UK PM is first head of government to call for Nasheed’s release

British Prime Minister David Cameron has urged the Maldives to release jailed ex-president Mohamed Nasheed and other political prisoners.

Cameron is the first head of government or state to demand Nasheed’s release. In a tweet following a meeting with Nasheed’s wife Laila Ali and lawyer Amal Clooney in London on Wednesday, he also called for political dialogue in the Maldives.

Cameron’s tweet appears to signal an important shift in the UK government’s stance on the Maldives. While the UK has continued to raise concern over the apparent lack of due process in Nasheed’s rushed trial on terrorism charges, it had previously stopped short of calling for the opposition leader’s release.

In 2011, Cameron described Nasheed as his “new best-freind.” His Conservative Party has helped Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party with election campaigns and party building.

Nasheed has since been transferred to house arrest for eight weeks on the doctor’s advise. The opposition leader’s imprisonment had triggered a political crisis with daily protests and the arrests of hundreds of opposition supporters.

Diplomatic pressure has been growing on President Abdulla Yameen’s regime over a deteriorating human rights situation in the Maldives.

US Senators John McCain and Jack Reed, who chair the Senate Armed Forces Committee, on June 2 urged the US government to press for the opposition leader’s release and warned that the Maldives’ decisions are “having serious adverse consequences on its relationships abroad.”

In April, the EU parliament adopted a resolution calling for Nasheed’s freedom, and requested member countries to warn travelers on the human rights situation in the Maldives.

According to a statement by Nasheed’s office, Laila also met with Hugo Swire, the minister of state, foreign and commonwealth office on Wednesday.

In April, Laila also filed a petition with the UN working group on arbitrary detention requesting a judgement declaring Nasheed’s detention illegal and arbitrary. The UN has now asked President Abdulla Yameen’s government for a response.

Nasheed’s transfer to house arrest this week appears to be a first step towards political reconciliation between Yameen’s government and the opposition.

President Yameen maintains he has no constitutional authority to release Nasheed, and says he must exhaust all appeal processes before a clemency plea could be considered.

On June 18, the government announced it had hired a law firm owned by Cherie Blair, the wife of UK’s former prime minister Tony Blair, to “strengthen the legislative framework of the government.”

Meanwhile, UK MPs continue to raise concern Nasheed’s imprisonment at Westminster. Most recently, on June 23, a Labor MP asked for an update on the current political situation in the Maldives.

In a written reply, Swire said he has been in touch with foreign minister Dunya Maumoon and that the UK government receives regular reports on the Maldives, including from the High Commission in Colombo.

“I called Foreign Minister Dunya on 11 June to press for an even handed government response. We understand that the protests remained largely peaceful and were conducted in accordance with police instructions. Nevertheless, twelve men including Mr Ahmed Mahloof MP were arrested,” he said.

“We have expressed our concerns about the rushed trial of former President Nasheed, which appeared to contravene the Maldives’ own laws and practices, as well as international fair trials standards. Nasheed sought for clemency from the President on 15 June.

“The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention is currently investigating his case. We are also concerned at the arrests, trials and convictions of other opposition figures and that these also fail to meet local and international standards,” Swire added.

Correction: This article’s headline previously read that the UK Prime Minister is the first head of state to call for Nasheed’s release. PM Cameron is head of the government, not the state. 


MDP congratulates British conservative party on election victory

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) have congratulated the British Conservative Party and prime minister David Cameron for the ruling party’s shock victory in last week’s general elections.

“The imprisoned president of the MDP, former president Mohamed Nasheed wishes to convey his compliments from the confines of a cell in Maafushi jail in the Maldives on the impressive victory for the Conservative Party under the leadership of Prime Minister David Cameron,” the main opposition party said in a statement.

Nasheed is serving a 13-year jail sentence on terrorism charges after a 19-day trial in March that was widely criticised by foreign governments, the UN, and Amnesty International for its apparent lack of due process.

The Conservative Party has a longstanding relationship with the MDP dating back to its formation in 2005.

“I am heartened by the electoral successes of my friends in the Conservative Party, who has so steadfastly stood by us as we have endeavoured to nurture our nascent democracy in the Maldives.” Nasheed was quoted as saying in the MDP statement.

“I take this opportunity to extend my warmest congratulations to our friends in the Conservative Party who have retained their seats as well as those members who are freshly beginning a parliamentary career as proud Conservatives under your able and inspiring leadership.

“I have no doubt that under the leadership of prime minister Cameron, the Conservative Party will lead the United Kingdom to even greater prosperity and success in the future, both at home and internationally.”

The MDP said the party is “greatly appreciative of its close friendship and cooperation with the Conservative Party, from whom we have gained much experience and knowledge on political party building and democratic practice.”

Foreign minister Dunya Maumoon also congratulated the re-elected UK prime minister for the “outstanding win by the Conservative Party”.

The Conservative Party won 331 out of the 650 seats in the UK House of Commons and secured a majority for the centre-right party, which had formed a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats after the 2010 general elections.


UK visit will resolve Commonwealth and UK government’s concerns, claims President Waheed

President Mohamed Waheed Hassan has claimed his visit to the United Kingdom will resolve concerns of the UK government and the Commonwealth regarding the political situation in the Maldives.

Speaking to press prior to his departure to attend the Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee luncheon hosted by the Commonwealth, President Waheed said during his visit he would meet with UK Prime Minister David Cameron, senior officials of the UK government and Commonwealth officials.

“I am confident that after this trip, any concerns they have will be allayed,” President Waheed told the media.

“We have already provided them with explanations to some extent, and later relayed more information to the Foreign Office as well. Because of this the UK government now listens to what we have to say,” Waheed claimed.

Local newspaper Haveeru claimed 30 people gathered to bid farewell to the President, following the use of loudspeakers around the streets of Male’ last night by pro-government parties urging supporters to gather at the President’s departure point.

The President’s visit to the UK is his second official visit since taking office in February, after his predecessor President Mohamed Nasheed was ousted in what he latter claimed was a coup d’etat.

During his official visit to India, President Waheed told a gathering of diplomats that the Commonwealth was being unduly influenced by opposition politicians in the Maldives, and that it was acting beyond its remit.

Speaking at the Taj Palace Hotel in New Delhi during his five day official visit to India, Dr Waheed reportedly said that the Commonwealth’s Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) had followed the lead of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) in attempting to intimidate the government.


UN sends delegation as UK urges judicial reform

A political delegation from the United Nations’ (UN) Department of Political Affairs (DPA) will arrive in Male’ next week to discuss the Maldives’ current efforts at judicial reform as part of its ongoing democratic transition.

The delegation, headed by UN Assistant Secretary-General Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, will meet with government officials, opposition leaders and civil society representatives. Revolving around the current situation the Maldives, discussions aim to identify opportunities to support democratic growth.

In November last year UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay visited the Maldives and said the country had made “significant advances” during the first few years of its transition, but a gap still existed between the rhetoric and the reality on the ground.

The Commonwealth has also pledged to assist the island nation in its efforts towards judicial reform, while British Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Alistair Burt, is holding discussions with President Mohamed Nasheed to resolve the current stalemate.

“Although the [Maldives’] judiciary is constitutionally independent, the sitting judges are under qualified, often corrupt and hostile to the democratically elected regime,” said MP John Glen of Prime Minister David Cameron’s ruling Conservative party.

Glen further called on the House Leader to “urgently make time for a debate on judicial reform in the Maldives,” reads a press statement.

Leader of the House of Commons and Conservative Party MP George Young pointed out that the British High Commission in Colombo is involved. “We want to help Maldives to make progress towards democratic reform in the direction that my friend John Glen outlines,” he said.

The Maldives formally requested international legal assistance from the UN Human Rights Commission on January 22. Last year, ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) also appealed for international intervention in what it considered an “increasingly blatant collusion between politicians loyal to the former autocratic President, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, and senior members of the judiciary.”

The Maldives government initiated a judicial standoff on January 16 when it ordered the military to arrest Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed after he filed a High Court injunction against his police summons.

Allegations against Judge Mohamed date back to 2005 and include misogyny, sexual deviancy, throwing out an assault case despite the confession of the accused, political bias, obstruction of police duty, disregarding decisions of high courts, deliberately holding up cases involving opposition figures, barring media from corruption trials, ordering the release of suspects detained for serious crimes without a single hearing, maintaining “suspicious ties” with family members of convicts sentenced for dangerous crimes, and releasing a murder suspect “in the name of holding ministers accountable” who went on to kill another victim.

In one instance Abdulla Mohamed was accused of requesting that two underage victims of sexual assault act out their attack in court, in front of the perpetrator.

The judge had previously been under investigation by the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), but had successfully sought an injunction from the Civil Court against his further investigation by the judicial watchdog.

The JSC itself has itself been accused of perjury, embezzlement and corruption – by one of its own members.

The ongoing detention of the judge has polarised public opinion in the Maldives, resulting in three weeks of opposition-led protests which draw crowds of 200 to 400 nightly on Male’ calling for the judge’s freedom and the downfall of the government. Several police officers and protesters have been injured during the protests and a number of journalists have been the victims of targeted attacks.

In addition, a few government buildings and private property belonging to government officials have been damaged.

Protest leaders have pledged to continue the demonstrations until an “even stronger” protest on February 24. Meanwhile, MDP has gathered regularly at its party camp where activists have occasionally urged party members to “go out and confront the opposition”. No such order has officially been given, however MDP has asked party supporters to come to Male’ from surrounding islands for a demonstration on February 17.


Osama bin Laden killed in Pakistan by US forces, says Obama

US President Barack Obama has declared the death of Osama bin Laden at the hands of US forces.

In a live broadcast to the US on Sunday night, Obama claimed that an intelligence lead in August 2010 had culminated in the tracking of bin Laden to Abbottabad, a town north of Islamabad in Pakistan far from the tribal belt where the US has been searching for the fugitive.

“It was far from certain, and it took many months to run this thread to ground. I met repeatedly with my national security team as we developed more information about the possibility that we had located bin Laden hiding within a compound deep inside of Pakistan. And finally, last week, I determined that we had enough intelligence to take action, and authorised an operation to get Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice,” Obama said.

“A small team of Americans” engaged bin Laden in a firefight, killing him. No US or civilian casualties were reported, and bin Laden’s body was recovered.

A US official told Associated Press that “We are assuring [his body] is handled in accordance with Islamic practice and tradition.”

Counter-terrorism cooperation with Pakistan “help lead us to bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding,” Obama said.

“We must also reaffirm that the United States is not – and never will be – at war with Islam,” he added. “Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader; he was a mass murderer of Muslims.  Indeed, al Qaeda has slaughtered scores of Muslims in many countries, including our own.  His demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity.”


Crowds immediately gathered outside the gates of the White House singing the country’s national anthem, while news networks reported a “party atmosphere” spreading throughout the country.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said that confirmation of bin Laden’s death should  “bring great relief to people across the world”.

“Osama Bin Laden was responsible for the worst terrorist atrocities the world has seen – for 9/11 and for so many attacks, which have cost thousands of lives, many of them British,” the PM said.

A Western diplomat based in Islamabad told the UK’s Guardian newspaper that bin Laden’s death was a “game changer” for US foreign policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“I’m overjoyed, but what this exactly means is really not clear,” the diplomat said.

A number of analysts speculated that while bin Laden’s death was a significant symbolic victory for the US, it was unlikely to hamper al Qaeda’s operations as bin Laden was no longer involved in the day-to-day functioning of the terrorist organisation.

The US State Department meanwhile issued a travel alert to all US citizens warning of an outbreak of anti-American violence in the wake of bin Laden’s death.

“Given the uncertainty and volatility of the current situation, US citizens in areas where recent events could cause anti-American violence are strongly urged to limit their travel outside of their homes and hotels and avoid mass gatherings and demonstrations,” the State Department said.

US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, Robert Blake, is currently in Male’ for meetings with political leaders and civil society.