Ex-president’s wife continues high-profile campaign in Europe

Former president Mohamed Nasheed’s wife, Laila Ali, is continuing a high-profile campaign in Europe to free her husband.

The former first lady met with the president of the European Union parliament Martin Schulz in Strasbourg, France, on Tuesday and met the UN high commissioner on human rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein in Geneva, Switzerland, on Wednesday.

Nasheed’s trial on terrorism charges was widely criticized for apparent lack of due process.

The UK prime minister David Cameron, the European Parliament, and US Senators John McCain and Jack Reed have called for his immediate release.

The opposition leader was transferred to house arrest in late June amidst mounting diplomatic pressure.

“We are hopeful, but cautious,” said Hamid Abdul Ghafoor, the spokesperson of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

“President Nasheed is not free, he could be returned to house arrest any minute. There are some 1400 opposition supporters and politicians facing charges. So we must continue our campaign.”

Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in jail over the military detention a judge during his tenure.

The MDP and the government recently commenced talks, but a third meeting was cancelled tonight as some ministers are out of the country. The opposition has also backed a constitutional amendment that would allow President Abdulla Yameen to replace his deputy as a confidence building measure.

An aide who had accompanied Laila on her Europe trip said she had discussed Nasheed’s imprisonment and the human rights situation in the Maldives during her visits. She met with EU MEPs in Brussels on Monday before calling on Schulz and Al-Hussein.

“The government needs to demonstrate its sincerity by freeing all political prisoners, including Nasheed, and ensuring they can fully return to public life,” the aide said.

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.

Shortly after Nasheed was sentenced, Zeid said the trial was rushed and “appears to contravene the Maldives’ own laws and practices and international fair trial standards in a number of respects.”

Heavyweight international human rights lawyers including Amal Clooney, the wife of Hollywood actor George Clooney, have taken up Nasheed’s case at the UN working group on arbitrary detention.

A ruling is expected in September or October. The government has hired a law firm chaired by Cherie Blair, the wife of UK’s former prime minister Tony Blair, to respond to the petition.

Meanwhile, Cameron has called for political dialogue in the Maldives and Nasheed’s release following a meeting with Laila on June 25. The former first lady had also met UK MPs and Hugo Swire, the minister of state, foreign and commonwealth office in her visit to London in late-June.

US Senators McCain and 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.”



EU calls for political dialogue to resolve crisis

The European Union has called on political parties in the Maldives to engage in dialogue to resolve a deepening political crisis.

The EU delegation along with EU heads of mission and the ambassador of Norway in Sri Lanka called for dialogue after strongly condemning “the violence which occurred at the public demonstration held in Malé on 1 May 2015.”

Nearly 200 protesters were arrested from the anti-government mass rally following a police crackdown, including Adhaalath Party (AP) president Sheikh Imran Abdulla and main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) chairperson Ali Waheed.

The opposition ‘Maldivians against tyranny’ alliance had vowed to bring president Abdulla Yameen to the negotiating table through the mass rally.

Last week, Imran refused to negotiate with president Yameen’s envoy for the talks, tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb, calling the ruling party’s deputy leader “corrupt” and “a criminal.”

The EU meanwhile called on all sides to “exercise restraint and to refrain from any acts which could make the current political situation worse.”

“The EU delegation is especially disappointed because of the reassurances which the visiting EU [heads of mission] had received from all major Maldivian political parties and the government that every effort would be made to ensure that peace would prevail on 1 May,” reads a statement released yesterday.

The opposition May Day protest began peacefully with an estimated 20,000 supporters marching across the capital’s main thoroughfare Majeedhee Magu, calling for an end to the government’s “tyranny” and demanding the release of former president Mohamed Nasheed, ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim.

However, clashes erupted when protesters attempted to break through police barricades to perform sunset prayers at the Islamic centre. Protests are prohibited at the Republic square or the restricted ‘green zone’ in front of the mosque.

Police cracked down with tear gas, thunder flashes, stun grenades, and the indiscriminate use of pepper spray.

Later in the night, a Specialist Operations (SO) police officer left behind after a baton charge was tripped and severely beaten by protesters. He was sent to Sri Lanka for medical treatment along with another officer injured after a protest pickup charged through police lines at dusk.

The president’s office spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali declared after Sheikh Imran’s arrest that the government will no longer hold discussions with the Adhaalath Party leader.

The EU parliament meanwhile passed a resolution last week calling on member states to issue warnings on the Maldives’ human right records on their travel advice websites and demanding the release of ex-president Nasheed.

In a visit to Sri Lanka, US Secretary of State John Kerry echoed the calls and warned that democracy is under threat in the Maldives.

“We’ve seen even now how regrettably there are troubling signs that democracy is under threat in the Maldives where the former president Nasheed has been imprisoned without due process,” he said.

“This is an injustice that needs to be addressed soon.”


EU resolution based on ‘fabrications, misconceptions, and misrepresentations’

The ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) and the foreign ministry have slammed a European Union parliamentary resolution urging the government to release ex-president Mohamed Nasheed.

The resolution is based on “fabrications, misconceptions and misrepresentations”, the PPM contended while foreign minister Dunya Maumoon declared that “the human rights achievements of the Maldives is better than some European countries.”

The non-binding resolution adopted today urged member states to issue warnings on the Maldives’ human rights record on their travel advice websites over an increased tendencies towards authoritarian rule, including Nasheed’s imprisonment for 13 years on terror charges.

The EU parliament noted a crackdown on political opponents including the imprisonment of two former defence ministers and a ruling party MP, the intimidation of media and civil society and the politicisation of the judiciary.

But Dunya said the Maldives’ “achievements since 2004 is exemplary for a small state.”

“We have a vibrant political system where people have space to express their political opinions without any hindrance. We do not shoot protesters. There is no looting in the name of political rallies.  Our custodial facilities do not torture those under state custody,” she said.

The PPM meanwhile said the EU had issued “equally grossly-misinformed releases” in the past, but “chose to turn a blind eye and stay silent on matters regarding the Maldives during the three year three month regime of former President Mohamed Nasheed, which was the single most brutal, dictatorial and violent period of rule in contemporary Maldivian history.”

The PPM suggested that the European parliament “risks tarnishing its own standing in global society, and it’s reputation among European citizens themselves by refusing, for shrouded political gains, to call a spade a spade.”

“The European Parliament must by now know that its failure to report the truth in matters regarding the Maldives has left its own reputation among the Maldivian public at serious risk of irreversible damage,” reads the PPM statement released today.

The ruling party went on to claim Nasheed’s government arbitrarily arrested political activists and MPs, sent out “knife-wielding thugs” against opposition protesters, unlawfully politicised state media, undermined independent institutions, and carried out corruption amounting to “hundreds of millions of dollars.”

The rise of extremism worsened under Nasheed’s administration, it continued, as its “schizophrenic policies on religious affairs in the country had contributed to the ideological confusion among young people, which has led to some Maldivians fleeing the country to join the ranks of foreign fighters in ISIS-led terrorist conflict zones.”

As Nasheed was found guilty of ordering the “enforced disappearance” of criminal court chief judge Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012 – “a gross Nazi-esque violation” of constitutional rights and international norms – the PPM asked whether the EU condoned the “kidnapping of judges”.

Neither the government nor the public will entertain calls for Nasheed’s release “through the very unlawful and unethical avenues that Nasheed himself employed”.

“This is not a banana republic nor is this a pawn of any regional bloc or external power,” the PPM said.

Hours before the resolution passed, president’s office minister Mohamed Hussain Shareef ‘Mundhu’ told the press he expected a “watered down” resolution, and said the government is “happy” with the resolution as it shows that the current administration is upholding the Maldivian constitution and sovereignty.

“Actionable” clauses such as imposing a travel ban and freezing assets of Maldivian government officials were removed before the resolution was put to a vote, he said.

According to Mundhu, the resolution  “praises” Nasheed and EU MEPs are demanding his release as the former president was “a proxy ruler” of Europeans. He alleged that the EU is condemning the Maldivian government for refusing to allow freedom of religion and same sex marriage.

The resolution was pushed through by the UK’s Conservative Party, which Mundhu said was a longstanding ally of Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), and the Christian Democratic Party.

Other parties in the European parliament “forced” the Conservative Party to remove the actionable clauses, he claimed.

Mundhu also said the EU refused to extend the duty-free status of fish imported from Maldives due to the country’s stance on freedom of religion and legalising gay marriage.

An EU delegation that visited the Maldives this week had told government officials yesterday that a non-binding resolution by the European parliament was inconsequential and akin to “a resolution adopted by the Baa atoll Thulhadhoo council,” Mundhu said.

President Abdulla Yameen has previously accused the EU of imposing restrictions on Maldivian imports for refusing to abandon Islamic principles.

The country has since sought other markets for fish exports and the EU was no longer  “that important economically, outside of tourism”.


EU calls on Maldives government to free ex president immediately

The EU parliament today 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.

Nasheed was convicted of terrorism and sentenced to a 13 year jail term in a trial that sparked international outrage over lack of due process.

MEPs insisted that Nasheed should be immediately released, noting that the “controversial trial failed to meet national and international standards of justice.”

The EU parliament said it was gravely concerned about increasing tendencies towards authoritarian rule, noting a crackdown on political opponents including the imprisonment of former defence ministers and a ruling party MP, as well as the intimidation of media and civil society and the politicization of the judiciary.

The resolution, which comes ahead of a mass antigovernment protest tomorrow, encouraged “all actors in the Maldives to work together constructively in all areas,” and said the government must immediately end political interference in the judiciary, end all forms of violence including that against peaceful protesters.

MEPs urged a proper investigation into the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan, who has been missing since August last year, the resolution said.

They also condemned the reintroduction of the death penalty.

The resolution did not call for an asset freeze or a travel ban on government officials, as proposed by the conservative group of MEPs.

Hours before the resolution’s passing, state minister Mohamed Hussain Shareef, said the resolution did not concern the government, noting it is non-binding on member states.

He said the stronger provisions for a travel advisory and punitive measures had been removed from the final document.

State minister for tourism Hussain Lirar meanwhile said the government does not foresee adverse impacts on Maldives tourism from the resolution.

“The resolution carries no legal weight. Members states will only issue advisories if their national parliaments approve it,” he claimed.

Europeans make up nearly half of the tourist arrivals in the Maldives, and a strong travel warning could have devastating impact on the country’s economy, which is largely dependent on revenue from tourism.

A tourism industry insider, who wished to remain anonymous, also said: “as long as there are no punitive measures, it may not have impacts on business. But this does increase consumer awareness. A more ethical tourist may choose not to come to the Maldives now. But tour operators will continue selling holidays here.”

Calls for a selective tourism boycott has been growing internationally following Nasheed’s arrest, with Richard Branson of the Virgin group saying he will no longer holiday in the Maldives.

A group called Ethical Maldives, which calls on tourists to avoid resorts owned by businessmen who support the ruling party, is also gaining international media attention.

Opposition politicians were not responding at the time of going to press.


“CMAG lacks clear mandate to place Maldives on its agenda”: government tells EU

Maldives’ permanent representative to the EU Ali Hussein Didi has criticised the Commonwealth’s involvement in the Maldives, telling the European Parliament that the Commonwealth’s Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) lacked a clear mandate to place the Maldives on its agenda.

Following former President Mohamed Nasheed’s claim he was deposed in a coup d’état, the Commonwealth suspended the Maldives from the CMAG, and said it had decided to place Maldives on its formal agenda because of “questions that remain about the precise circumstances of the change of government, as well as the fragility of the situation in the Maldives.”

However, in a statement obtained by Minivan News provided to a monthly EU parliamentary session on South Asia, Didi said the situation in the Maldives did not allow for the country to be placed on the Commonwealth’s agenda.

Didi said the enhanced mandate of the CMAG approved in Perth in October 2011 only allowed the organisation to place a country on its agenda if there was: “(1) unilateral abrogation of a democratic constitution or serious threats to constitutional rule; (2) the suspension or prevention of the lawful functioning of parliament or other key democratic institutions; (3) the postponement of national elections without constitutional or other reasonable justification; and (4) the systematic denial of political space, such as through detention of political leaders or restriction of freedom of association, assembly or expression.”

“As you would agree, the Commonwealth Ministerial Mission that visited the Maldives from 17-19 February was not able to determine whether any of the above four conditions exists in the Maldives,” Didi claimed.

But the government of Maldives will continue to extend “maximum level of cooperation” to the Commonwealth “despite the fact that, in our opinion, the CMAG lacks a clear mandate to place the Maldives on its agenda,” Didi said.

In his five page statement, Didi further criticised the CMAG for not responding to requests for assistance to the government’s inquiry into the transfer of power, and reiterated the government’s commitment to holding presidential elections in 2013. He also claimed President Nasheed was ousted in a widespread popular uprising following Criminal Court Head Judge Abdulla Mohamed’s detention and said that normalcy and stability had returned to the Maldives.

Further criticisms

The CMAG and the EU have called for an independent and impartial investigation into the transfer of power and urged the Maldives to hold an early presidential election within the calendar year.

New President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan set up a three member Committee of National Inquiry (CNI) to investigate the circumstances surrounding Nasheed’s resignation, but the CMAG has challenged the committee’s independence, and in April warned of “further and stronger” measures should the Maldives fail to review the committee’s composition and mandate.

However, Didi supported the CNI’s independence and said the Commonwealth and the United Nations had not responded to requests for technical and legal assistance for the CNI.

Spokesperson for the Commonwealth Secretariat, Richard Uku had previously told Minivan News that the CMAG remained “ready to assist the Commission as soon as broad-based political agreement is reached on its composition and terms of reference.”

Didi also acused the CMAG of failure to respect understandings reached by the Maldives government and the Commonwealth’s Special Envoy Sir Don McKinnon. He did not provide details on the nature of the understandings reached between the government and McKinnon.

“Yet, I note with regret that the understandings we reached with the Secretary General’s Special Envoy, H. E. Sir Don McKinnon has not been respected by the CMAG or the Commonwealth Secretariat. The cooperation we give to the Commonwealth is not reflected in the statements issued by the CMAG. My government would therefore need the assurance from the Commonwealth Secretary General that the organisation’s interaction with the Government of Maldives is serious and that any understanding reached with the Government would fully be respected,” Didi said in his statement.

Commission of National Inquiry

Didi said the CNI “is conducting its work in complete independence from the Executive and other branches of government.”

He  also provided details on the government’s efforts to make the CNI acceptable to President Nasheed and to solicit international assistance.

“Names of the Commission members were shared with the MDP through international partners but no response was received. Eventually, the Government had to establish the Commission with the consultation and guidance of members of the international community. Although the Commission comprises officials with immense integrity and respect in the country, it has requested both the Commonwealth and the United Nations for technical and legal experts to assist the Commission in carrying out its work. The terms of reference of the request experts were drawn up in close consultation and in complete agreement with the Commonwealth Secretariat. Despite repeated follow-ups by the Government, there has been no response from any of the two organizations to the request.”

Didi further claimed President Nasheed had not exhausted domestic legal avenues for justice.

“His own party’s Vice President Alhan Fahmy, MP, called for a parliamentary inquiry into the events that led to transfer of power. However, this was also later withdrawn from Parliament when Nasheed decided he did not want inquiry from taking place,” he claimed.

Fahmy had submitted the resolution to Majlis’ National Security 241 committee. Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MPs said they had walked out of the committee because the committee was chaired by MP Gasim Ibrahim who they accuse of funding the alleged coup d’état.

Early election

Didi noted the EU’s call for early elections, but said that July 2013 was the earliest date allowed for elections in the constitution. Further, an early election could not be held while the Office of the President continues to be occupied, he claimed.

“When Maldivians voted in 2008, they voted for a President and a Vice-President. Every vote that Mr Nasheed received was also received by Dr Waheed. The Vice- President is elected for the primary purpose of filling the office of the President, should it become vacant during the term of Presidency, for any reason,” the statement said.

“Normalcy has returned”

Didi also assured the EU parliament that “stability and normalcy” had returned to the Maldives.

“The political situation in the Maldives is stable and normalcy has returned to the country. All state institutions are open, and fully functional. The schools are open, and functioning as normal. Hundreds of tourists visit the Maldives every day. In short, people in the Maldives go about their lives as normal.”

According to Didi, Dr Waheed’s administration was “committed to enact reform legislation, strengthening judiciary, building capacity of independent oversight bodies, modernising the criminal justice system and fighting corruption.”

He alleged corruption was “endemic” in Nasheed’s administration and claimed that President Waheed had set up a “High Level Task Force” to ensure compliance with the Anti- Corruption Commission and Auditor General’s reports and recommendations.

Nasheed left the Maldives at the verge of bankruptcy, Didi alleged, saying that Maldives’ debt had risen from 46 percent of GDP to 88 percent of GDP during Nasheed’s tenure.

“A team of IMF officials that visited the Maldives a few days back issued a stern warning to the Government that unless painful measures are taken urgently, the Maldives faces economic and financial crises within a matter of few months,” Didi claimed.

“Widespread popular uprising”

Didi claimed President Nasheed resigned following “a widespread popular uprising” after Nasheed “abducted” Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed.

The judge was not granted access to a lawyer or family for 22 days and refused to obey a Supreme Court ruling to release the judge, spurring a series of nightly protests against Nasheed, Didi said.

“The Government’s response to the protests was the use of tear gas and arrests. Simultaneously, however, hundreds of convicted criminals were released from the prison, and were put on the streets to clash with the protesters,” the statement read.

After 22 days of protests, Nasheed’s administration ordered the police to withdraw from the streets, “and the protesters from both sides were left to fight physically and the security forces were ordered to do nothing,” Didi said.

“Reporters and protesters were getting serious injuries and taken to hospital in numbers. Eventually, the police who had been withdrawn from the site, decide, on their own volition, to go and stop the clashes and implement law and order. All of this was being broadcast live on TV and was witnessed by the people of the Maldives.”

“Following this, orders were given to arrest the police officers, who had intervened, upon their return to the Police Headquarters. At which point, majority of the police force decided to join hands and took their position on the square in front of the Police Headquarters and MNDF Head Quarters. Then began the police and armed forces stand-off. In the ensuing time, President Nasheed decided to resign,” the statement narrated.

MDP Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor refuted claims of popular uprising saying the protesters only numbered a few hundred people consisting of “police in plain clothes and opposition party members who were paid to protest.”

Further, Ghafoor said Judge Abdulla had been granted access to a lawyer and family members, but had refused to see his family. Hamid also noted that the Human Rights Commission (HRCM) had visited the judge on January 20 and told media that the judge was in good health, and had the ability to freely roam the island.

Hamid also condemned Didi’s failure to include in his report the police’s ransacking of MDP offices in the early hours of February 7, the hijacking of state broadcaster MNBC One, and the police’s brutal crackdown on Nasheed and his protesters on February 8.

Read the government’s full statement to the EU (English)