NEW DELHI, India – Police in the Maldives arrested the Indian Ocean nation’s former president Mohamed Nasheed on Monday after he didn’t show up for a trial over accusations against him of abuse of power.
His arrest is the latest twist in the political turmoil this year that has shaken the Maldives, a popular tourist destination consisting of hundreds of coral islands south of India.
The authorities took Nasheed into custody at around 9:45 a.m. local time while he was campaigning on a remote island of the archipelago for upcoming presidential elections, according to police and the former president’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).
“We believe Nasheed’s arrest is politically motivated, aimed solely at preventing him from campaigning ahead of the presidential elections,” Ahmed Naseem, who served as foreign minister under Nasheed, said in a statement on the party’s website.
Nasheed, the predominantly Muslim nation’s first democratically elected president, resigned in February amid a police revolt prompted by his arrest of a top criminal court judge.
The former president and his supporters say he was forced from office at gunpoint in a coup orchestrated by his political opponents. But his successor and former vice president, Mohammed Waheed Hassan, insists the transfer of power was legitimate.
The Maldives Police Service say the trial at the Hulhumale Court relates to Nasheed’s arrest of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed earlier this year. The court issued the arrest warrant Sunday to ensure Nasheed attends the next hearing of the case, police said.
Nasheed said last week that he hadn’t received a court summons requiring him to attend the next hearing. He said he had written to the court to request that the hearing be rescheduled until after his planned return to the capital, Male, on Oct. 13.
But the authorities were unwilling to wait and arrested Nasheed on the southern island of Fares-Maathoda on Monday. Photos made available by the MDP showed him surrounded by more than a dozen police officers wearing helmets and body armor.
Naseem, the former foreign minister, accused the police of using “disproportionate force” to arrest Nasheed.
“They landed on this tiny island dressed in full SWAT gear and carrying weapons,” he said. “They behaved aggressively, and sometimes violently, towards Nasheed’s supporters.”
Nasheed and the MDP have questioned the legitimacy of the trial, saying that judges in the Maldives had been upset by the party’s campaign for judicial reform.
“It is impossible for any MDP Member, let alone President Nasheed to get a fair trial here,” Hamid Abdul Ghafoor, a party spokesman, said last month.
Nasheed is already familiar with the Maldives’ courts and prisons. Prior to becoming president, he was arrested as a journalist several times and held as a political prisoner.
He was a fierce critic of the former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who ruled the Maldives for 30 years before Nasheed defeated him in elections in 2008.
Nasheed accused Gayoom of running the country with an iron fist, crushing dissent, amassing wealth and stacking his administration with friends and relatives.
But Gayoom is still considered a hero by many in Maldives who credit him for transforming a fishing culture into a tourist nation.