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Maldives: Rights Commissioner Criticizes Detention of Former President

(Sept. 11, 2015) In a statement released on August 25, 2015, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern about the re-imprisonment by the Government of the Maldives on August 23 of the former President of the country, Mohammad Nasheed. The Office also noted that the authorities had reportedly used force, including the deployment of pepper spray, against Nasheed’s supporters who were protesting the re-arrest outside the former President’s home. In addition to referring to the trial in which Nasheed was originally convicted as “clearly flawed,” the statement called the re-detention a step backward for the country. (Press Release, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Press Briefing Note on Maldives, Nepal and Iraq (Aug. 25, 2015).)

Background

The Maldives have experienced extensive political instability over the last few years, including the ouster of Nasheed from office by what his supporters called a coup. (Robert Evans, Maldives Ex-President’s Trial Was Flawed: U.N. Rights Chief, REUTERS (Mar. 18, 2015).) On March 13, 2015, Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years of imprisonment on a charge of terrorism for ordering the arrest in 2012, his last year as President, of a judge. At the time of the sentencing, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Hussein, discussed the trial as rushed and having “flagrant irregularities.” He added that the trial “appears to contravene the Maldives’ own laws and practices and international fair trial standards in a number of respects.” (Id.)

Nasheed’s sentence was commuted to house imprisonment in July, following broad international criticism of the original sentence. (Press Release, supra.) Nasheed was the first democratically elected Maldivian leader; his initial arrest was greeted by protests in the capital city of Male from supporters of his political base in the Maldivian Democratic Party. (Evans, supra.)

The judiciary has played a large part in the controversies in the nation, through the 2012 arrest of the judge, the 2014 Supreme Court dismissal of four election commissioners, and this year’s conviction of Nasheed. (Jones, supra.)

Current Related Developments

Nasheed has been remanded to a high-security prison on Maafushi Island, one of the 1,190 islands that comprise the country. (Press Release, supra.) The High Commissioner’s Office sent two missions to Maldives in the last few months to further discuss the March trial and related human rights issues with the authorities. The Commissioner is now urging that the government consider early release for Nasheed and full review of the cases of criminal cases now pending against “several hundred” supporters of the political opposition. (Id.)