Unless urgent inter-party talks address democratic shortcomings in Maldives, and there are free and fair elections, the European Union will have to contemplate sanctions, a senior MEP has warned.
Richard Howitt MEP, Labour's European Parliament spokesperson on foreign affairs and vice-chair of the EP delegation to South Asia, held discussions in Malé with the legal team of the country's former President, Mohamed Nasheed, who has been convicted on terrorism charges but claims the conviction was politically motivated.
He also visited the prison cell at Maafushi Prison to inspect the conditions in which Mr Nasheed, who is currently in London for urgent medical treatment, has been held.
Mr Howitt was co-author of two European Parliament resolutions criticising democracy in Maldives last year, the second of which explicitly called for targeted sanctions. A current bill in the Maldives parliament would make it illegal for anyone to call for support for sanctions.
Richard Howitt MEP said:
"Our presence in Malé shows the deep and serious concern we have about the state of democracy in Maldives.
"Europe does not support any one party - our concern is for an apparent lack of independence of the judiciary and lack of respect for international legal standards not just in the case of President Nasheed, but in many cases in the Maldives.
"These form a pattern which suggests that this is a deliberate tool for the treatment of political dissent and opposition."
Mr Howitt also cited other cases including that of former vice-president Ahmed Adeeb, Colonel Mohamed Nazim, and Sheikh Imran Abdulla, and the lack of an apparent investigation into the continuing disappearance of the journalist, Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla.
"First, I hope there will be a return to inter-party talks, of genuine talks, on an agreed timetable. These can be with an international mediator if requested, and we know our friends and colleagues in the United Nations offer their good services, with European Union support.
"Such talks would agree steps which can work to restore the political space, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, which are today absent.
"Dialogue cannot take place whilst political leaders are in detention. All leaders should be free to engage, and the public must be kept informed. I have to say that, speaking today, it is difficult to foresee that there can be any chance that the 2018 elections will be rated as free and fair, unless things start to change and change now.
"Second, we spoke with your parliamentarians and urged them: rather than criminalising anyone who calls for sanctions against Maldives, to take actions which remove the need for sanctions to be considered. We do not want sanctions - they were not in the first parliament resolution last year, but they were in the second.
"This week we have undertaken a full assessment and we will go back to Brussels and continue to consider all options. We hope that a return to the path of democratic development takes place in the country, so this consideration is no longer needed."