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UK grants refugee status to Maldives ex-President Mohamad Nasheed

With many Maldivian Opposition leaders there, he intends to form a coalition and press their case in global fora.

May 23, 2016 08:52 pm | Updated November 26, 2021 10:23 pm IST - LONDON:

Former Maldives President Mohamad Nasheed, who was allowed to travel to London to seek medical treatment by the government of President Abdulla Yameen in January this year, has been granted refugee status by the United Kingdom.

The former President – the first democratically elected head of state of the troubled island nation – was convicted and jailed in the Maldives in 2012 after a trial that attracted international criticism, including from the United Nations Group on Arbitrary Detention.

‘Yameen jails every Opposition leader’

"President Yameen has jailed every opposition leader and cracked down on anyone who dares to oppose or criticise him. In the past year, freedom of the press, expression and assembly have all been lost. Given the slide towards authoritarianism in the Maldives, myself and other opposition politicians feel we have no choice but to work from exile -- for now," Mr. Nasheed said in a statement.

In a telephone interview with The Hindu from his residence in London, Mr. Nasheed spoke of his plans for building a coalition of Maldivian opposition forces in exile in Britain, and of pressing their case in international forums.

‘See what can be done from outside’

“The advice that I have received is that it would be best to stay away from jail, and then see what can be done while being outside,” the former President said.

When asked if his refugee status would serve the purposes of the Yameen regime very well by conveniently removing a focal point of opposition to the government from the country, Mr. Nasheed said he did not think his physical absence would result in the weakening of opposition to Mr. Yameen.

“I don’t think the resolve of the people of the Maldives for freedom and democracy, and good governance, is that weak,” he said.

The former President, who is still under treatment in London for spinal injuries suffered during detention, said that his position was far stronger than it was when he sought and was granted asylum in Britain in 2004. “In 2004, we were able to organize ourselves into a political entity as a political party. We were able to galvanise the people into political activism, amend the constitution and get back home, get the party going and then have our first free and fair elections,” Mr. Nasheed said.

‘Opposition is stronger now’

Today, the unity of the opposition is “far, far stronger” than it was in 2004. “Today we have a wider platform or coalition that we think will come to a definite understanding in exile,” he said, adding that he and his party, the Maldives Democratic Party are “in conversation” with other parties like the Jumhooree Party and former Vice-President Mohamed Jameel Ahmed.

There are many Maldivian opposition leaders in exile in the UK, he said. “They all have supporters back at home, and so if we can group ourselves as an entity in exile that would assist the people in the Maldives struggling for democracy.” He disclosed that Mr. Jameel Ahmed is willing to lead such an exile entity. “We also have deputy leaders and leaders from some of the parties, and a number of others having to live abroad. We can come up with a very strong and credible organisation abroad and must explore all the avenues and options that we have.”

Taking Maldives’ case to U.N. and other fora

Mr. Nasheed also spoke of his resolve to take Maldives’s case to “multinational institutions like the United Nations and other international judicial forums,” while lobbying with individual governments, particularly those in the Indian Ocean region for recognition of the new entity in exile.

India, he hoped, would view his efforts “in a favourable light and engage with such a grouping, which would be in the best interest of the people of the Maldives and the Indian Ocean at large.”

Peeved at C’Wealth Secretariat

Mr. Nasheed expressed his disappointment at the weak resolve of the Commonwealth Secretariat in supporting the cause of Maldives, alleging that it has “failed to impress upon the government of Maldives the need for reform.”

“I think the Commonwealth Secretariat is being very childish in hiding behind semantics. They refuse to say if the Maldives issue is in the formal agenda, even while the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group says it is.”

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