McCain and Reed noted a police crackdown on a historic anti-government protest on May 1, and said: “the political space in the Maldives is quickly closing as democratically-oriented opposition political parties, civil society groups and journalists have come under increased pressure.”
The letter urged the state department to “reemphasise importance of the rule of law in the Maldives, and the damage this is causing to the U.S.-Maldives bilateral relationship.”
The US must “increase high-level engagement with the government of Maldives and send a strong message that the country should abide by its international commitments, especially to the rule of law.”
“In short, while the Maldives may be a small island nation, there are big principles at stake,” the senators said.
The parliament of the European Union in April passed a resolution urging the Maldives to free ex-president Mohamed Nasheed and calling on member states to issue warnings on the Maldives’ human rights record on their travel advice websites.
The government dismissed the resolution as “non-binding.”
Nasheed’s international legal team is lobbying for the former president’s release, and is seeking a ruling from the UN working group on arbitrary detention declaring Nasheed’s imprisonment to be illegal.
The lawyers are: Jared Genser, the founder of the renowned campaign group for political prisoners Freedom Now, Ben Emmerson, former UN rights chief on counter-terrorism and human rights, and Amal Clooney, who has advised the UN and is the wife of Hollywood actor George Clooney.
The working group’s decision on Nasheed’s detention will affect the international community’s policy towards the Maldives, and would inform decisions on possible sanctions, lawyers have said.
Genser has represented Nobel Peace Prize laureates Aung San Suu Kyi and Liu Xiaobo, while Clooney has counselled political prisoners such as the former Prime Minister of Ukraine, Yulia Tymoshenko, and Al Jazeera journalist Mohamed Fahmy.
Emmerson, meanwhile, is currently the British judge on international tribunals on Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.