Fiona Bruce is the Member of Parliament for Congleton and Chairman of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission. Benedict Rogers is Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission.
Last month, we had the privilege of hosting Laila Ali, the wife of the imprisoned former Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed, in London. We were delighted that the British Prime Minister David Cameron met Madam Laila, and called publicly for her husband’s freedom. We are also very pleased that the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, the International Commission of Jurists, the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales, Amnesty International, the European Parliament, the European Union and the British and American governments, among others, have all said that Mr Nasheed’s trial was unfair, severely flawed, a mockery of the Maldives’ Constitution and in breach of international law.
It is now time for the Maldives’ regime to release Mr Nasheed unconditionally – or face the consequences.
Mohamed Nasheed has devoted his life to the cause of democracy and human rights in the Maldives. Before 2008, he endured years of solitary confinement in prison, repeated torture and beatings, and then house arrest. The Conservative Party Human Rights Commission took up the cause of Maldives a decade ago. In 2006, the Commission visited Mr Nasheed under house arrest, and played a small role in the subsequent transition to democracy that saw him become the Maldives’ first democratically elected President two years later. In 2007 he addressed a fringe meeting we organised at the Conservative Party Conference, and in 2009 he spoke as President of the Maldives from our conference platform.
In 2012, the Maldives’ brief experiment with democracy ended, when Mr Nasheed was forced from office in what can only be described as a coup. A year later, Abdulla Yameen, the brother of the dictator Maumoon Abdul Gayoom who had ruled the country for thirty years and whom Mr Nasheed had defeated, was elected President. Mr Nasheed had won the new elections in 2013, but his opponents refused to accept the results and so further elections were held until the polls yielded the result they wanted. Not content with a return to power, they then sought to eliminate Mr Nasheed from the political sphere. Hence his arrest and prosecution on the absurd charge of “terrorism”.
The political motivation behind this is blatant. Reports of the trial describe a complete sham. The charges against Mr Nasheed are that he ordered the arrest and detention of Judge Abdulla, the Chief Judge of the Criminal Court. Yet we understand that no direct evidence has been presented to substantiate this accusation. Mr Nasheed says he did not order the judge’s arrest. Instead, he ordered an investigation and, when the judiciary closed ranks to protect vested interests, he asked the Minister of Home Affairs to act to protect public safety.
Judge Abdulla’s conduct had been a cause for concern for years. A formal complaint was registered by the Attorney-General against the judge even under Mr Gayoom’s regime.
Mr Nasheed’s trial was a farce. As Minister of State Hugo Swire MP said in the House of Commons recently, “The trial of the former President was very rushed and appeared to contravene the Maldives’ own laws and practices, as well as international fair trial standards.” We understand it was conducted in the dead of night, that two of the judges appeared as prosecution witnesses while the court refused to hear the defendant’s witnesses, and that Mr Nasheed was denied access to his legal counsel for much of the trial.
The proceedings were in blatant violation of the Maldives’ Constitution and international law. Mistreated and violently dragged into court, Mr Nasheed suffered injuries at the hands of the police in the full glare of media cameras and was denied medical treatment. Most appallingly, his right to appeal was denied, and the Yameen regime has brutally crushed all peaceful demonstrations and imprisoned many members of his party. Indeed, a new law – rushed through during his trial – bans prisoners from membership of political parties, essentially banning him from leading the party he founded.
After being sentenced to 13 years in jail, he was until recently held in a cell near a refuse pit infested with flies, mosquitoes and rodents. These conditions contributed to his health problems, and he has now been moved to temporary house arrest on medical grounds but only until the end of August.
The miscarriage of justice appears obvious. Yet amazingly, we understand, Cherie Blair’s law firm Omnia Strategies has been hired by the Maldivian regime; lawyer Toby Cadman’s extraordinary Al-Jazeera op-ed appears to be an extraordinary travesty. Omnia Strategies is presumably being paid by the regime, though how much is unknown. The submission they have made to the UN on the regime’s behalf is also secret, so there is little transparency on their side.
In contrast, all of the international advisors who are helping Mr Nasheed – including international lawyers Amal Clooney, Ben Emmerson QC and Jared Genser – are all working pro bono. That speaks volumes.
David Cameron once described Mr Nasheed as his “new best friend”. His call for his release is welcome. But if the Maldives’ regime does not respond, such calls must be followed up by action. The Maldives position as a Commonwealth country should be reviewed. There should be carefully targeted sanctions – not hitting ordinary Maldivians – such as freezing the assets of key figures in the current regime, imposing a travel ban on regime officials, and boycotting tourist resorts owned by any who underwrites this regime. Pressure may be the only language Mr Yameen understands. Failure to act will be destructive to democracy, human rights and the rule of law, not only in the Maldives but worldwide.