Crime Diplomacy Opinion Politics

‘India acted irresponsibly’: Ex-Maldives V-P’s lawyer on denied entry

London-based human rights lawyer Toby Cadman has urged India to grant the former vice-president of Maldives and his client, Ahmed Adeeb, political asylum. (AP)

London-based human rights lawyer Toby Cadman of Guernica 37 of the on Friday issued a strong press statement, urging India to grant the former vice-president of the Maldives and his client, Ahmed Adeeb, political asylum. Adeeb’s passport was impounded by his country’s Supreme Court and travel debarred. He is wanted for questioning in connection with a USD 90 million dollar money laundering scam and other financial irregularities.

The 37-year-old had landed in Thootukudi in Tamil Nadu as a stowaway on a tugboat last week but Indian authorities sent him back to the Maldives. In an e-mail interview with Padma Rao Sundarji, Cadman says India has acted irresponsibly since Adeeb’s request for protection was pending with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Q: Your client, Ahmed Adeeb attempted to enter India as a stowaway on a tugboat some days ago. He was deported. Why would the former vice-president of one sovereign democratic country make an illegal and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to enter another?

A: The risk that Mr Adeeb took in fleeing the Maldives by sea is indicative of the gravity of his situation. He spent 3 years in prison and was ultimately acquitted by the Supreme Court. Much of the evidence presented against him was not disclosed to the defence. The judiciary in the Maldives has been characterized as under the control of the executive. Mr Adeeb was placed under house arrest. He was being coerced to give statements against other persons. Necessary medical treatment was withheld until he signed an agreement to that effect. Such coercive conduct by the authorities is unlawful.

Q: India’s foreign ministry has said that Adeeb was deported because he didn’t enter India through a ‘designated entry point’ and “didn’t possess a valid travel document.” Obviously, your client violated Indian laws so how can he be allowed to stay?

A: Irrespective of whether he had entered the country illegally, the Indian authorities were under an obligation to properly assess his request and provide him with protection. It is not entirely clear what happened when Mr Adeeb arrived in India. I spoke briefly to him when he arrived but was prevented from speaking to him thereafter. I was informed by the Chief of Police that he was not under arrest and was not being detained and that I should speak to the local government.

I attempted to contact the chief secretary of the Tamil-Nadu government but he failed to respond to any of the messages I sent. I was then informed that Mr Adeeb was held on the boat in the port of Tuticorin (Thoothukudi) about 500m from the shore. I was provided with photos to prove this and told that state and central government representatives were on board, questioning Mr Adeeb. I was concerned that the Indian authorities would keep Mr Adeeb on board the boat, claiming that it was still in international waters, so that they could simply hand him over to the Maldivian authorities, as we believe they have now done, at a time when the UNHCR and UNOHCHR were considering my client’s request for protection. India’s response disregards both national and international law. That should cause some concern.

Q: Adeeb was in India for medical treatment just months ago. Why didn’t he use that opportunity to make his case for asylum in India?

A: I can only say that Mr Adeeb was under constant police guard whilst he was in India seeking medical treatment and that although the UNHCR were contacted during this time, they failed to take any timely action. It is regrettable that the UNHCR Office in Delhi must bear some responsibility. Their inaction has resulted in Mr Adeeb being forcibly and unlawfully returned to the Maldives and must be the subject of an internal enquiry.

Q: Several years ago, Mr Adeeb was in the international spotlight when he disclosed details of his cellphone records to Al-Jazeera for its investigative documentary, ‘Stealing Paradise’. It was an attempt to take revenge on the ex-president and his former ‘partner’, Abdullah Yameen with whom he had fallen out after allegedly conducting many nefarious deals along with him, including siphoning off US 90 million from the government’s coffers. Transparency International (TI) points out that illicit monies from undervalued leases on Maldivian atolls were paid into an account jointly held by the former president, others and -your client, Mr Adeeb too. Given this background, wouldn’t Mr Adeeb naturally be perceived as a fugitive on the run from the law, rather than as a politically-persecuted refugee whose life is in danger?

A: It is precisely those investigations that put Mr Adeeb in danger. It is notable that the Supreme Court acquitted him due to the political interference in his trial. The fact that a person is accused of a criminal offence does not mean that that person is guilty, nor that he has no human rights or fundamental freedom. To assume that a person should not be entitled to such rights because they held high political office, or because the allegations against him are serious, creates a very dangerous precedent. Both India and the Maldives purport to be democracies based on the rule of law. It is important that such principles are upheld.

The Al Jazeera documentary was the result of a journalistic enquiry, not a criminal investigation to the criminal standard. Its results are not admissible in a court of law, and it should not be considered the basis for watering down such fundamental rights either.

Q. Since India has sent Mr Adeeb back, what does he plan next? Will he apply to the UK or, to European countries with strong traditions of accepting refugees who claim to be escaping death in their home countries?

A: As his legal counsel, I am waiting for official communication that he has been unlawfully handed over to the Maldivian authorities. As we now believe he is being detained by the Maldivian authorities, we will be petitioning the UN Special Procedures in Geneva, in particular, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. As for other activities, we’ll take that up with Mr Adeeb once we have discussed his legal options with him.

“India’s response disregards both national and international law”

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