India backs inclusive elections, as former President takes refuge in High Commission

The Indian government has confirmed that former President Mohamed Nasheed has requested India’s assistance after police sought to arrest him and present him to the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court this afternoon.

Nasheed had previously missed a court hearing scheduled for February 10, which was cancelled in his absence. His Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) maintain that the charges – based on his detaining Chief Judge of the Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed during his final days in office – are a politically-motivated attempt to prevent him contesting the 2013 elections.

Rumours of Nasheed’s imminent arrest began to circulate on Tuesday (February 12) ahead of a scheduled hearing at 4:00pm the following day, prompting his supporters to camp in the narrow alley outside his family home in Male’.

By this morning, Nasheed entered the Indian High Commission, purportedly to “seek advice” from High Commissioner D M Mulay.

Shortly after 1:00pm, riot police blocked off the street outside the High Commission, as Nasheed’s supporters began to gather at the barricades.

The former President subsequently tweeted: “Mindful of my own security and stability in the Indian Ocean, I have taken refuge at the Indian High Commission in Maldives.”

“As a close and friendly neighbour, India has expressed concern over the ongoing political instability in Maldives and called upon the government and all political parties to adhere strictly to democratic principles and the rule of law, thereby paving the way for free, fair, credible and inclusive elections,” the Indian Government said in a statement this evening.

“Following the arrest warrant issued against him by the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court, the former Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed, who is a candidate for the Presidential elections in Maldives scheduled for September 2013, is in the Indian High Commission and has sought India’s assistance. We are in touch with the relevant Maldivian authorities to resolve the situation,” the statement added.

“Now that the President of the Election Commission of Maldives has announced that Presidential elections would be held on 7 September 2013, it is necessary that the Presidential nominees of recognised political parties be free to participate in the elections without any hindrance. Prevention of participation by political leaders in the contest would call into question the integrity of the electoral process, thereby perpetuating the current political instability in Maldives.”

India’s Ministry of External Affairs concluded its statement by contending it was “not in the interest” of the Maldives or the region to prevent any candidate from contesting the country’s presidential elections later this year.

“India would call upon the government and all political parties in Maldives to avoid any actions that would vitiate the political atmosphere in the Maldives,” its statement read.

In a tweet this afternoon, Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel implied that India was  meddling in the Maldives’ internal affairs: “What’s happening now gives us an indication of the extent and level of interest some countries prepared to take in our internal matters,” he said.

“I would strongly urge everyone to let our institutions deal with the challenges, allow Maldives to uphold rule of law,” he tweeted.

The Home Minister – also formerly Justice Minister during the Maldives’ 30 year autocracy – recently urged the courts “to conclude the case against Nasheed before the approaching presidential elections, in the interests of the nation and to maintain peace in it.”

“Every single day that goes by without the case being concluded contributes to creating doubt in the Maldivian people’s minds about the judiciary,” the home minister stated at the time.

The Maldives Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement today in response to media reports that Nasheed had “sought refuge” in the High Commission, following the court’s issuing of an arrest warrant.

“Upon contacting, the High Commission of India confirmed President Nasheed’s presence at the Chancery and informed that he was present there for a meeting with the High Commissioner,” read the statement.

“The Ministry confirms that the government of Maldives will uphold and respect its obligations under international law with regard to diplomatic immunities and privileges granted to resident diplomatic missions. The Government is confident that all parties concerned, including the High Commission of India, will respect the laws of the Maldives and judicial independence as prescribed in the Constitution.”

Protests building

Minivan News observed crowds growing around the barricades at Sosun Magu. Shortly after 6:00pm, the crowd of around 700 people was charged and scattered by a group of 30 Special Operations officers in riot gear.

Former Minister of Housing and Environment in Nasheed’s government, Mohamed Aslam, has confirmed that the MDP’s National Council had today approved “direct action” against the government, notably a campaign of widespread civil disobedience.

“The whole situation is very fluid right now. Nothing will be ruled out,” he said. “What we are demanding is a transitional government, as well as free and fair elections that would include [former President] Nasheed.”

Aslam said that following a march of more than 10,000 in the capital on Friday (February 8 ) showed Nasheed had widespread popular support for contesting the elections.

Reports on social media meanwhile suggested that Nasheed’s luggage was being transferred to the Indian High Commission at time of press.

Disputed court case

Nasheed and his legal team have disputed both the charges against him, and the legitimacy of the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court. The latter was created by the Judicial Services Commission (JSC). Nasheed’s lawyers have argued therefore that the court has no legal or constitutional authority.

Nasheed’s team raised these points in the first hearing of the case, stalling the process with a run of appeals and assorted injunctions.

Eventually the JSC asked the seven-member Supreme Court bench to rule on the court’s legitimacy, which it did in December 2012.  The court’s legitimacy was approved by four judges to three.

Former Attorney General Husnu al Suood observed at the time that Supreme Court Judge Adam Mohamed Abdulla should not have participated in the vote as he was also the President of the JSC, which therefore amounted to “presumption of bias”.

Meanwhile, the JSC appointed a three-member panel of judges to oversee the trial of the former president.

The Commission’s members include two of Nasheed’s direct political opponents, including Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Shahid – Deputy of the government-aligned Dhivehi Rayithunge Party (DRP) – and Gasim Ibrahim, a resort tycoon, media owner, MP and leader of the Jumhoree Party (JP), also a member of the governing coalition.

Numerous international organisations and reports have challenged the political independence of the JSC and the judiciary.

One recent report produced by local NGO the Raajje Foundation and supported by the UNDP and the US State Department, noted that the JSC’s mission under the 2008 constitution to ensure the new judiciary was was clean, competent, and protected from political influence, “has sadly gone unfulfilled.”

“The courts have essentially been able to capture the JSC so as to ensure that the old judiciary remained in place under the new constitutional order,” the report noted, predicting that the most likely scenario for the Maldives’ future was a cycle of failed governments.

Minivan News will continue live updates on the unfolding situation here