Maldives: India refuses to meet Yameen's envoy; UN calls Prez a 'usurper'

A Maldives policeman charges with baton towards protesters after the government declared a 15-day state of emergency in Male, Maldives | Photo: PTI
Maldives' beleaguered President Abdulla Yameen wanted to send his foreign minister as special envoy but the Indian side did not find the dates "suitable", the Maldivian ambassador said on Thursday, even as officials here maintained that no "real action" was taken by that country on India's concerns over democracy there.

Yameen has already dispatched special envoys to China, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to brief them about the deepening political crisis in the country.

"India was, in fact, the first stop planned and proposed for a visit of a special envoy of the president of Maldives. However, the dates proposed were not suitable for the Indian leadership," Maldivian envoy Ahmed Mohamed told PTI.

"We understand the external affairs minister is out of country and the prime minister is leaving for UAE during the week," he said.

However, sources here said that there is a set protocol to send an envoy and India had not been informed of the purpose of sending the envoy.

Indicating that India may have declined the proposed visit, a source said, "Also we have not seen any real action on the concerns stated by the international community and India. Democratic institutions and the judiciary continue to be undermined and concerns ignored, these issues need to be properly addressed."

The Maldivian ambassador also said that his country would have liked that this meeting could have taken place as the discussion across the table is the best to understand the situation and address bilateral concerns if any.

"We look forward to a mutually convenient time to carry this dialogue forward so that there is a better understanding and misconceptions cleared without the need to be sensitive," he said.

On the perception that Maldives was closer to China, he said India should reach out to Maldives, and Male and New Delhi should have close ties given that the two countries are neighbours.

President Yameen has sent Minister of Economic Development Mohamed Saeed to China and Foreign Minister Mohamed Asim to Pakistan in the wake of the crisis.

Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Mohamed Shainee is going to Saudi Arabia.

Later, a Maldivian embassy release also said, "The first stop of special envoy of the President was India. Foreign Minister of Maldives Mohamed Asim, the designated Special envoy of the President, was scheduled for 8th February 2018, to (visit) India but the visit was cancelled on the request of the Government of India."

It also said, "It is therefore grossly misleading to say that the Government of the Maldives was bypassing India."

The island nation, which has seen several political crises since the ouster of its first democratically-elected president Mohamed Nasheed in 2012, plunged into chaos last Thursday when the apex court ordered the release of nine imprisoned opposition politicians, maintaining that their trials were "politically motivated and flawed".

India, which is monitoring the situation very "closely", had said on Tuesday that it was "disturbed" about the declaration of emergency by the Maldivian government and described as a matter of "concern" the arrests of the chief justice and political figures there.

However, earlier this week, the Supreme Court revoked its order on the release of the opposition politicians.

UN response

A senior UN official has told Maldives Foreign Minister Mohamed Asim about Secretary-General Antonio Guterres's concerns over the declaration of a state of emergency there by President Abdulla Yameen, according to a UN spokesperson.

Miroslav Jenca, the Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, spoke to Asim and directly relayed to him the concerns Guterres had expressed in his statement on the Maldives, Farhan Haq, the Secretary-General's spokesperson, said here Thursday.

In the statement released on Tuesday, Guterres asked the Maldives government "to uphold the constitution and rule of law, lift the state of emergency as soon as possible, and take all measures to ensure the safety and security of the people in the country, including members of the judiciary."

On Wednesday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein made a harsh criticism of Yameen.

"President Yameen has, to put it bluntly, usurped the authority of the State's rule-of-law institutions and its ability to work independently from the executive," he said.

"I am seriously concerned that the measures taken appear to go beyond those permissible during a state of emergency, restricting the basic tenets of democracy and undermining respect for fundamental rights in the country," he said.

Yameen clamped down the state of emergency on Monday after the Supreme Court overturned the terrorism conviction of former president Mohamed Nasheed, who lives in exile in Britain, as well as the convictions of eight other politicians on several charges. It also ordered the reinstatement of 12 suspended opposition members of parliament.

Two of the five Supreme Court judges were arrested by government forces and the other three overturned the court's unanimous ruling ordering the release of the nine politicians.

Guterres statement said he was seriously concerned about the entry of security forces into the Supreme Court.

The UN Mission of Kuwait, which is the president of the Security Council, had said that Jenca was expected to brief the Council during a closed briefing session on Thursday.

Kuwait's Permanent Representative Mansour Al-Otaibi, who briefed reporters on the day's Council proceedings would not confirm if the briefing had taken place.

Major TV station shuts down

Major TV station in Maldives, RaajjeTV has shut down its broadcast coming under immense pressure and threats of attacks.

"RajjeTV informs our viewers that we have suspended regular broadcasts due to attacks on free and independent media continued threats to RajjeTV and its staff, following the Police's decision to slash security to the station and the warning issued by the MNDF to media sources over closure of any media stations without warning," according to station's screenshot tweeted by the Maldives Voice.

On February 5, the opposition-aligned RaajjeTV tweeted that its shutdown was "imminent," and that they will "continue to work" until the "last minute. We have no security"

The Maldives Broadcasting Commission had earlier warned media stations they could face closure if they were deemed a threat to national security, incited unrest with false information or endangered the public interest, according to news reports.

West kept at bay

Maldives President Abdulla Yameen refused on Thursday to meet senior European diplomats who were the first foreign dignitaries to visit the troubled nation since his crackdown on the islands' judiciary.

Envoys from the European Union, Germany and Britain arrived in the capital after top judges and several other dissidents were arrested this week, as Yameen appeared to gain the upper hand in a bitter power struggle.

The tiny island nation has been grappling with a political crisis after the president refused to obey a Supreme Court order to release nine political prisoners and declared a state of emergency.

The German Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Jorn Rohde, said the trio requested meetings to discuss Yameen's crackdown on dissent which the UN human rights chief had dubbed "an all-out assault on democracy".

"Sadly the Maldivian government refuses dialogue today with my UK/EU colleagues... Our requests were unfortunately refused," Rohde said on Twitter. "That is surely not the way forward."

The diplomats, based in neighbouring Sri Lanka but also accredited to the Maldives, arrived in Male after the regime said it was open to foreign observers visiting the country.

However, foreign media have effectively been barred after authorities imposed tough visa conditions and warned they would take up to three weeks to process applications.

Amnesty for the opposition

Amnesty International has called upon authorities in the Maldives to immediately release arbitrarily detained members of the political opposition in line with a recent Supreme Court ruling.

Amnesty International's South Asia Deputy Director, Dinushika Dissanayake said, "Once again, dissent and critical voices are coming under attack in the Maldives."

"Instead of respecting and implementing the Supreme Court's ruling, the government is riding roughshod over any notion of justice and arbitrarily detaining members of the opposition," Dissanayake added.

On Monday, former President of Maldives Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Chief Justice Saeed, Supreme Court Justice Ali Hameed and Judicial administrator Hassan Saeed were arrested by the security forces after Yameen declared a state of emergency in the country on Monday.

The arrests indicated that the crackdown on the opposition intensified. The country's National Defence Force also stormed inside the Supreme Court (SC) premises in Male on Tuesday.

Dissanayake further said that Maldivian government should respect its constitution.

"The Maldivian government must reverse course and pay heed to its constitution and its obligations under international human rights law," she said.

The Maldivian capital remained tense as opposition leaders across the Maldives were being rounded up and placed under detention as Yameen, who has been refusing to obey SC's orders directing him to release nine prominent leaders from prison, has given sweeping powers to security forces.

Last week, the Maldivian Supreme Court acquitted former Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed, former Maldivian Vice President Ahmed Adeeb and ordered the reinstatement of the 12 other parliamentary members.

The Maldives has been in a state of turmoil since 2015 when Nasheed, the first democratically elected president of the country, was arrested on "terrorism" charges, relating to the arrest of a judge during his tenure.

The arrest had led to widespread protests across the country and resulted in the arrest of hundreds of dissidents. The apex court had sentenced Nasheed to 13 years in prison.

Ten years ago, the Maldives became a multiparty democracy, after three decades of autocratic rule of former strongman and Yameen's half-brother Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

China's 'busy buying up Maldives'

China on Thursday opposed UN mediation in the Maldives but toned down its opposition to foreign intervention, saying the international community can provide "support and convenience" for Maldivian parties to resolve the political turmoil.

Ahead of a UN Security Council meeting on Thursday to discuss the situation in the Maldives after UN officials offered to facilitate all-party talks to resolve the crisis, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told media here that China is for relevant parties in the island nation to hold parleys.

Asked whether China is averse to UN mediation in the Maldives, Geng said "I made myself clear. The international community should respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Maldives and provide support and convenience for dialogue between the relevant parties and play a constructive role in this aspect".

China earlier opposed any international role saying that the crisis should be internally resolved by "relevant parties".

Geng's comments came as beleaguered Maldivian President Abdullah Yameen, who is under pressure from international community to lift emergency and release the arrested Supreme Court judges and leaders, dispatched Maldivian Minister for Economic Development Mohamed Saeed as a special envoy to China to seek its support.

It is not clear however whether China looks to play the role of a facilitator to arrange a meeting between Yameen, who Maldivian opposition parties allege is tacitly backed by Beijing, and former presidents Mohamed Nasheed and Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

While Nasheed, who has accused China of being a land grabber threatening peace and stability of the Indian Ocean, is in exile in Sri Lanka, 81-year-old Gayoom is under detention.

Geng did not directly respond to questions whether Beijing is in touch with opposition parties of Maldives.

"We are maintaining close communication with relevant parties in Maldives and the diplomatic channels between two countries is also smooth," he said.

But at the same time Geng refuted allegations by Nasheed saying that "I think that kind of remarks (by Nasheed) is totally wrong. When Nasheed was president China has offered assistance to Maldives and promoted pragmatic cooperation and has achieved a lot of outcomes. I don't know whether Nasheed will regard such cooperation as grabbing," he said.

He defended the Chinese investments saying China has contributed to the transformation of economic structure and improvement of livelihoods of people of the Maldives.

Nasheed said in Colombo last month that China is indulging in land grabbing which he alleged is threatening not just the Maldives, but the peace and the stability of the entire region.

The large, emerging power is "busy buying up the Maldives," he had said.

Geng said "China has not attached political strings for cooperation with the Maldives. China will never endanger the independence of the Maldives. Friendly cooperation is for all the people in the Maldives and it serves the interest of the two countries and the two peoples," he said.

Besides India, the US, the UN, and the EU have also expressed concern over Yameen jailing the Supreme Court judges and Gayoom besides a number of opposition legislators.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the Maldives government to uphold the rule of law and ensure the safety of the people of the island nation.

The UN chief expressed serious concern about the unfolding situation in the Maldives and urged the government touphold the Constitutionand rule of law, lift the state of emergency as soon as possible, and take all measures to ensure the safety and security of the people, in statement issued by his spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

China views the Maldives as key to its Maritime Silk Road project in the Indian Ocean as it has already acquired Hambantota port in Sri Lanka and Djibouti in the Horn of Africa.

Also on Thursday, China further strengthened its travel advisory to thousands of Chinese tourists by asking travel agencies not to organise group tours to the Maldives during the week-long Chinese New Year holiday this month.

Tourism is the Maldives' biggest industry. It accounts for around a fifth of its GDP and generates billions of dollars every year in revenue. In 2016, the sector was worth almost USD 9 billion.

About 1.4 million people visited the Indian Ocean archipelago last year, of which Chinese tourists constituted about 30 per cent.

The Chinese New Year was stated to be the biggest season for tourists from China to visit the Maldives.

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