Maldivian Ruling Party Leader Denied Entry to India

Nihan, who is a top aide of Maldivian president Abdulla Yameen, heads the parliamentary group of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM).

New Delhi: Amidst the continuing deterioration in relations between New Delhi and Malé, Ahmed Nihan, the majority leader of the Maldivian parliament, was denied entry into India on Monday. Nihan has accused India of “bullying” the Indian Ocean nation.

The incident took place on Monday night when Nihan was travelling to Chennai via Colombo for a medical check-up. Sources said the senior Maldivian leader is a frequent visitor to India “for medical reasons”. He reached Chennai airport on SriLankan Airlines on Monday night at about 9 pm. However, he was denied entry and was told to leave India by the next available flight, despite providing all credentials to the immigration office.

He left again by a SriLankan Airlines flight for Colombo, before reaching Male on Tuesday.

Confirming the incident, the Maldivian ambassador to India, Ahmed Mohamed, told The Wire that “no reason was given for the denial of entry to Mr Nihan”.

Nihan, who is a top aide of Maldivian president Abdulla Yameen, heads the parliamentary group of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM).

Sources said that Nihan had three travelling companions, including the sister and brother-in-law of president Yameen, who were allowed to enter India.

Nihan tweeted on Tuesday evening that he had not been allowed to enter India and called for a press conference at 10 pm local time to discuss his deportation.

The top Maldivian leader told reporters that he was detained for four hours by the immigration authorities at Chennai International Airport on informing them that he was a member of parliament.

He described the actions of denial of entry as “bullying”. Nihan believes that he was not allowed to step on Indian soil due to his political affiliations, as he was asked to identify which party he belonged to by the immigration officials.

Nihan said that if India was imposing a travel ban on senior Maldivian government functionaries, then Maldives should be informed. He hoped that the Indian ambassador to Maldives should clarify the reason for refusal of his entry into India.

He said that he was not sad about being denied entry into India, adding that he would be have despondent if it had been Saudi Arabia.

All Maldivian members of parliament are eligible for a diplomatic passport and a SAARC visa sticker, which allows for visa-free entry into any of the seven south Asian countries.

Maldivian opposition leader and former president Mohamed Nasheed tweeted that it was “no surprise that a state that has arrested all opposition members, hijacked the parliament… MMA to launder money etc…is not allowed entry.”

There has been no comment from Indian authorities so far.

This is the first known incident of a senior Maldivian leader not being allowed to enter India in recent times. The incident also comes at a time when relations between the two countries have nose-dived over New Delhi’s suspicions that president Yameen is flirting with China and India’s criticism of the state of emergency imposed in February.

The impending election

Maldives will be holding its presidential elections in September this year, but there have been increasing concerns about its fairness after the election commission notification that has effectively barred all major opposition leaders from standing as candidates.

The notice from the Maldives election commission said that anyone convicted of criminal cases cannot contest in a political party’s presidential primary election, which would otherwise be annulled.

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), however, went ahead and held its primary, which was overwhelmingly won by Nasheed. The former president, who was sentenced to terrorism charges in 2015, campaigned through Facebook and Skype from Sri Lanka. Security agencies had tried to confiscate the ballot boxes, but the polls still took place. The election commission has warned that it will take action against MDP.

On May 31, a joint statement from EU countries, the UK, Canada and United States expressed concern over the “recent deterioration of the situation in the Maldives, especially in relation to the pre-election process”.

“Legitimate opposition is a vital part of any healthy democracy, and it is critical that authorities respect fundamental freedoms, including freedom of assembly and speech. We urge authorities to demonstrate genuine commitment to a credible, transparent, and inclusive election process. We will continue to closely monitor the respect for these freedoms in the run-up to the presidential elections,” it said.

In response, the Maldivian foreign ministry dismissed these apprehensions. “Attempts to undermine the constitution and the laws of the land and to hoodwink the people and hype pre-election political rhetoric cannot be considered as responsible political activities and thus will not have any place in the current political landscape of the country,” it said.

India had, till now, not issued any public statement over recent developments related to the presidential elections.

Last week, Indian external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj noted that she had not accepted recent and frequent invitations to visit the Maldives as the archipelagic nation had not taken certain steps that had been promised.

In yet another sign of the trust deficit, the Maldives in May had asked India to withdraw both of India’s Advanced Light Helicopters from Laamu Atoll by the end of June.

India’s ministry of external affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar confirmed on Thursday (June 7) that Maldivian ruling party leader Nihan had been stopped at the immigration facilities at Chennai airport on the night of June 4. However, he did not give any more details.

“The status is that we are trying to find out how it happened and we will share more once we do know,” said Kumar at a weekly briefing.

Maldives had handed over a diplomatic note to Indian ambassador Akhilesh Mishra about the incident after the latter was called to the foreign ministry in Malé on Wednesday.

Note: This story was updated on June 7 with a comment from MEA spokesperson.