Expert Speak Raisina Debates
Published on Feb 24, 2016
Maldives: Confusion over Nasheed’s ‘medical leave’

“Heads I win, tails you lose.” Maldives President Abdulla Yameen seems to have won the second and third rounds in the ongoing gambling game of ‘political one-upmanship’ viz predecessor prisoner-rival, Mohammed ‘Anni’ Nasheed and the latter’s international backers. Earlier, he had ‘reluctantly’  conceded the first round, for Nasheed to go overseas on ‘medical leave’ first and also all-party talks for political reconciliation. He did so, purportedly so under ‘international pressure’, or so it seemed. Not anymore, it would now seem — as was only to be anticipated under Maldivian circumstances.

According to local media reports, the Maldives’ Prison Medical Board has declined to extend Nasheed’s ‘medical leave’ beyond the initial one month, pending the production of supportive documents that it requires beyond what has been on offer already. Obviously, these documents would have to be to the satisfaction of the MCS.

It is not unlikely that the Government might want a separate experts’ panel to evaluate/re-evaluate the medical advice and supporting documents, x-rays, scan pictures and reports, tendered by Nasheed’s medical team in the UK. It would then remain to be seen if, based on such evaluation, if any, the authorities seek to find out if Nasheed’s constant political interactions and media appearances while on ‘medical leave’ might have worsened his condition, if at all.

Nasheed’s legal defence nearer home has reportedly indicated that he would have to undergo medical treatment for six months, implying that he would have to stay overseas that long. On arrival in London, Nasheed was reported as saying that he had not decided on returning home. On another occasion, he was quoted as saying that he would return after full restoration of democracy in his country. Would any domestic inquiry into Nasheed’s plea for leave-extension link it to political situations arising out of his outbursts while overseas is unclear as yet.

Tooth-comb review

The Maldivian Government’s experts’ panel could use a tooth-comb to find faults with the ‘medical findings’ elsewhere. In theoretical terms, any panel of the kind could even conclude that Nasheed’s condition may worsen – or, may have worsened already – if he did not rest his back and system. This was not happening while he was away in the UK on ‘medical leave’. Instead, the exact opposite was happening.

In context, the Maldivian authorities could refuse to extend the ‘medical leave’ and expect Nasheed to return home to serve out more than 12 of the 13-year prison term that remains. They could hold themselves responsible/accountable for the well-being of the ‘prisoner’, and submit that Nasheed could go easy with his hurting back and injured spine only while in prison.

Throughout the career of the ‘Judge Abdulla abduction case’, in which Nasheed is now serving the jail-term, he has deployed imaginative ways to stay an arm-length away from the Maldivian law, until the latter caught up with him. It would thus remain to be seen how he reacts to it, in case the ‘medical leave’ extension did not come true.

Embarrassing friends?

It’s in this background overseas friends of Maldives in particular and Nasheed could face some embarrassment, should the Yameen leadership tell them that the ‘prisoner’ had not behaved the way ‘prisoners’ on medical-leave were expected to while overseas. Whether it concerned Nasheed’s political behaviour overseas, or his inadequate (medical) care for his spinal injury, the Government could say, he would be better off in Maldives.

If such were the case, political negotiations could begin over conversion of the jail-term into one of ‘house arrest’ (which is still a penal action under Maldivian law). A lot would depend again on who blinked first, and who (all) thought that the other had blinked already. It would include the Nasheed camp, his MDP, and his overseas friends and well-wishers, including Governments and Prime Ministers, starting with UK’s David Cameron (who met with an overseas ‘prisoner’ of crimes, at his official residence).

What if Nasheed’s and/or his defence refused his return home to serve out the prison-term, even while pursuing his pending appeal against trial court conviction and sentence? Should the Maldives Government seek the assistance of the British authorities in turn, there could be a diplomatic embarrassment, if not incident of some kind. Should Maldives approach all international organisations and neighbourhood nations like Sri Lanka, they could at best offer words and then throw up their hands.

Sri Lanka’s Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake, a personal friend of Yameen and Nasheed alike, is on record that he and Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera had intervened. Ravi K clarified that he and  Samaraweera did it only on ‘humanitarian considerations’. However, by sending across Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera along with colleague Ravi K, the Sri Lankan Government seemed to have conferred on the twin’s efforts, a certain degree of ‘diplomatic’ content. Otherwise, it could have been explained away as a ‘personal initiative’, if it came to that.

Media reports in the two countries had claimed that Indian Foreign Secretary, S Jaishankar, during a Male visit around the time, too had argued Nasheed’s case for overseas ‘medical leave’ with his Maldivian Government interlocutors, which included President Yameen and Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon. Reports also quoted UN outfits, the Commonwealth and human rights organisations taking up Nasheed’s case, some virulently at that.

The Yameen Government did not ask them for guarantees about Nasheed’s return home, and surrender to the prison authorities as required under the terms of his ‘medical leave’ -- and pursue his Supreme Court appeal. It could still do so, with the ‘I told you so” refrain, and none of them may have answers.

It is another matter that the international community, with the Anglo- American leadership, could pursue their own way to get after the Yameen Government, in the UNHRC, Commonwealth and elsewhere. At least twice in the past year, Maldives had threatened to quit the Commonwealth, just as it had done under predecessor Waheed regime (again over the ‘Nasheed issue’).

Since inception, the UNHRC has become the fulcrum of all human rights issues. Here, the veto-vote of the UN Security Council kind does not work. Numbers alone do. In context, perceived ‘friends’ of China and/or Russia, like Sri Lanka under erstwhile Rajapaksa regime and possibly the Yameen leadership in neighbouring Maldives, among others, find themselves out-witted, and the two veto-powers, outsmarted. If only over time, this could pressure China and Russia, with consequences for the institutions.

‘Not ordinary citizen’

As if the Maldivian Government was anticipating a western initiative of the kind, Ahmed Nihan Ali, leader of Yameen’s ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) group, asked Nasheed’s MDP law-makers to seek ‘clemency’ for him, without relying solely on efforts that tarnish the nation’s image. “Nasheed isn’t an ordinary citizen. Since he’s a former President, he should be given that respect,” Nihan said. He proposed that parliamentarians from across the board should sit down and resolve the issue of Nasheed’s imprisonment.

However, Nihan’s offer could cut in more ways than one. There is no knowing if his offer will be backed by President Yameen to the logical end. In the past, the reverse seemed to have happened with other interlocutors, supposedly speaking for Yameen. Two and more importantly, Nihan’s reference to ‘clemency’ plea (and possibly grant of the same, by the President, that is) could mean that Nasheed could not contest the 2018 presidential polls.

Thirdly, it’s unclear if Nihan was following up on Yameen’s public offer for political negotiations for national reconciliation, or was it a stand-alone suggestion for an all-party parliamentary group to be formed. In the former case, it could strengthen and focus on the mechanism. If the latter is the case, the MDP would straightaway have problems in accepting it, as Nasheed would have to be kept out. The party rejected Yameen’s talks offer already, for the same reasons.

‘Neutral environment’

However, keeping the hopes and/or confusion alive, President’s Office spokesperson, Ibrahim MUaz Ali, told the Haveeru Online that the government was ready for broad-based talks without any specific agenda. He explained how previous discussions. “However, any individual requests from individuals are a different issue,” he said. It was possibly an obvious reference to Nasheed’s participation.

Muaz, according to Haveeru Online, said that discussions would have to be carried out in a neutral environment. “The argument that a positive environment for discussions had not been created was not a viable excuse not to take part in the discussions. He said that any party interested in the nation’s future will take this opportunity without haggling on the details, noting that MDP and Adhaalath were doing to the contrary,” Haveeru Online reported.

However lending some hopes to yet another fading opportunity for political negotiations was the arrival in Male of UN senior UN political official, Miroslav Jenca. His visit after President Yameen’s telephone conversation with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last June was thwarted by subsequent events.  At a meeting with Yameen this time, he offered UN’s assistance for the all-party talks.

President’s aide Muaz too said that the all-party discussions would be monitored by international observers and in a transparent way. It was the same offer that Yameen had himself made while announcing his willingness for talks. However, no solution seemed to be in sight, as the Government was unwilling to free Nasheed and other ‘political prisoners’ for the talks to commence – but would refer to an alternative in the SC appeal, upgraded by Nihan now to ‘clemency’ plea.

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N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy is a policy analyst and commentator based in Chennai.

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