US ‘deeply dismayed’ over Maldives prison sentences

June 16, 2018
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FILE - In this Monday, Sept. 5, 2011, file photo, Maldives former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom addresses a press conference to announce the formation of a new political party in Male, Maldives. A Maldives court has sentenced Gayoom accused of plotting to overthrow the government to 19 months in prison for failing to corporate with the police investigation. (AP Photo/Sinan Hussain, File)

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — The United States said it is dismayed by the prison sentences given to an ex-Maldivian president and two Supreme Court judges and urged the increasingly authoritarian government to uphold the rule of law.

A Maldives court sentenced ex-President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom to one year, seven months and six days in prison on Wednesday for failing to hand over his mobile phone to investigators after he was accused of plotting to overthrow the government of his half brother, who has declared a state of emergency and cracked down on his critics. Two Supreme Court judges, Abdulla Saeed and Ali Hameed, who were arrested with Gayoom, were given the same sentences for the same offense.

Saeed and Hameed previously had been given jail sentences for allegedly influencing lower court decisions.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement that the U.S. is “deeply dismayed” by reports that they were sentenced without a fair trial. She said it casts “serious doubt” on the government’s commitment to the rule of law.

Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who ruled the Indian Ocean archipelago state from 1978 to 2008, is the second former president to be jailed under President Yameen Abdul Gayoom’s rule. He was arrested in February on charges of attempting to overthrow his half brother.

Maldives, known for its high-end tourist resorts, became a multiparty democracy in 2008, ending Gayoom’s 30-year strongman rule. However, Yameen, who was elected in 2013, has rolled back much of the democratic gains.

Mohamed Nasheed, the country’s first freely elected president in 2008, was earlier given a 13-year sentence in a trial widely criticized for due process violations. He was granted asylum in Britain when he went there on leave from prison for medical treatment.

Yameen’s former vice president, Ahmed Adeeb, two former defense ministers, a prosecutor general and opposition lawmakers are among those who have been jailed during Yameen’s tenure. All of the trials have been criticized for alleged lack of fairness.

With all of his potential opponents either in jail or in exile, Yameen is preparing to run for re-election in September virtually unopposed.

In the statement released Thursday, Nauert said the sentences also call into question the willingness of the Maldives government “to permit a free and fair presidential election in September that reflects the will of the Maldivian people.”

Nauert called on Maldives to release all political prisoners and ensure that parties and candidates are able to campaign freely.

A five-member Supreme Court bench in February ordered the release and retrial of Nasheed and other prisoners, calling their sentences politically motivated. However, Yameen declared a state of emergency and had Saeed, Hameed, and Gayoom arrested.

The three remaining Supreme Court judges later overturned their previous decision to release political prisoners.

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