US echoes Maldives pres polls concerns over more political jailings

United States (US) on Thursday echoed international concerns over the upcoming presidential elections in the crisis-hit Maldives after the shock jailing of former strongman Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

The 80 year old Gayoom who had ruled the country for three decades along with two top court judges were convicted of obstruction justice and sentenced to one year seven months and six days in prison on Wednesday.

US state department in a statement, expressed deep dismay over the jailing of the trio in what it alleged was "without being afforded necessary procedural protections, including a fair trial with the opportunity to call defense witnesses and have defense counsel."

The island nation has been embroiled in fresh political turmoil after the Supreme Court on February 1 ordered the immediate release of jailed political leaders including self-exiled former president Mohamed Nasheed.

President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom on February 5 had declared state of emergency after his last ditch attempt to convince the top court to revoke the order failed, purged the Supreme Court by arresting two judges and the remaining political leaders and ultimately had the order revoked.

Gayoom, along with Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed and top court judge Ali Hameed who had been arrested under the state of emergency had been charged with obstruction of justice over their refusal to handover their mobile phone to the police.

The three defendants had no legal representation during the last few hearing of the trial as their respective lawyers had quit accusing the court of completely ignoring the rights of the defendant to rush through the trial.

The prosecution witnesses were mainly police officers involved in the arrest of the three who testified that all of the defendants had refused to handover their phones at the time of the arrest.

The judge said the witness testimonies were irrefutable proof that the defendants had possessed mobile phones but had refused to hand them over in a clear attempt to impede the police investigation.

"This outcome casts serious doubt on the commitment of the Government of Maldives to the rule of law and calls into question its willingness to permit a free and fair presidential election in September that reflects the will of the Maldivian people," the US said in the statement.

"The United States joins other members of the international community in calling on President Yameen and the Government of Maldives to uphold the rule of law, respect the constitutionally-guaranteed legal protections and rights of all Maldivians, permit the full and proper functioning of the Parliament and judiciary, and abide by Maldives’ international human rights obligations and commitments."

On behalf of the international community, the US also called on the Maldives government to release political prisoners and to ensure a free and fair presidential elections slated for September.

The US had largely echoed similar concerns to south Asian giants India as international pressure mounts on embattled president Yameen seeking re-election in September.

Maldives government has however, hit-back at India by insisting that the trio were convicted and sentenced "as per national laws, regulations and procedures governing the criminal justice system in the Maldives."

"The Government of Maldives reiterates its commitment to upholding the rule of law and reassures that all criminal proceedings are carried out in compliance with the relevant laws and the Constitution of the Maldives," the statement read.