Originally Published 2016-05-13 12:52:17 Published on May 13, 2016
Maldives: Yameen to seek early SC order in Nasheed’s case

An early end to the political dead-lock in Maldives may be in sight, with President Abdulla Yameen’s declaration that he would request the Supreme Court to speed up the pending ruling in the ‘Nasheed case’. Yameen clarified that it was a part of his presidential duty to move the Supreme Court if anyone felt aggrieved. The question of his initiative in the matter had come up during discussions with other governments and also UN officials, he said further. It was all within the system, he clarified, possibly implying that he was ready to do whatever was within the Maldivian constitutional scheme in this regard — but not outside of it.

The message was/is clear. The international community, Yameen seemingly implied, could not pressure his government in this regard, or on the larger aspects of political and judicial reforms. He said that even the worst critics of the government had come around since. A team of Maldivian parliamentarians (obviously pro-government) were in the neighbouring Sri Lankan capital of Colombo to meet with third-nation diplomats, co-accredited to his country, Yameen added.

Medical leave extended

Near-simultaneously, the government has extended the ‘medical leave’ granted to the jailed President Nasheed by one month, ending May 18. Earlier, it had cancelled the medical leave extension for Nasheed to undergo spine surgery in the UK, pending additional documents in this regard. With Nasheed undergoing the surgery after weeks-long delay, when he was also seen active in the political, social and media circle in London, the leave-extension became a formality — but required, all the same.

Nasheed was granted the ‘medical leave’ in the first place in January, and he left for the UK in dramatic circumstances, after the international community prevailed upon the Yameen leadership to do so. The former President was to serve out the better part of his 13-year jail-term in the ‘Judge Abdulla case’. Before leaving Maldives, Nasheed had yielded to appealing the High Court rejection of the state appeal against the trial court’s conviction and sentencing.

In what could be a loaded observation in the matter, Yameen has now said that the SC order in the Nasheed case could become applicable to the case of other political prisoners too. Apart from Nasheed, at least two former defence ministers, Ibrahim Tholath (‘Judge Abdulla case’) and Col Mohamad Nazim (plot to eliminate Yameen), have been sentenced under anti-terrorism laws. Religion-centric Adhaalath Party (AP) leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla is also undergoing a long prison-term under terror law.

In what could be an otherwise inexplicable move, the ‘terrorism trial’ against impeached former vice-president, Ahmed Adheeb, for plot to assassinate Yameen is yet to be taken up for trial. The government never moved against another former Vice-President, Mohamad Jameel Ahmed, after he ‘fled’ the country for the UK. Local media reports had claimed that the Yameen leadership had suspected Jameel too to have plotted against the president — hence, impeached, too.

Different languages

Just now, it looks as if the Yameen leadership and the nation’s ‘international partners’ are speaking in different languages. Friends of Nasheed in the international community, starting with governments and international organisations like the UK, have clearly stated that they wanted freedom for all ‘political prisoners’ before any meaningful domestic negotiations on political and judicial reforms could commence, as promised by Yameen.

However, Yameen now seems to imply that he would abide by the verdict of the Supreme Court, and it was not for third nations’ to intervene in the domestic and constitutional affairs of Maldives. Should the SC uphold the high court’s decision not to hear the state appeal against the trial court conviction and sentencing, then Nasheed would have to serve out the remaining part of the 13-year jail-term.

If the SC accepted the twin appeals of the Maldivian state and Nasheed, then it could either order his freedom, or a lowered sentence, or direct the high court to hear the case all over again. A third option could be for the SC to throw out the ‘terrorism’ trial and direct the subordinate judiciary to launch a new trial under ordinary criminal laws.

The application of the Supreme Court verdict in the ‘Nasheed case’ to other ‘political prisoners’, as indicated by Yameen, may assume greater significance. It could mean one of the many options cited. It could imply freedom for all or continued imprisonment for some or all, or a fresh trial for all mentioned. On these, in turn, hinges, the prospects of political negotiations, which are yet to commence in any significant way.

Politics of procedures

In the final analysis, excessive dependence of Nasheed and the MDP on the international community could alienate them from their strong domestic constituency, if only over time. Yameen’s China-funded ‘development agenda’ could catch their imagination, instead. It could make the difference in the presidential polls, now due in November 2013.

On the reverse, Yameen could be playing into the hands of the international community, which sticks to the politics of procedures, without giving in a bit. Just now, the western friends of Nasheed and the MDP cannot be seen as subverting the interests and engagement of a common partner in India, Maldives’ larger neighbour.

In the case of common neighbour Sri Lanka under former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, they bid their time, honed their tactics and waited – until the latter had alienated India enough. Both in the case of India and the international community, Rajapaksa was seen as shifting the goal-post once too often, and with that the time-out.

Yameen may be walking the tight-rope. In his case, the issues are entirely different from those of Sri Lanka under Rajapaksa in particular. Yet, they can tip, trip and trick him, and he might not know what had hit him in diplomatic terms until after it’s all beyond and behind him.

The question also remains if the international community too could and would go all out on Nasheed’s side if the Maldivian judicial process could come up with conceivable positions that are supported by irrefutable evidence on the ground — on specific charges, criminal and not ‘terrorist’ in nature. After all, Nasheed’s defence too had conceded as much in the SC hearing.

The author is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Chennai.

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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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