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Mohamed Nasheed's wife, Laila Ali, has said her husband's case "is merely a symbol of a much wider crackdown. The Maldives has returned to its dark past." (Photo: Presidency Maldives/flickr/cc)

Diplomatic Campaign Ramps Up to Free 'Mandela of the Maldives'

"Nasheed's unfair trial and conviction is emblematic of a new crisis in the country" says human rights lawyer Amal Clooney

Deirdre Fulton

Following a United Nations ruling condemning the illegal and arbitrary imprisonment of former Maldives president Mohamed Nasheed, the legal team for the man sometimes called 'the Mandela of the Maldives' announced this week it will ramp up an international diplomatic pressure campaign until he is freed.

"Nasheed's unfair trial and conviction is emblematic of a new crisis in the country…where a fledgling democracy has entered a much darker period of repression," said human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, who is working alongside other attorneys to secure Nasheed's release.

Nasheed's wife, Laila Ali, echoed those charges, telling the Sydney Morning Herald on Tuesday that her husband's case "is merely a symbol of a much wider crackdown. The Maldives has returned to its dark past."

The nation's first democratically elected president, who was ousted in 2012, was sentenced to 13 years in jail earlier this year on terror charges related to the arrest of an allegedly corrupt judge when he was still in office.

The UN's Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had previously denounced Nasheed's trial as "vastly unfair, arbitrary and disproportionate."

In its report issued in September, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) said there were "several factors which, taken together, strongly suggest that Mr. Nasheed’s conviction was politically motivated." Furthermore, the Working Group ruled Nasheed "did not receive a fair trial" while calling for his immediate release and compensation.

As Clooney put it, the WGAD ruling "upholds every legal argument put forward on behalf of President Nasheed, and flatly rejects the Government’s myths and denials."

For its part, the Maldivian government said last week that it "does not accept the decision of the WGAD and will not be made to act on the basis of a non-binding opinion."

But, buoyed by the UN's backing, Nasheed's lawyers are now calling for immediate action by governments around the world, including international economic sanctions and travel bans for individuals connected to the island government. They are asking not just for Nasheed's release, but also for the government to drop charges against 1,700 other people facing imprisonment for non-violently exercising of their rights to free speech and peaceful assembly.

In an interview on CNN's "Amanpour," Clooney offered more details about the diplomatic pressure campaign, calling on world leaders "to move from public statements in support [of] our case to more concrete measures."

“We are having private conversations with governments," she told host Christiane Amanpour, specifically citing India and Australia. "Because in the end it's not enough that we get public statements and public support. We also need people picking up the phone and calling president Yameen [Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom] and saying you cannot do this."

"We haven't come out and called for an all-out tourist boycott yet, but at the same time I don't think we would exclude it," Clooney said separately on Monday. "Tourists have the power of the purse."

Added fellow attorney Jared Genser, of the U.S.-based campaign group Freedom Now: "Governments don't release people like President Nasheed unless they are really forced to do so."

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