In a significant shift perceived to be in favour of the Opposition in the Maldives, India on Friday leaned on the Abdulla Yameen government and asked them to abide by the country’s Supreme Court’s order to release all nine political prisoners, including former President Mohamed Nasheed, and reinstate 12 members of Parliament who had been stripped of their posts. But, almost 24 hours later, the Maldives government had not acted on the order.
Maldives Democratic Party’s international spokesperson Abdul Ghafoor told The Indian Express on Friday night over telephone from Colombo, “Yameen is dragging his feet… it has been 24 hours, but there has been no move to implement the order yet.” He said Yameen is likely to leave for Singapore.
Nasheed, who is also in Sri Lanka, welcomed the court order and said President Yameen must resign. He was trying to see if authorities in Mafushi jail would release a bag of clothes and some books he had had to leave behind when he went into exile in 2015. “If they give me my things back, it’s a good sign. It means that President Yameen will release all those he has imprisoned, including his own former vice-president Mohammed Adeeb as well as Faris, the son of former president Maumoon Gayoom,” Nasheed told The Indian Express in an interview on the phone from Colombo.
“The Supreme Court’s ruling means that I can finally go back home. And I intend doing that, sooner or later,” he said. Nasheed admitted that he was surprised at the Court’s stand. “This is a significant moment for democracy” not only in the Maldives, but also in the Indian Ocean, he said.
“I believe it is India’s Ocean and therefore it is right that India has a stake in what goes on here. She has a right to protect her interests,” he added. Nasheed pointed out the “strategic imperative” in the return to democracy. “China has grabbed large tracts of land, several islands in the Maldives, without firing a shot. It is encouraging that India, the US and other like-minded countries are closely observing the situation.”
Unlike in the past, when New Delhi either did not react or was much more restrained in its public comments to developments in Maldives, South Block was fairly quick to comment today. Despite a recent visit by Maldives foreign minister, officials here have been quite miffed with Male over a series of events – including the rushed passing of the Free Trade Agreement with China, followed by sacking of elected officials from the Opposition meeting.
In a statement shorn of diplomatese, the Ministry of External Affairs said: “We have seen last night’s order of the Supreme Court of Maldives releasing all political prisoners. In the spirit of democracy and rule of law, it is imperative for all organs of the Government of Maldives to respect and abide by the order of the apex court.”
As news of clashes broke out on the streets of Male, New Delhi also expressed hope that the safety and security of Indian expatriates in the island nation would be ensured by the Maldivian authorities under “all circumstances”. It said that as a close and friendly neighbour, India wishes to see a stable, peaceful and prosperous Maldives.
New Delhi was joined in by the US, UK, Canada, Australia and the European Union among others to welcome the apex court’s verdict.
Among those whose release was ordered by the Maldives Supreme Court are Jumhoree Party chief Gasim Ibrahim and Adhaalath’s Imran Abdulla. Nasheed and Gasim are currently in self-exile after being given permission to leave the country for medical treatment.
The Supreme Court also ordered the release of former defence minister Mohamed Nazim, MP Faris Maumoon, former vice president Ahmed Adheeb, former prosecutor general Muhthaz Muhusin, chief magistrate Ahmed Nihan and local businessman Hamid Ismail.
The order said that the nine political prisoners were tried without due process, violating both the Maldivian constitution and international human rights treaties. Ordering their immediate release and a re-trial, the Maldivian apex court also noted that prosecutors and judges had been “unduly influenced” to conduct “politically motivated investigations”.
The Opposition alliance called on Yameen to quit. In a joint statement, it said: “The Supreme Court’s verdict effectively ends President Yameen’s authoritarian rule.”
The Maldives embassy in Delhi also sent a statement on Friday night saying that Maldives Attorney General Mohamed Anil had said that he had held discussions with the Chief Justice and raised the administration’s “concerns over the court’s ruling, to release detainees from custody, with regard to the nature of their offences such as terrorism, corruption, embezzlement, and treason.”
Hours after the verdict, the Maldives Police tweeted that it will “uphold” the court verdict but soon the Attorney General announced that the Maldives police chief has been sacked.
Meanwhile, opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) supporters and ordinary people came out on the streets of Male in celebration of the Supreme Court ruling, but were soon beaten back by police teargas. MDP leaders said they feared that Yameen was trying to overturn the ruling and may even arrest the judges.
Yameen’s spokesperson Ibrahim Hussain Shihab has indicated that the court hadn’t heard the government’s point of view and could still challenge it.
But Nasheed said he hoped the Indian government would continue to watch closely until Yameen followed the Court order. “In the event that Yameen does not, I hope that India will impose further robust measures until he does,” he said.
Ever since Nasheed lost the presidential election in a controversial run-off in 2012, was sentenced to jail the year after for 13 years in what was seen as a trumped-up exercise, the Indian Ocean nation of 400,000 people has been in turmoil.