“Technical problem” prevented former President Nasheed from leaving, Immigration Department claims

Former President Mohamed Nasheed was prevented from leaving the country yesterday (December 21) to visit his ill father in Bangkok, Thailand due to a “technical problem,” the Department of Immigration and Emigration has claimed.

Nasheed was told by immigration officials on Friday morning that his passport was held because of a court order by the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court that had been sent to the department on December 18 imposing a travel ban on the former president.

The formerly ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) presidential candidate is currently on trial at the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court over charges of illegally detaining Chief Judge of the Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed in January this year.

However, on December 18, the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court authorised the former President to travel overseas between December 19, 2012 and January 6, 2013. The letter granting permission to travel was signed by Magistrate Hussain Mazeed.

Following the incident on Friday morning, the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court confirmed to local media that the Immigration Department was informed of the decision on December 18.

In a statement later in the day, the Immigration Department said the court order lifting the travel ban was received and entered into the system.

However, Nasheed was told his passport had been withheld due to a “technical problem with the system,” the Immigration Department claimed.

“The issue has now been identified and fixed a short while ago,” the statement read. The department did not elaborate on the nature of the “technical problem”.

Controller of Immigration Dr Mohamed Ali told Minivan News today that the system error “affected both arrivals and departures from 7:30am to about 2:00pm.”

He added that the incident involving the former President was “the only case” of a passport being held due to the disruption.

“The system at airport did not show the release, while the release was entered on Wednesday (December 18). It was a simple system dependent decision by the duty officer at that time.  We have apologised to [Nasheed] and all who were affected and even have a letter sent to him assuring that he can leave during the specified period,” Dr Ali said.

However, the Immigration Controller told newspaper Haveeru on Friday that Nasheed’s passport was held due to a court order.

“He cannot leave until the court orders [the passport] to be released. When he wants to go somewhere, the court will instruct us to release it within a certain period,” Dr Mohamed Ali was quoted as saying.

Nasheed was reportedly due to leave for Bangkok on a private visit ahead of his father’s surgery.

Former President Nasheed’s office meanwhile issued a statement contending the move blocking the former President’s departure was in violation of the constitution.

The statement noted that article 128 of the constitution entitles former Presidents to “the highest honour, dignity, protection, financial privileges and other privileges entitled to a person who has served in the highest office of the land.”

Moreover, article 41 of the constitution guarantees “the freedom to enter, remain in and leave the Maldives” to every citizen.

“This office condemns in the harshest terms the act by the current government to deliberately obstruct President Nasheed from leaving the country for his father’s operation,” the press release stated.

It added that the Immigration Controller’s claims in the media that a travel ban had been imposed by a court order on December 18 was a “deliberate falsehood.”

The Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court informed Nasheed’s lawyers on Friday afternoon that the Immigration Department was sent the court order lifting the travel ban.

The statement called on the government to “respect the constitution and immediately cease these attempts to harass and hassle President Nasheed.”

The former President’s office also called on the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court to take action against the Controller of Immigration for making false claims regarding the court.