Cherie Blair clashes with Amal Clooney over Maldives

Cherie Blair (left) hit out at a call by fellow high-profile lawyer Amal Clooney (right) for sanctions against the island nation.
Cherie Blair (left) hit out at a call by fellow high-profile lawyer Amal Clooney (right) for sanctions against the island nation.REUTERS, AFP

COLOMBO (AFP) - Maldives government attorney Cherie Blair hit out on Thursday at a call by fellow high-profile lawyer Amal Clooney for sanctions against the island nation over its treatment of dissidents.

The row centres on former Maldivian president Mohamed Nasheed, who was jailed for 13 years in March this year and whose rushed trial has been internationally condemned as a travesty of justice.

Clooney, a lawyer for the former leader, last week warned her team would press for targeted sanctions against key figures in the Maldives unless he was freed.

But Blair, who represents the Maldives government, said the sanctions call was "unjustified" and a threat to the economic stability of the honeymoon island, which depends on upscale tourism.

"The call for sanctions is inappropriate and unjustified," Blair, the wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, said.

"They ought not be used when dealing with a single case.

"The use of such sanctions threatens the economic stability of the Maldives."

Nasheed was jailed after ordering the arrest of an allegedly corrupt judge when he was still president in 2012.

The UN had said his rushed trial earlier this year was seriously flawed.

Clooney, who is married to Hollywood actor George Clooney, has described the human rights situation in the Indian Ocean archipelago as "deteriorating day by day".

"The next stage will be to pursue targeted sanctions, travel bans and any other action and recourse that we have against the government until this matter is resolved," she told reporters last week.

Nasheed's Maldivian Democratic Party has also called for some 1,700 cases against dissidents in the Indian Ocean atoll nation to be dropped, arguing they are politically motivated.

His 13-year jail sentence was commuted to house arrest in July, but last month police took him back to prison in a surprise move that drew fresh criticism from the UN and the US.

Faced with mounting international pressure, Maldivian authorities have tried to distance themselves from the controversial judgement, but its unusual step of appealing his conviction was shot down by courts.

Nasheed was the country's first democratically elected leader. He ruled from 2008 to February 2012, when he was forced to resign following a mutiny by police and troops.