Human rights lawyers Amal Clooney and Geoffrey Robertson have appealed to the UN to request sanctions against the Maldivian government in relation to the wrongful imprisonment of former President, Mohamed Nasheed.
Mr Nasheed was the Maldives’ first democratically elected president. He had a strong history of human rights activism and was a groundbreaking campaigner for climate change, before his ousting in 2012. Earlier this year, the former President was officially jailed for 13 years, after being convicted of terrorism charges relating to the arrest of a judge during his presidency.
The hastily conducted trial received immense scrutiny from the Maldivian population, as well as international criticism of the Maldivian judiciary system, after alleged violations of international law were committed.
In an interview with Amnesty International, Clooney spoke about why she accepted the case, following an event organised to highlight the human rights situation in the Maldives.
“I read the judgement and then all the paperwork and it became clear very quickly to me that we were dealing with a show trial. Sham proceedings, where you had judges who were witnesses for the prosecution, the defendant was not able to call any witnesses in the trial. It was clearly a politicised way to get him out of the scene, and not able to run in the presidential elections of 2018”.
A history of human rights abuse in the Maldives
Whilst Mr Nasheed made great headway in improving the state of human rights in the Maldives, 2015 has witnessed a series of arrests of high-profile political opponents, drawing serious criticism from the international community. While accountability has been demanded of the national judicial system, procedures continue to violate due process when it comes to ensuring the right to a fair trial.
The Maldivian government denies any violation of due process and maintains that all cases have been given a fair and comprehensive trail.
The nation, who still impose the death penalty and practice “flogging” as a penalty for extramarital sex and other crimes, have been the focus of human rights activists for many years now.
In 2012, Mr. Nasheed was forced to resign his position following a hostage situation, whereby security forces and protesters took control of the state media centre and held several journalists hostage, whilst calling for the reinstatement of former President – Abdul Gayoom.
“Today in the Maldives, every single leader of an opposition party is either in prison, or facing charges and intimidation by the government. This is a very dangerous situation,” said Clooney in an interview with Amnesty International.
Last Friday, a UN tribunal declared Mr. Nasheed to be a victim of arbitrary and illegal imprisonment under international law. In a statement released by UN officials, it was maintained that Nasheed was indeed “detained because of his political opinion”.
A group of five independent legal experts concluded that the governments’ case against Mr. Nasheed was illegitimate and appealed for his immediate release, alongside his right to seek compensation.
“In the view of the working group, there were several serious due process violations which, taken together, demonstrate that Mr. Nasheed did not receive a fair trial.”
Clooney and her team have spoken of the deteriorating health of Mr. Nasheed and argued that his treatment “could amount to torture as the conditions persist.”
Clooney also mentioned the importance of reinstating Mr. Nasheed, citing his influence as one of the greatest protectors of a moderate, free and inclusive Maldives.
“It’s one man who happens to represent the Maldives’ greatest hope for democracy,” she said. “(The country) is also shifting away from religious moderation towards more extremism. On a per capita basis the Maldives have the highest rate of recruitment to ISIS.
“Nasheed’s unfair trial and conviction is emblematic of a new crisis in the country… where a fledgling democracy has entered a much darker period of repression.”
Laila Ali, Mr. Nasheed’s wife, who is working closely with her husband’s legal team, said that the famous image of the Maldives contained a much darker, more dangerous past than people realised.
“(Nasheed) is merely a symbol of a much wider crackdown. The Maldives has returned to its dark past. Journalists are being routinely beaten up, some have even been disappeared.
“The regime has tried to break (my husband) so many times but they have never succeeded.”
Clooney added that the Maldives was also showing increasing numbers of people siding with extremism, noting: “On a per capita basis, Maldives has the highest rate of recruitment to ISIL ([Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant].
Following the UN report, Clooney and her team will appeal to governments to impose economic sanctions and travel bans on Maldives officials.
“The governments we have met with have taken the approach that sanctions are appropriate in a case like this.”
Amal Clooney and Geoffrey Robertson will reportedly appeal to the Australian government to impose such sanctions when Foreign Minister Julie Bishop visits London in the coming weeks.
Clooney has also appealed to the international community to rally support for Mr. Nasheed and help end the human rights abuses prevalent throughout the nation.
“People shouldn’t feel disenfranchised, there is a lot that people can do. We as lawyers rely on governments at an international level to exercise pressure when a government is not compiling with their legal obligations.
“People can write to their government, if they feel their government is not doing enough, and there can also be pressure brought upon the Maldivian government directly. Some people are choosing not to travel there until the nation improves its human rights issues … There’s no need to stand on the sidelines, there’s a lot that can be done.”