Jailed Maldives ex-president to seek surgery in UK: govt

(AFP) Maldives’ opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed, who is serving a 13-year jail term following a controversial trial, has been allowed to travel to Britain for surgery, the Maldives government said Saturday.

Nasheed, who became the country’s first democratically elected leader in 2008, has complained of a spinal cord problem requiring specialist surgery that is not available in the tiny Indian Ocean archipelago.

"The government of Maldives has granted permission to former president Nasheed to travel to the United Kingdom to undergo a surgery at his request," the foreign ministry said in a brief statement.

It added that the concession was on the "condition to serve the remainder of the (13-year) sentence upon return to the Maldives after the surgery."

A spokeswoman for his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) said lawyers were meeting with Nasheed at a prison island near the capital Saturday following the hardline government’s surprise announcement.

Nasheed’s lawyers had demanded for months that he be allowed specialist treatment abroad.

The 48-year-old was confined to jail in March 2015 on terror charges relating to the arrest of an allegedly corrupt judge in 2012, when he was still in power.

The UN has said his trial was seriously flawed and that he should be released and provided compensation for wrongful detention.

The government of President Abdulla Yameen has refused the accept the UN ruling and is resisting international pressure to release Nasheed.

His lengthy jail sentence was commuted to house arrest in July, but two months later police took him back to prison, in a surprise move that drew fresh criticism from the UN and the United States.





London-based barrister Amal Clooney and Washington-based lawyer Jared Genser have been pressuring the government of Yameen to unconditionally release Nasheed or face targeted sanctions from the international community.

– Diplomatic manoeuvres –

The sudden change of heart by the Maldivian government to allow Nasheed to travel abroad came amid a flurry of high-level diplomatic activity involving neighbouring India, Sri Lanka and former colonial power Britain.

India’s Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar visited Male for talks with the government and stopped over in Colombo this week while Sri Lanka’s foreign minister Mangala Samaraweera made an unscheduled visit to Male on Thursday.

Britain’s deputy foreign minister Hugo Swire was due in Male Saturday shortly after the government’s concession was initially announced on twitter by the Maldivian foreign ministry.

None of the countries has commented publicly on what was discussed during the visits, but diplomatic sources told AFP that backroom manoeuvring had contributed to the decision to allow Nasheed to travel. 

President Yameen, a half brother of former strongman Maumoon Abdul Gayoom who ruled for 30 years until his defeat at the first multi-party elections by Nasheed in 2008, has cracked down on dissent and arrested political opponents.

Yameen has said that a blast aboard his speed boat in which his wife and two others were injured in September was an attempt to assassinate him.

He sacked his defence minister and impeached his deputy president Ahmed Adeeb who was accused of trying to assassinate him.

In July, Yameen sacked his then deputy and running mate at the 2013 elections, Mohamed Jameel, on a charge of treason.

Jameel remains in self-imposed exile abroad while several opposition activists are either in jail or face prosecution for alleged anti-government activities.

Nasheed was forced out in what he called a coup led by the military and police in February 2012. Since then, the Maldives, a leading destination for upmarket tourists, has remained in political turmoil.

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