Male, Maldives: The United States and regional power India have voiced concern after former Maldives president Mohammad Nasheed was forcibly dragged into court to face terrorism charges and denied legal access and medical treatment.
Nasheed, who was ousted three years ago, was denied bail at a brief hearing on Monday after being arrested on what critics have labelled trumped-up charges.
The dramatic arrest came amid growing opposition to the government of President Abdulla Yameen, whose spokesman on Tuesday denied that the move was politically motivated.
“Everything is (happening) according to the law,” spokesman Ebrahim Muaz Ali said, rejecting international criticism over the handling of the case.
“This is an internal matter for the Maldives. We are an independent country since 1965.”
Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party has said that what it called the “trumped-up charges of terrorism” are aimed at cracking down on the opposition before a planned protest rally on Friday.
The Maldives is a major tourist attraction, but political unrest has dented its image as a peaceful island paradise in recent years.
Ali’s comments came after regional power India expressed concern over the “arrest and manhandling” of the country’s first democratically elected leader.
India’s foreign ministry said both sides should “resolve their differences within the constitutional and legal framework of Maldives”.
US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Nisha Biswal also voiced concern at Nasheed’s arrest when she spoke to the Maldivian foreign minister at the weekend, a State Department spokeswoman said.
“She (Biswal) urged the government to take steps to restore confidence in ... their commitment to democracy, judicial independence, and rule of law, including respect for the right to peaceful protest and respect for due process,” spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
The Commonwealth has also expressed concern, while Canada’s Foreign Minister Rob Nicholson said the allegation of terrorism was “politically charged” and “abhorrent”.
Police hauled the former leader into the court in the capital Male on Monday, ignoring his plea to be allowed to walk in himself.
Nasheed told the court that his arm hurt after police violently pushed him to the ground, but the three-judge bench brushed aside his complaints, only asking police to grant him “necessary treatment” after the hearing.
Nasheed was later seen being taken away by boat to the nearby prison islet of Dhoonidhoo. His shirt buttons were missing and he looked to be in pain throughout the hearing.
The charges, which carry a penalty of more than 10 years in prison, relate to the January 2012 arrest of then-criminal court chief judge Abdullah Mohammad, when Nasheed was still president.
Since stepping down, Nasheed has been plagued with court action over the 2012 saga, with the most recent arrest coming just days after the state prosecutor dropped charges of abuse of power against him.
Mousa Ali Jaleel, who was head of armed forces under Nasheed and is now the defence minister, and three others have also been charged.
However, the president’s spokesman Ali said Jaleel would remain part of the cabinet since he and the other accused were considered innocent until proved guilty.
Nasheed resigned as the Maldives’ leader in February 2012 after a mutiny by police and troops that followed weeks of protests over the arrest of the criminal court judge Mohammad on corruption allegations.
Yameen came to power in November 2013 after an election that Nasheed initially led before losing in a controversial run-off.
The next presidential election is not due until late 2018, but the opposition has been staging regular anti-government demonstrations in Male.