Indian Diplomacy

Implement SC Order, India Tells Maldives, as Release of Political Prisoners is Delayed

The Yameen administration has said there are contradictions in a recent judicial ruling that calls for the immediate release of nine political prisoners, including the country’s former president Mohamed Nasheed.

Prime Minister with President of Maldives, Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom, in New Delhi. Credit: Ministry of External Affairs.

Prime Minister with President of Maldives, Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom, in New Delhi. Credit: Ministry of External Affairs.

New Delhi: With Maldivian president Abdulla Yameen’s administration expressing “concern” over a recent judicial ruling, India on Friday called on the island nation’s government to “respect and abide” by the Maldives supreme court ruling on February 1 that mandated the release of all the country’s political prisoners. 

The Indian statement was issued by the Ministry of External Affairs about 16 hours after Maldives supreme court issued its surprising order that has kicked off a political commotion. 

“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,” said the MEA press release.

Following the Supreme Court’s decision, the Maldives government has yet to take any concrete steps towards the implementation, with the president’s office asserting that there were contradictions in the judgement.

On Friday, the country’s attorney general Mohamed Anil met with the chief justice Abdullah Saeed to “raise concerns” over the ruling and “highlighted concerns” over the consequences of the implementation.

The government continues to claim that it will implement the order, but the rider being that it has to be “within due process”.

The country’s top legal officer also stated that the Prosecutor General has been asked to give his recommendations on “best way to proceed with the implementation of the Supreme Court’s ruling”. The prosecutor general’s office issued a statement that it was preparing “to submit details of the legal and judicial concerns it has to the Supreme Court”.

The supreme court order had called for the immediate release of nine political prisoners, including former president Mohamed Nasheed, who is currently in self-exile abroad. The top court also annulled its July 2017 order, which effectively restored the seats of 12 former ruling party MPs who had defected to the opposition benches.

The order also removed any supervisory role by other state bodies over the Supreme Court and urged the prosecutor general to charge individuals who do not allow for the implementation of the ruling.

Local media reported that clashes and protests broke out on the streets of Maldives on Friday as special operation police officers dispersed celebrating opposition supporters from the streets with tear-gas and arrests. The opposition’s supporters were back on the street after Friday evening prayers

The Supreme Court’s Thursday night judgment was a surprise to many in the opposition, especially since the judiciary had been seen to be compromised by the government. The higher judicial officers were seen to be opposed to Nasheed, as he had arrested the chief criminal court judge in the last months of his presidency.

According to diplomatic sources, there were signs in the last few weeks that the Supreme Court was a divided house, with the Chief Justice being upset with the repeated use of the judiciary by President Yameen.

In the official response, India also called on the government ensure that safety and security of Indian nationals in Maldives “under all circumstances” and noted that it was keeping an eye on the Indian ocean neighbour.

“As a close and friendly neighbour, India wishes to see a stable, peaceful and prosperous Maldives. We are closely monitoring the evolving situation,” said the press note.

Maldives opposition leaders welcomed India’s unambiguous backing for the Supreme Court, with former dictator and opposition leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom terming it as a “helpful statement”.

MDP international spokesperson, Hamid Abdul Ghafoor told The Wire that former President Nasheed also “welcomed” the Indian statement. “He is also suggesting India should consider more robust measures to ensure President Yameen complies (with the SC order),” Ghafoor said.

In a statement, Nasheed not only asked for the implementation of the supreme court order, but also for the creation of an atmosphere that allowed for an inclusive election.

“We are moving towards elections. I can contest and will contest. We must set up proper procedures for inclusive, free and fair elections with full international observation,” he said.

Following the order, Nasheed had told a local TV channel that he would return to Maldives soon, but the timing of the decision will be based on consultations with the opposition alliance.

India’s forthright advice to implement the supreme court order is a shift from previous statements, where it had remained more publicly ambiguous.

There had been some friction between India and Maldives over the latter’s signing of a free trade agreement with China. However, the visit of the Maldives foreign minister Mohamed Asim had papered over the differences.

New Delhi’s stance also puts it in in the same bracket as United States, United Kingdom, Australia and Canada, who have also called for implementation of the Supreme court order.

China and Saudi Arabia, who are seen as the principal international backers of President Yameen, have yet to make any public statements.

In Geneva, Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the UN high commissioner for human rights also encouraged the Maldives government to “fully respect” the Supreme Court’s decision.

He also expressed concern at the “initial heavy-handed” reaction by the security forces against supporters celebrating the court decision. “We also urge all those celebrating, or protesting, to do so in a peaceful fashion,” said Colville.

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