Friday, 27 March 2015

Open Letter to Lord Alton of Liverpool

Issued By 

Open Letter to Lord Alton of Liverpool Regarding His Comments about the Trial and Sentencing of Former President of the Maldives, Mr Mohamed Nasheed

Dear Lord Alton of Liverpool,

We write this open letter in response to your recent opinion piece on the Huffington Post blog, dated 22 March 2015, regarding the trial and sentencing of former President of the Republic of the Maldives, Mr Mohamed Nasheed.

The Government of Maldives takes its relations with British parliamentarians very seriously, and is committed to open and transparent dialogue. As such, the High Commission in London does its utmost to ensure that all members of the All-Party British-Maldives Parliamentary Group are kept regularly informed of the facts surrounding developments in the Maldives. As a member of this APPG, you have been provided with all the facts concerning former President Nasheed’s trial and sentencing. Nevertheless, you have decided to comment on the trial in such an inaccurate and public manner, that it will further exacerbate the domestic ramifications of the case for our young democracy. This is incredibly disappointing.

We would therefore like to take this opportunity to draw your attention to the litany of factual inaccuracies in your piece, and further provide you with an accurate account of the events that preceded Mr Nasheed’s trial, and the facts of the trial itself.

Firstly, the Government of Maldives categorically objects to your depiction of former President Nasheed’s resignation from office on 7 February 2012, as a “coup d’état”. As you will be aware, the Government of Maldives, in collaboration with the Commonwealth, established the Commission of National Inquiry (CoNI)[1] to inquire into the facts and circumstances leading to the 7 February transfer of power. All doubts regarding the transfer of power were comprehensively laid to rest with the release of internationally accepted[2] Report of the Commission of National Inquiry, Maldives on 30 August 2012. The Commission concluded, “that there was no illegal coercion or intimidation nor any coup d’état”. Indeed, the summary of the Commission’s conclusions on page 2 of the CoNI report reads as follows:

  1. The change of President in the Republic of Maldives on 7 February 2012 was legal and constitutional.
  2. The events that occurred on 6 and 7 February 2012 were, in large measure, reactions to the actions of President Nasheed.
  3. The resignation of President Nasheed was voluntary and of his own free will. It was not caused by any illegal coercion or intimidation.

Furthermore, the Government of Maldives categorically rejects your implication that the Government “cancelled the [2013 Presidential] election and called for a re-run”. The election of 7 September 2013 was annulled by the Supreme Court of Maldives following the submission of legal challenges by both the Progressive Party of Maldives and the Jumhooree Party in respect to the voter registration process. The decision to call for a re-run of the election, therefore, was the decision of the Supreme Court. Indeed, it is important to note that the Jumhooree party is now aligned with the party of former President Nasheed, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

Similarly, the Government of Maldives rejects your claim that there were “irregularities” with the results of the 2013 Presidential Election. Although the Presidential Elections of 2013 took place in a challenging political environment, international observers from the Commonwealth, the European Union, and other interested countries monitored the entire process and confirmed the fairness and legitimacy of the results. Indeed, in the Reports of the Commonwealth Observer Group, Chair of the Commonwealth Observer Group, former Prime Minister of Malta, Dr Lawrence Gonzi, concluded that “the Maldives 2013 Presidential elections have been credible and have duly reflected the democratic will of the Maldivian electorate.”

In respect to the sentencing of former President Nasheed, Mr Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years imprisonment under section 2(b) of the Anti-Terrorism Act 1990, for ordering personnel of the Maldivian National Defence Force (MNDF) to unlawfully and unconstitutionally abduct Chief Judge Abdullah in January 2012. Section 2(b) defines “kidnapping, holding as hostage or apprehending someone against their will or attempts to kidnap, hold hostage or apprehend someone without their will” as a crime, and it is important to note that the charges under the Anti-Terrorism Act 1990, related solely to the abduction of Chief Judge Abdullah.

The Government of Maldives would like to make it clear that there is no conspiracy by the Government to unwarrantedly convict Mr Nasheed. The Government of Maldives cannot file criminal charges against an individual, and as per Article 220(a) of the Constitution of Maldives (2008), charges were brought against former President Nasheed by the Prosecutor General[3]. By virtue of the Constitution, the Government can neither interfere nor influence any decision of the Prosecutor General or the Judiciary. Indeed, the independence of the Judiciary and the fairness of due legal process have been as sacrosanct in the case against former President Nasheed as they would have been for any other Maldivian citizen.

Similarly, former President Nasheed was not singled out for his involvement in the abduction of Chief Judge Abdullah. Throughout the legal proceedings four other individuals, including Mr Nasheed’s former Defence Minister, Chief of Defence Force and the Commander of the Male’ Area, have faced charges in connection with the abduction and detention of Chief Judge Abdullah. The Government of Maldives can assure you that each of these cases have been processed identically, and all the accused were charged under section 2(b) of the Anti-Terrorism Act 1990 in exactly the same manner.

Furthermore, in your piece you claim that Mr Nasheed was “refused access to legal representation”. We can assure you, that this is simply inaccurate. Throughout the legal proceedings against former President Nasheed, his Constitutional right to legal counsel has been guaranteed. On 23 February 2015, when former President Nasheed was presented before the Judge of Criminal Court for a procedural remand hearing, he was given the opportunity to appoint legal counsel. His legal team were not present at this hearing because they had failed to register themselves as per Criminal Court regulations. As a result, the Criminal Court granted former President Nasheed three days, as per regulations, to appoint legal counsel. At the next four hearings in the case, Mr Nasheed had legal representation. Following the sixth hearing, however, Mr Nasheed’s legal counsels recused themselves, and they failed to reappear at any of the subsequent hearings. The Court did not refuse former President Nasheed access to his legal team, and he was repeatedly reminded that he could engage counsel at any time, but failing to do so would lead the Bench to consider that he had waived his right to counsel.

In your piece you also appear to confuse the allegations that two of judges were witnesses for the prosecution with the court’s refusal to hear Mr Nasheed’s defence witnesses. To clarify, during the fourth hearing, it was in fact former President Nasheed that called the Prosecutor General and two of the presiding Judges in his case as witnesses for the defence. Mr Nasheed’s request was naturally denied by the Bench on the basis that these officials could not be called as witnesses on evidentiary rules of relevancy and probative value.

Additionally, in your piece you claim that former President Nasheed was “manhandled by the police.” We can assure you that throughout the process, the Maldives Police service has followed standard procedure and due process. On 23 February 2015, a statement was issued by the Maldives Police Service confirming that Mr Nasheed was “granted all rights of an accused who is kept under detention and obligatory access was given to his family, party activists and legal counsel as well as officials of the Maldives Human Rights Commission.” Nonetheless, as part of its commitment to international engagement, the Government has already invited a delegation from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to visit the Maldives from 19-26 March 2015 in order to inspect prison and detention facilities.

Article 56 of the Constitution of Maldives (2008) guarantees former President Nasheed’s right to appeal his sentence. Mr Nasheed has been sentenced by the Criminal Court—the lowest tier of the Maldives’ court system—so in the event that former President Nasheed feels that justice has not been served, the High Court and Supreme Court can hear his case. All the documents necessary for Mr Nasheed to file an appeal, including the full case report (detailing the full trial proceedings), have been made available[4] to his defence team. Meanwhile, out of its commitment to transparency, the Government of Maldives has invited observers from the UN, Commonwealth and European Union to monitor the appeal process. Yet, on 24 March 2015 the MDP has announced that Mr Nasheed will not be appealing his case at the High Court, and the MDP leadership has publically stated that they will not international observers to be present for the appeal process. The Government would nonetheless like to assure you that former President Nasheed’s continues to retain his right to appeal.

Finally, the Government of Maldives would like to assure you that no individuals have been unduly arrested for their involvement in recent demonstrations, and no police officers have attacked any peaceful demonstrators. A series of protests have been held nightly in the Maldivian capital Malé, and while for the most part peaceful, a number of individuals have been arrested for violent conduct and vandalism of private and public property. Despite the highly charged atmospheres typically associated with demonstrations, officers of the Maldives Police Service have continually acted with the utmost professionalism. Indeed, it is instructive to recall Sir Bruce Robertson and Professor John Packer’s observations on the CoNI investigations, wherein they spoke of “a national obsession with street demonstrating at an alarming level”, involving a reality of “bully-boy tactics involving actual and threatened intimidation by a violent mob.”

The Government of Maldives is a firm defender of freedom of speech, and we completely respect your right to express whatever opinions you may have about the Maldives. But, equally, it is our opinion that your authorship of an op-ed piece of such inaccuracy and one-sidedness was an act of gross irresponsibility. In 2012, the Report of the Commission of National Inquiry, Maldives, noted, “an urgent need to address an apparent climate of popular discontent and division...propelled by the politicisation of the media”. Although initially written about Maldivian media outlets, it is disheartening to see international commentary on the Maldives — of which your piece is part — demonstrate a similar politicization. Regrettably, the release of such commentary in international media outlets — pieces with little or no connection to the facts — only serves to perpetuate the spread of misinformation and baseless rumour. Unfortunately, the sad truth is that it will only be the Maldivian people that suffer the consequences of such biased and factually inaccurate commentary.

In closing, we trust that this letter clarifies the facts of Mr Nasheed’s trial, and hope that a consideration of these facts will precede any future comments you make on the case. We can assure you that we will continue to keep you updated on the facts of the case, but should you require any further information, we would be more than happy to provide it for you.

Yours sincerely,

High Commission of the Republic of Maldives to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

[1] As you will recall the respected Singaporean judge, Justice J.P Selvam co-Chaired the CoNI, while Sir Bruce Robertson and Professor John Packer were appointed as International Legal Advisers representing the Commonwealth and UN respectively.

[2] The CoNI and its findings were welcomed and commended by a multitude of international stakeholders, including the Commonwealth, the UN, the US State Department and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office.

[3] Indeed, the Prosecutor General who first filed charges against former President Nasheed was nominated by Mr Nasheed himself.

[4] On 23 March 2014 the Criminal Court announced that there was a delay in the release of the full case report, resulting from the refusal of Mr Nasheed and his legal team to sign the required documents necessary for the report’s release.

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