Originally Published 2016-01-18 14:29:15 Published on Jan 18, 2016
Maldives: Nasheed cleared for spine-surgery in UK, but upset by conditions

In a possible precursor to the easing of political tensions in Maldives, the Government of President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom has permitted a jailed predecessor, Mohammed ‘Anni’ Nasheed, to travel to the UK for an urgently-needed spine-surgery. However, his departure has since been delayed after Nasheed did not accept the conventional condition for a family member to sign an undertaking.

Nasheed, imprisoned by a trial court to 13 years in prison for the ‘arbitrary detention’ of the nation’s Criminal Court Chief Judge, Mohamad Abdulla ‘Kazi’, has had spinal problems for long. He had reportedly sustained the injuries during his earlier prison terms, in the cause of democracy, when Yameen’s half-brother, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, was the President.

“He is not coming,” Nasheed’s daughter Meera tweeted from London. “We are negotiating with the family,” the local media quoted officials of the Correctional Services as saying in Male. According to them, they required someone to stay back in Male and provide them with information on the prisoner overseas. Nasheed has been given 30-day leave from prison for the surgery, and there was nothing arbitrary about the condition, officials implied.

However, Nasheed’s legal defence told the media that he was opposed to letting the Government hold anyone hostage on his behalf. The condition violated the constitutional freedom for the ‘surety’ to move about freely inside the country, as he had to confine to Male, the national capital, and could move out only with prior intimation to, and permission from the Correctional Services.

For long, the Government has been insisting that the required treatment was available inside the country, in private sector ADK Hospital, Male. It reportedly changed its mind, after Attorney-General viewed that Nasheed should have freedom to travel overseas for medical treatment, after former Defence Minister Col Mohammed Nazim and ruling PPM parliamentarian, Ahmed Nazim, were granted permission to go overseas for treatment when they were in prison.

It is unclear if the period that Nasheed was granted to spend overseas would be included in his prison term or not. Either way, the law and/or tradition in most democracies, and elsewhere too, has been for a guarantor/surety to commit himself to ensuring the return of any prisoner, going out on leave, or parole, as the case may be. “But in the case of the two Nazims, the Correctional Services and their families signed a document for them to be able to send out of the country,” officials explained.

International pressure

‘The Hindu’ newspaper in India quoted Nasheed’s wife Laila Ali, operating campaigning for her husband’s freedom from London, saying that pressure from neighbours, India and Sri Lanka, as also the UK, helped in the matter. As may be recalled, India’s Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar, Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera and British State Minister for Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Hugo Swire, had been in Male in the days prior to the weekend announcement.

Unlike certain media claims, the visits were planned ones and included scheduled meetings with President Yameen and Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon, among others. India’s Maldives-related concerns went far beyond the Nasheed imprisonment, though New Delhi too seemed to view that normality in the archipelago could not return until there was a closure to the ex-President’s case.

Local media also reported that Sri Lanka’s Samaraweera was accompanied by his Cabinet colleague, Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake. The latter is said to be a personal friend of President Yameen, and many other Maldivian leaders. Like India, Sri Lanka too has had strained relations with Maldives, in the past year, and is striving to put them back on the rails.

The international community has since been guarded in its reaction to the Government’s announcement. India has been traditionally wary of reacting to neighbourhood legal and political affairs in public. However, given the revived global interest in the ‘Nasheed case’, the international community may be called upon to sit in judgment over his demand for waiver from an ‘innocuous condition’, if he did not expect to violate the ‘leave condition(s)’.

 If the international community were to sound convinced, then the Government could apply reverse pressure on them, to review their positions at each stage/turn in the ‘Nasheed case’. In particular, they may be called upon to ask for themselves the legality or otherwise of Nasheed’s ‘arbitrary decision’ as President, to have Judge Abdulla arrested /abducted in the first place.

Yet, the Government would find it extremely difficult still, to justify the conversion of an ordinary criminal case into a ‘terrorism case’, leading to Nasheed’s 13-year prison-term. A clearer picture could emerge when, and only when the Maldivian Supreme Court gets to hear Nasheed’s appeal against the trial court conviction and sentencing, upheld by the High Court on technical grounds.

A lot would depend on the willingness of the Nasheed’s defence to argue his case in the Supreme Court, if it were to take up the hearing, early on, but any reluctance on their part should be justifiable. After all, they should have access to their client, to brief him on the proceedings and also get his instructions, in return. Overseas stay apart, Nasheed may be ‘incapacitated’ by both surgery and pain-killers, to be able to do so, at least during much of his possible stay in the British hospital.

‘Second home’?

Though Nasheed had felt emotionally close to India, and physically in greater access to Sri Lanka in the past, both as a student and as an activist politician in self-imposed exile, he had spent time in the UK. This could mean that his doctors in the UK might be more knowledgeable about his health conditions than equally knowledgeable surgeons in the Maldivian neighbourhood.

The Government has since expressed ‘disappointment’ over the deadlock in Nasheed going abroad for treatment. How it would weigh on the Yameen leadership, if and when they reach the next stage, and seek to address the current political impasse for a reopened dialogue and negotiated settlement. That would first require Nasheed in good health, and his back in Male – prison, or otherwise.

Already, there is continuing controversy over the so-called letter from the Correctional Services, converting his earlier one-month conversion to house-arrest, into permanent house-arrest until the 13-year-term ended. The police have been enquiring into the identity of the person, reportedly in Correctional Services uniform, and delivered the said letter at Nasheed’s house.

The police interrogated Nasheed and his family members recently, and that case too remains open, not shut – at least, not as yet.

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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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