US “deeply troubled” by Maldives’ questionable commitment to democracy, human rights

The United States has called into question the Maldives’ commitment to democracy and human rights following the imprisonment of former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim and the arrest of three journalists from opposition protests last week.

“The United States is deeply troubled by recent developments in Maldives that call into question that nation’s commitment to democracy and individual human rights,” the US Department of State’s Office of the Spokesperson in Washington DC said on Friday.

Nazim’s “trial was particularly concerning, as it was marred by the same apparent lack of appropriate criminal procedures as the recent trial of former President Mohamed Nasheed,” said the office.

The Criminal Court on Thursday found Nazim guilty of smuggling weapons, and sentenced him to 11 years in jail. On March 13, the court convicted Nasheed of terrorism over the military detention of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012, and sentenced to him to 13 years in jail.

The US noted the Criminal Court’s refusal to call the majority of Nazim’s defence witnesses and said it had “concerns regarding the lack of impartiality and independence of the judges.”

Nazim’s lawyers have said the Criminal Court had obstructed the former Defence Minister from mounting a proper defence, and have said they will appeal the verdict at the High Court as soon as possible.

The US has called on the Maldives “to take steps to restore confidence in its hard-fought democracy and the rule of law, including judicial independence and freedom of press.”

Noting freedom of the press is a fundamental democratic right, the State Department said it was in touch with the government of Maldives to clarify why three journalists were detained without charges last week.

The three are opposition aligned Raajje TV’s Mohamed Wisam and Adam Zareer, and Channel One’s Mohamed Niyaz. They were arrested from the Alliance Against Brutality’s nightly protests on Wednesday and Tuesday, respectively.

The Maldives Police Services said the three journalists were arrested along with several protesters for “obstructing police duties and disobeying police orders.”

Meanwhile, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Nisha Biswal said the “Maldives’ democratic institutions remain weak and are easily manipulated, while the judiciary has become politicised.”

Testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific on March 24, Biswal said increasing political turbulence in the Maldives was adding to mounting challenges, namely high youth unemployment, growing religious extremism and social unrest.

The sentencing of Nasheed, the country’s first democratically elected leader, calls “into question Maldives commitment to the minimum fair trial guarantees and the rule of law,” she added.

The US will continue to engage with the Maldives on counter-terrorism, maritime security and climate change issues in 2016, she said.

“Maritime security is of great concern due to potential threats posed by narcotics trafficking, piracy in the Indian Ocean, and sea-borne trade in illicit materials that could be potentially used for terrorist activity,” she said.