Will The Maldives Take Three Guantánamo Prisoners?

12.12.09

President Mohamed Nasheed of the MaldivesFrom the Maldives, via a blogger named Firas, I found out that President Mohamed Nasheed (commonly known as Anni), the former Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience whose election in October 2008 finally brought to an end the 30-year dictatorship of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, has mentioned, in a radio address broadcast on the state radio station Voice of Maldives, that his government will accept three prisoners from Guantánamo.

Details of this agreement were not provided, but it would not be surprising if President Nasheed reached out to help cleared prisoners in Guantánamo who cannot be repatriated because of fears that they will be tortured. Between 1991 and 2006, he was imprisoned on several occasions, primarily for his opposition to the corruption of President Gayoom’s government. When Amnesty International made him a Prisoner of Conscience in 1991, he was being held in prison — where he stated that he was kept in solitary confinement and tortured — for writing an article in which he accused the government of rigging the general election in 1989.

In June 2009, President Nasheed was awarded the Anna Lindh Award “for his role in the Maldives’ peaceful transition to democracy” and his “great efforts to put people and their human rights at the heart of the debate on climate change,” and, as well as bringing the environmental plight of his country to the world’s attention, his speeches regularly focus on human rights and democracy. In his most recent radio address, for example, he said that “if any person believes his or her rights or freedoms have been violated by the government during its past one year, he or she has the opportunity to seek redress,” adding that “human rights violations in the Maldives in the past were the main obstacles that hampered development,” and that “many Maldivians had lost their lives and had gone through torture during the past 30 years.”

With reference to the three Guantánamo prisoners, he said, “While the Maldives extending a helping hand to three of those detainees will not eliminate human inhumanism from the Maldives or the world, [helping the detainees] will be a symbolic gesture,” and added that it was “a national obligation to help others as much as the country could.” Although he did not mention any specific details about his plans to accept the three prisoners, he praised President Obama for his efforts to close Guantánamo, adding that “a number of people detained were found to have no links to terrorism,” and emphasizing “the importance of assisting the innocent detainees to live in freedom.”

In his blog, Firas was enthusiastic about the President’s words. “In my opinion, this is the most important human rights gesture our government has made to date,” he wrote, adding that “other so-called Muslim nations either refuse to accept their own citizens or threaten them with more detention and torture upon their return.” This was perhaps a little harsh, although one of his inferences — that the Maldives would be the first Muslim nation to accept prisoners other than its own citizens — is certainly correct, and I hope to see this story confirmed in the near future.

Perhaps the lucky recipients of Anni’s largesse will be three of the seven remaining Uighurs in Guantánamo (Muslims from China’s Xinjiang province), who, after the resettlement of others in Bermuda and Palau, seem destined to be resettled in small island nations that are capable of resisting threats from the Chinese government, which regards the Uighurs in Guantánamo as terrorists. In the case of the Maldives, the important geo-political factor at play seems to be a move from Chinese support under President Gayoom to Indian support under President Nasheed.

In other news, the US Embassy in Sofia told AFP on Friday that “US Special Envoy for Guantánamo Closure Daniel Fried visited Bulgaria from December 2-3 and met with Bulgarian officials,” who have been asked to accept three other cleared prisoners from Guantánamo. Novinite.com, a news agency in Sofia, stated that Fried was “reported to have already met with Bulgarian Interior Minister and Deputy PM Tsvetan Tsvetanov and to have discussed the Guantánamo issue with [them],” and that a decision was now awaited from Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, although today Mr. Borisov moved to quell undue expectations by stating, “My personal opinion is that we should accept one person.”

This follows an announcement on December 2, by the Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha (also following a meeting with Fried), that Albania has also agreed to accept a number of Guantánamo prisoners. “Since my meeting in January with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton I have expressed a readiness to host more Guantánamo prisoners,” Berisha told reporters, adding, “My position is based on humanitarian grounds.”

Back in 2006, Albania was the only country to accept cleared prisoners from Guantánamo, taking eight men in total, including five Uighurs, but Prime Minister Berisha noted that his country would not be taking any more Uighurs, because it “does not want risk aggravating its good relationship with China.”

Since coming to power, President Obama has released just 30 prisoners, including, last week, a Kuwaiti, Fouad al-Rabiah, whose release was ordered by a US judge 12 weeks ago, after she ruled that he had been tortured to produce false confessions. 21 of these prisoners have been sent to countries that are not their home countries (including two Tunisians, whose transfer to Italy, to face trials, took the form of an extradition, or a “rendition to justice”). 210 prisoners remain in Guantánamo, and, according to an announcement last week, 115 of these men have been cleared for release, although, as I explained at the time, offers by countries including the Maldives, Bulgaria and Albania are unlikely to make a dent in these figures unless the Obama administration reaches an agreement to repatriate Yemeni prisoners (who make up nearly half of the prison’s total population), and also rediscovers its moral compass by finding a way to rehouse some cleared prisoners on the US mainland.

Note: See here for an article about Ibrahim Fauzee, the only Maldivian held at Guantánamo, who was released in May 2005, but only spoke out about his experiences in October 2008, after Mohamed Nasheed’s election victory. Fauzee, who was seized in May 2002 in Karachi, Pakistan, where he was studying, explained, “When the US allowed Maldivian police to visit me, they tried to ask me if I planned to oust Gayoom. They didn’t try to help me out of detention when they could have. That’s why I hold Gayoom responsible for my prolonged stay in detention.” He added that Gayoom’s government “had kept his arrest in Pakistan and his detention at Guantánamo a secret until some local journalists unearthed the story,” and added, “When the US finally cleared me and released me in 2005, Gayoom’s people tried to trick me into saying they helped (bring about) my release.” He also explained that he was “constantly shadowed by Gayoom’s police after being freed, forcing him into years of silence about his ordeal.”

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and launched in October 2009), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

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