Former Maldives president risks arrest after trial boycott

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 October, 2012, 3:49pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 October, 2012, 3:49pm

The first elected president of the Maldives risks arrest after boycotting the scheduled start of his criminal trial and violating a travel ban, the government said on Tuesday.

Mohamed Nasheed had been due to go on trial on Monday on abuse of power charges in connection with the events that led to his toppling in February.

But his case was adjourned, without a new date being set, after Nasheed failed to turn up at court. He was then seen sailing out of the archipelago’s main island in defiance of an order to stay in the capital.

“The court will issue him another summons,” presidential media secretary Masood Imad told reporters.

“After the second summons, if he does not comply, the standard procedure is they (the court) will instruct the police to bring him in.”

Nasheed, who won the Maldives first democratic elections in 2008, had been ordered to appear before a three-judge bench in Male at an early evening sitting.

But he was seen leaving the capital by boat to meet with supporters of his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) in the south of the Maldives, an atoll nation of 1,192 tiny coral islets scattered across the equator.

“I don’t think the charges are correct,” Nasheed told reporters at the jetty.

The 45-year-old former leader told reporters at the weekend he did not expect a fair trial that could see him jailed or banished to a remote island.

The case centres on Nasheed’s decision to send the military to arrest a senior judge, which fuelled already simmering anti-government protests and culminated in a police mutiny in February and his ultimate downfall.

Nasheed justified the arrest of the chief criminal court judge by saying the judicial service commission had failed to act on a string of allegations against him.

Nasheed, a climate change campaigner who was tortured in jail during Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s three-decade rule of the Maldives, insists he was threatened by armed rebel officers and forced to announce his resignation on television.

But Mohamed Waheed, Nasheed’s deputy who became president, has rejected claims his former boss was forced to resign and that he is the target of a vendetta.

Apart from the criminal case, Nasheed also faces two defamation suits filed against him by Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz and by Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim.

A judge indefinitely postponed the first case on Sunday at the request of Riyaz, while the second case is due to be called on Tuesday, but official sources said it was also likely to be put off.

Political tensions have also been heightened by the murder of a ruling party legislator who was stabbed on the steps of his apartment in Male early on Tuesday.

Police said Afrasheem Ali’s killing was the first assassination of a lawmaker in the country’s history.

Ali was seen as a moderate Islamic scholar in the nation of 330,000 Sunni Muslims who have traditionally led a liberal lifestyle.

That reputation, however, has come under stress in recent years with the rise of religious extremism in a place best known as a honeymoon destination.

Supporters paid tribute to him on the micro-blogging site twitter with one blogger saying he was “one of the few religious scholars here who stood for gender equality and freedoms of the arts and cultural expressions”.