Do not ignore Nasheed's arrest

Do not ignore Nasheed's arrest

Former Maldivian president Mohammed Nasheed’s arrest under anti-terrorism laws for ordering, when he was in power, the arrest of a Criminal Court Judge, Abdulla Mohamed, is an act of political persecution. The arrest is not only vindictive but also, it seems aimed at taking him out of the political arena. The charges against him are excessively severe; charges of abuse of power levelled against him were dropped last week and now he has been arrested on terrorism charges in the same case. What is more, he has been denied bail on the grounds that he could flee the country. Nasheed, a human rights campaigner who led a powerful pro-democracy movement a decade ago in the archipelago, toppled the authoritarian Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in 2007 to become the country’s first democratically elected president. However, his stint in power was turbulent as elements from the Gayoom regime and other anti-democratic forces as well as religious extremists colluded to trigger turmoil. He was forced to step down in 2012 amid a police/army mutiny. Subsequent elections brought to power Gayoom’s half-brother, Abdulla Yameen, whose government has been cracking down on members of Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) over the past year. Several former allies of Yameen have joined hands with the MDP. Is Yameen’s shaky grip over power in the wake of the opposition’s growing popularity – Nasheed has been drawing huge crowds of late – behind the political witch-hunt against the former president?

Nasheed’s trial is unlikely to be fair. The Maldivian judiciary is stacked with Gayoom appointees. Besides, the Bench trying Nasheed consists of judges closely aligned with Justice Mohamed. They had reappointed him although he did not meet the criteria for the post and had cases of serious misconduct pending against him. A politically motivated trial leading to a guilty verdict against Nasheed may enable Yameen to get rid of a hated rival and consolidate control over power but this will be a temporary gain as street protests and instability will weaken his hold over time.

While avoiding meddling in the domestic affairs of a neighbour, India must use diplomatic channels to press the Maldivian government to treat Nasheed fairly. Delhi’s silence during the controversial resignation of Nasheed in 2012 and the quick recognition it accorded to his successor did India’s credibility as a democracy little credit. Nasheed and the MDP are friends of India, having repeatedly protested Maldives’ pro-China tilt. A democratic Maldives is in India’s long-term interest. Delhi must nudge the Maldivian government to avoid the politics of persecution.
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