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Former Maldives President Manhandled into Court then Denied Bail on 'Terrorism' Offences

Mohamed Nasheed, the first democratically elected president of the Maldives, was physically dragged into court by security forces today, after being arrested on Sunday.

by Sally Hayden
Feb 23 2015, 5:57pm

Photo by Sinan Hussain/AP

Former Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed spent Monday being manhandled, refused bail, and denied legal representation, after he was arrested on Sunday under accusations of terrorism charges.

Opposition leader Nasheed stands accused of using the military to arrest Abdulla Mohamed, the chief justice of the criminal court — an act that forced Nasheed's resignation from his head of state position in February 2012. Mohamed was detained after ordering the release of the then-opposition leader Mohamed Jameel Ahmed, on the grounds that his detention was unlawful.

Nasheed, of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), made a court appearance today and he was physically dragged into the building. There were subsequent reports that his arm was injured in the melee. Nasheed's team of five lawyers was also denied access to proceedings. Several said on social media that this was a result of their failure to register 48 hours in advance, though his spokesperson noted that they hadn't been given 48 hours warning.

A spokesperson for Nasheed told VICE News she was finding the lack of information on his situation very frustrating, and that his supporters are concerned about his physical and medical state.

statement released on behalf of Nasheed today said: "The court's action means that President Nasheed will be forced to represent himself during the hearing."

Meanwhile, MDP spokesman Hamid Abdul Gaffoor said in another statement that there was no reason to keep the opposition leader in detention because he is not a flight risk. "Nasheed had never absconded from court, nor has taken the opportunity to flee or go into hiding," he said and demanded that the authorities release him immediately.

After his resignation, Nasheed ran for election again, but lost the vote in 2013 to current president Yameen Abdul Gayyoom, a half-brother of Maumoon Abdul Gayyoom, the nation's autocratic ruler for 30 years.

Abbas Faiz, Amnesty International senior researcher for South Asia, told VICE News that Nasheed's treatment on Monday had highlighted "fundamental flaws in the judicial process" in the Maldives.

"Everyone has the right to be represented by a lawyer or by a legal defense team," Faiz said, adding that the denial of this appeared to be "arbitrary." If convicted of terrorism charges, Nasheed would be barred from contesting in the next presidential election, according to Faiz. "It appears the entire process is intended to remove him from taking part in politics."

Faiz also said that while Amnesty would never say that someone didn't have to be accountable for any wrong that they had done, the actions of the Maldivian government here was an example of "selective justice."

Nasheed was the first democratically elected president of the island nation and his website claims that he is "often dubbed the Mandela of the Maldives."

In 2012 Nasheed wrote an opinion piece in the Financial Times where he said that he was no stranger to jail, "having spent much of my adult life in incarceration, punishment for advocating democracy in my country."

Nasheed said that he had faced terrorism charges before, in 2006, after a speech he gave against corruption "terrorized" listeners. "Once again, an authoritarian regime, effectively controlled by the old dictator, is pressing politically motivated charges against me," he said.

"The Maldives, a youthful, Muslim country whose people rose up and shook off decades of authoritarian rule, provides an important lesson for democrats in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and other countries caught in the Arab uprisings. Even after the revolution, the old guard can linger on and suffocate fledgling democracy."

Nasheed also claimed that "Islamic extremists" were partly responsible for his fall from power. 

While Nasheed was in power he made headlines for his attempts to tackle the impacts of climate change, which included setting aside money for relocating the country's population to another area of land, due to the fact that the Maldives are slowly being subsumed by rising sea levels.

In 2008, he told the Guardian: "We can do nothing to stop climate change on our own, so we have to buy land elsewhere. It's an insurance policy for the worst possible outcome. We do not want to leave the Maldives, but we also do not want to be climate refugees living in tents for decades."

Today, in response to a question about recent developments, an Indian government spokesperson expressed concern at the "arrest and manhandling of former President Nasheed." 

"We urge all concerned to calm the situation and resolve their differences within the constitutional and legal framework of Maldives," he said, while adding that the Indian government would continue to support the citizens and government of the Maldives in their "quest for peace, development, prosperity, and democracy."

Meanwhile, businessman Richard Branson — who conducts business in the Maldives — tweeted that he found the news that Nasheed had been arrested "very disturbing." "If Maldives want people to visit," he added, the government "must act democratically." In 2011, Branson "name-dropped" that he was having lunch with Nasheed. After Nasheed resigned, Branson wrote interim president Waheed an open letter questioning what had happened.

Amnesty International has other serious questions around the application of justice in the Maldives, according to Faiz. These include worries about the continued application of flogging, the breadth of impunity, and the possibility that the application of the death penalty will soon be reintroduced.

Acute water shortage leads to state of emergency in the Maldives. Read more here.

Follow Sally Hayden on Twitter: @sallyhayd