Australia has expressed concern over rising political tension in the Maldives following former President Mohamed Nasheed’s arrest and subsequent trial on terrorism charges.
In a statement on Tuesday, Australia said High Commissioner Robyn Mudie had registered Australia’s interest with the Maldivian government and would “continue to monitor the developments closely.”
The Maldives Police Services arrested Nasheed on February 22, claiming he may abscond from a terrorism trial over the abduction of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012. If convicted, the opposition leader faces a jail term or banishment between ten and 15 years.
Over 10,000 opposition supporters took to the streets on Friday calling for Nasheed and former Defense Minister Mohamed Nazim’s release. Nazim is currently in police custody amidst a trial on importing and possessing illegal weapons.
Protesters also called for President Abdulla Yameen’s resignation. Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and Jumhooree Party (JP) supporters have continued daily protests since February 10.
In its statement, Australia encouraged “all parties to exercise restraint, act in accordance with the rule of law, and resolve differences peacefully.”
“As members of the Commonwealth, Australia and Maldives share important democratic values, including free speech and the right of opposition groups to participate fully in the democratic process,” read the statement.
“As a fellow Indian Ocean country and Commonwealth member Australia has a keen interest in supporting peace, rule of law and democracy in the Maldives.”
Australia has warned its citizens in the Maldives to exercise a “high degree of caution” when visiting capital Malé.
The statement follows a meeting between a government delegation and Mudie in Colombo. The delegation included ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives’ (PPM) Parliamentary Group leader Ahmed Nihan, PPM Spokesperson and MP Ali Arif, Minister of Law and Gender Mohamed Anil and Minister of Presidential Affairs Mohamed ‘Mundhu’ Shareef.
According to Nihan, the delegation also briefed Russain Ambassador Alexander A. Karchava, British High Commissioner John Rankin, and Qatari Ambassador Rashid Shafie Saeed Al-Fahida Almerri.
The government maintains it has no influence over Nasheed and Nazim’s trials, arguing the charges were pressed by an independent Prosecutor General and tried through independent courts. The trials are important to uphold the rule of law, ruling party officials have said.
Meanwhile, responding to a question in the UK parliament on Monday, British State Minister of State, Foreign and Common Office Hugo Swire said he was concerned over the “continued detention of former President Nasheed.”
Swire said that it was important for “international confidence in the Maldives that Mr Nasheed, like all other citizens, is seen to be enjoying due legal process and respect for his fundamental rights.”
Canada, Commonwealth, EU and the UN have previously expressed concern over Nasheed’s arrest and trial after he was denied legal counsel at the first hearing. He appeared in court with his arm in a makeshift sling after police manhandled and dragged him into the court building when he attempted to speak with journalists.
Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon last week hit back at international expressions of concern, insisting the state was following due process in Nasheed’s arrest and prosecution.
“Those who prefer to issue public statements about an on-going legal case, or on a domestic political situation, are advised to do a basic fact check, before bandwagoning on to accusations made by a political party,” Dunya said in a statement.
“To criticize us in public statements with lies or biased with having only heard the oppositions point of view is not acceptable. The government will not accept these statemetns and will not pay attention to them.”
Speaking to the press on February 24, Dunya questioned the value of the Maldives remaining a member state of the Commonwealth, claiming the organisation had “wronged” the Maldives before by placing the country on a watch-list in the wake of the controversial transfer of power in February 2012.
However, UK High Commissioner to the Maldives John Rankin last week said that he does not believe asking the Maldives to abide by commitments under UN conventions amounted to “undue interference.”
In an interview with private broadcaster Raajje Tv, Rankin said decisions on domestic matters were up to the Maldives as a sovereign nation.
“But it is legitimate for one country to [remind] another country to abide by the undertakings which together we have signed up to,” he explained.
Photo of meeting between Australian High Commissioner and government delegation by MP Ahmed Nihan
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