Amal Clooney was a prominent international human rights lawyer long before she acquired a famous name from her husband, Hollywood actor George Clooney, she discusses the plight of her client Mohamed Nasheed, the former president, Democratically elected, of the Maldives, islands in the Indian Ocean, he has since been granted asylum in the UK.
The Maldives are known as an idyllic vacation destination, but they now have become a top recruiting ground for ISIS. Then, in 2015 former president Nasheed was thrown into prison in what he describes as simply a coup. And he was sentenced to thirteen years there.
Amal – ‘’You have an increasing authoritarian regime where protesters are being rounded up and arrested, where lawyers are being attacked, TV stations are being closed down, and every opposition leader in the country is now either behind bars or being persecuted by the government. So my client is one of them.
And he was subjected to a political show trial, as is now being recognized by the UN and others, when in Washington earlier this year, I was meeting members of the administration and with members of Congress to discuss the imposition of targeted sanctions against members of the regime’’.
Let me ask you a basic question that many in America, when they hear stories like this, it’s tragic, but then they say, “Why is this America’s problem?”
I understand the question. I mean, Maldives is not usually the top of anyone’s political agenda. And it may be on the short list of holiday destinations. I think there are two reasons. First of all, U.S. values are at stake. You know, in then president (Barack Obama’s) State of the Union address, he said American leadership in the 21st century means rallying the world around causes that are right.
And he gave an example, the U.S. supporting Ukraine’s fight for democracy. And that’s what we’re asking for too in this case. Maldivians have the right to democracy, and their democracy is under threat at the moment. There’s another reason that is also not very well known. Just last month, the European parliament issued a report saying that at the moment, the Maldives has the highest per capita rate of recruitment to ISIS in the world. And this is really shocking. So the figures that have been released by the State Department say 200 fighters have gone from the Maldives to Iraq or Syria.
Is this a country that you feel as if it is enabling ISIS and is serving as a breeding ground for ISIS?
The President has made speeches saying that there’s only room for Islam in the Maldives and Sharia punishment should be imposed. You’ve had fighters who’ve gone to ISIS come back to the country and not be prosecuted. Also last year, you had a rally on the streets of Malé where people were waving ISIS flags and the police did not crack down on those and no arrests took place. So you certainly have a regime that could be doing a lot more to minimize the terrorist threat.
Because of your last name, you were attacked by one of the Vice Presidents at he time, that helped in the coup. He said, ‘your only up to being just part of the Hollywood fictional world that is trying to make up things about the Maldives’. What happened to that gentleman?
So his attack was that I didn’t let facts get in the way when I was saying that Nasheed had been subjected to an unfair trial and that there were political prisoners in the country. What has happened since then is that he himself was arrested, follow, you know, because the president is now increasingly paranoid I think and is going after members of his own party, having dealt with the opposition in its entirety.
He announced it from the jail cell and penned a very different op-ed to the one that attacked me and said, “What are these lawyers talking about?” That he now says, and I believe this is a direct quote, “I join the swelling ranks of political prisoners in the Maldives, including President Nasheed.” And he also adds, you know, “Any casual observer of the judicial system in the Maldives knows that it’s impossible to get a fair trial here.”
Is this a case where your connection to celebrity, is it an asset or a liability in something like this?
I think that it’s easy to dismiss criticism on that basis, like, you know, I think the kind of attacks that I got from that Vice President just smacks of desperation and is easy to dispose of. So it’s not something that’s worrying. I think on the other hand, if in representing this client and trying to just secure his release and the release of other political prisoners, if people are made aware of the situation in the Maldives, I think that’s a good thing.
Because there are thousands of tourists going every year. And I think if people know what’s going on, they might find that they don’t want to support that regime either, you know? If you’re a woman lying on the beach in the Maldives, you might want to know that a kilometer away, another woman is being flogged. And you might want to find your own way to protest that.
Published in association with NBC, Meet The Press.