NEW DELHI: Unable to find a quick legal recourse, family of former Maldives defence minister Colonel Mohamed Nazim, who want to bring him to India for urgent medical treatment, wished that New Delhi had taken a more active role in promoting democracy in the Indian ocean island nation – even as they looked at the United Nations as their last hope for justice.
On January 9, Maldives’ capital, Male was shocked by the unprecedented raid on the residence of a sitting defence minister. He was fired after eleven days and then arrested on February on charges of attempting to assassinate Maldives Preisdent Abdulla Yameen, then tourism minister and now Vice President Adeeb and Maldives police commission.
He was sentenced to 11 years in March after a trial, which the US state department spokesperson had described as “particularly concerning” and “marred by same apparent lack of appropriate criminal procedures” as that of former President Mohamed Nasheed’s trial.
After Col Nazim was not allowed to travel to India for medical treatment, his younger brother Adam Azim and legal counsel Husnu Al Suood travelled to Delhi this week to meet with officials of the International Red Cross Committee in Delhi to apprise them of the status of prisoners.
“My brother’s eyesight is deteriorating rapidly and we are very worried. He could even go blind,” Azim told Express in a Delhi hotel.
In early September, the Maldives correctional services had allowed Col Nazim to travel abroad for treatment for 7 days – but to Singapore. “We have a country which is closest to us with good facilities. Why should we go to Singapore which is more expensive and far away,” said Azim.
He recounted that family had become alarmed after there “were rumours in Male that Col Nazim and Nasheed were being slow-poisoned”. “We don’t have any solid proof. These are rumours right now,” he admitted.
When the government did not give the permission for Col Nazim to travel to India, the family turned offer to go to Singapore as doctors had specifically recommended Arivindhia eye hospital in Madurai for treatment.
India has, so far, not made any statement about the arrest and conviction of Colonel Nazim, though New Delhi had earlier expressed concern about how Nasheed was treated following his manhandling at first court appearance.
“As the biggest democracy, we expected India to take a more active stance,” said Azim. Nazim’s lawyer Suood was more fortright that India should use its leverage and “stop rubbing shoulders” with Yameen administration “unless they do something towards democracy”.
“India rubbing shoulders with Maldives government does not give a good message to those who have been tirelessly working towards human rights and democracy,” he asserted.
India and Maldives government seem to have made up after the shocked over the constitutional amendment which allowed for foreigners to buy land in the Indian ocean island nation. India’s recent statement at Maldives’ Universal Periodic review in UNHRC last week was rather warm, appreciative and bland, in contrast to the critical tone earlier in the same process in May.
The latest experience over overseas medical treatment, as well as the delay in setting up a High Court bench to hear appeal of conviction, have led to a change in strategy for Nazim’s legal team.
“We have heard of criminals missing, but here we had a whole court disappeared,” said Suood, half-jokingly. He was referring to the sudden transfer of two judges from the five-judge panel to another regional branch in June. The appeal is completely stalled, as Maldives Supreme Court has yet to announce replacement of those two judges.
Just as Col Nazim was being prosecuted, MDP opposition leader and former president Mohamed Nasheed was also arrested and convicted for 13 years on terrorism charges.
But unlike Nasheed who didn’t appeal but took the path of lobbying for international pressure on Male, Nazim went the other way. “We wanted to exhaust all local remedies first,” said Suood, who was attorney general from 2009 to 2010.
Now, enough seems to be enough. “We plan to file an application before the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention within a month,” he told Express. “The only place where Maldivians can get justice is from united nations,” added Azim.
Incidentally, UNWGAD has ruled that Nasheed’s imprisonment has been arbitrary, but Maldives government has refused to accept the opinion.
The meeting with International Committee for Red Cross in Delhi was to get some assurance that they were aware of the plight of prisoners in Maldives. ICRC is likely to send a team to Maldives in November.
Nasheed’s international lawyers which include Amal Clooney, had called for sanctions against Maldives, but Suood is not in favour. “I don't support tourism boycott but I would like to see travel restrictions selected government officials,” he said.