Amal Clooney has won the support of the UN in her fight to free the jailed former Maldivian president, Mohamed Nasheed, after a committee said his rights were violated and called for his immediate release.
The UN working group on arbitrary detention said Mr Nasheed did not receive a fair trial from the Maldivian authorities when he was given a 13-year sentence earlier this year.
Mr Nasheed, a friend of David Cameron and Barack Obama who led his country from 2008 to 2012, was convicted under anti-terrorism laws in March after a short trial during which he was accused of ordering the arrest and detention of a judge during his time as president. The court did not hear from any defence witnesses.
The case has become the setting of an unusual battle between two high-profile British lawyers. Mrs Clooney, the wife of George Clooney, the actor, is part of an international legal team representing Mr Nasheed, while Cherie Blair’s firm, Omnia Strategy, is representing the Maldives government.
The UN report represents an early victory for Mrs Clooney and her team, which referred the case to the working group. They argue that the former president, who stepped down from power amid an army mutiny and public protests, has been imprisoned for political reasons and to ensure he cannot run in the 2018 election.
Mrs Clooney’s team say they will seek international economic sanctions and travel bans for individuals connected to the Maldivian government until Mr Nasheed is freed.
Mrs Clooney said yesterday that she had found Mr Cameron “very supportive” of her efforts in free Mr Nasheed when she met him in June. She said she hoped to meet the Prime Minister again shortly to discuss the case.
In its full report, the UN group said Mr Nasheed suffered several violations of his legal rights, including the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.
“In the view of the working group, there were several serious due process violations which, taken together, demonstrate that Mr Nasheed did not receive a fair trial,” it said. The group of five independent legal experts concluded that Mr Nasheed should be released immediately and given the right to compensation.
But a representative of the legal team for the Maldives government said it did not accept the UN’s argument that the detention was arbitrary.
“The former president was convicted of an offence of the utmost seriousness by the Maldivian courts, and thus it is for the courts to rule upon whether that detention is lawful or otherwise,” said Toby Cadman. Calls for sanctions were “inappropriate”, he added.
Since his imprisonment, Mr Nasheed has suffered ill health from his previous incarcerations and torture, and his lawyers argue that he has not been given access to medical care.
Yesterday Mrs Clooney said civil society was “under threat” in the Indian Ocean island state. “Today all opposition leaders are imprisoned or facing charges. The Maldives is shifting away from the US and forming new partnerships with China and Saudi Arabia,” she said at her chambers in London.
Laila Ali, Mr Nasheed’s wife, told The Daily Telegraph how difficult it had been for the family, especially because they were only able to speak to him for 10 minutes on the phone once a week. She said it was “not as if I can hide it” from her children, aged 18 and 13.
She welcomed the UN report as providing “independent” backing to the campaign to free her husband.
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