New Delhi: India on Thursday expressed “deep dismay" at the conviction of former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and the sitting Chief Justice, Abdulla Saeed, by a court in the Maldives that sentenced both of them to 19 months in prison ahead of national polls in the atoll nation in September.
India’s expression of dismay rather than condemnation of the development is being seen as an indication of New Delhi being careful in its response, mindful that any strong reaction can tilt the Indian ocean atoll nation further into China’s orbit.
“Since the beginning of the political crisis in the Maldives, India has repeatedly urged the government of the Maldives to allow all institutions, including the Supreme Court and the Parliament, to function in a free and independent manner, and to permit genuine political dialogue between all political parties," the Indian foreign ministry said, referring to the imposition of emergency in Maldives twice since 5 February.
This followed a Supreme Court order on 1 February that sought the release of nine opposition MPs charged with treason.
“It is, therefore, with deep dismay that we learned that the former president of the Maldives as well as the chief justice of the Supreme Court are being sentenced to long prison terms without fair trial," said the Indian statement released after a court in the Maldives on Wednesday convicted Gayoom and the sitting chief justice for obstruction of justice.
“This casts doubt on the commitment of the government of the Maldives to uphold the rule of law and will also call into question the credibility of the entire process of presidential elections in September this year," it said.
“India believes that a democratic, stable and prosperous Maldives is in the interests of all its neighbours and friends in the Indian Ocean. It reiterates its advice to the government of the Maldives to restore the credibility of the electoral and political process by immediately releasing political prisoners, including former President Gayoom and Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed, and creating the necessary conditions for the participation of all political forces in the presidential elections," it said.
According to a Reuters report, the trials are widely seen as part of a plan by President Abdulla Yameen to tighten his grip on power ahead of elections in September when he will seek a second five-year term against an opposition yet to decide on a single candidate. The government denies this.
The country of 400,000 citizens is popular with tourists but has seen political unrest since its first democratically elected leader Mohamed Nasheed was forced to quit amid a police mutiny in 2012. He was convicted of terrorism charges in 2015 and sentenced to 13 years imprisonment after a trial that was criticized as unfair.
Gayoom, the country’s longest serving leader, Saeed and Supreme Court justice Ali Hameed were found guilty on Wednesday after they were charged for refusing to hand over their mobile phones for a police investigation.
Gayoom told the court he denied the charges and said the trial was unfair. Najeeb said the trial was conducted in accordance with the law.
Dunya Maumoon, the daughter of Gayoom, who resigned from Yameen’s government after her father was arrested, said her family was deeply shocked by the convictions.
The Indian Ocean island chain has faced upheaval since February, when Yameen, Gayoom’s half-brother, imposed a 45-day state of emergency to annul a Supreme Court ruling that quashed the convictions of nine opposition leaders, including Nasheed.
The opposition has accused Yameen’s government of jailing leaders who could challenge Yameen’s re-election bid, a charge the government denies.
Reuters contributed to this report.