Former Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed, the renowned climate and human rights crusader who was ousted in a military coup in 2012, was arrested Sunday on charges of terrorism and then forcibly dragged by police into criminal court on Monday.
Nasheed, the first democratically elected leader of the island nation, was charged under tough anti-terrorism laws that carry a penalty of more than 10 years in jail. According to news sources, the case relates to Nasheed's 2012 decision to arrest Abdulla Mohamed, chief judge of the Criminal Court.
The New York Times reports that Nasheed, now leader of the country's main opposition party, "is accused of using the military to arrest the senior judge when it had no authority to do so...He also is accused of detaining Mr. Mohamed for weeks without trial or legal counsel and ignoring a Supreme Court order to release him."
But according to Agence France-Presse, the Maldivian Democratic Party "has argued that his arrest on 'trumped-up charges of terrorism' is an attempt to shut down growing opposition to the government of President Abdulla Yameen before a planned protest rally on Friday."
Nasheed’s top legal adviser, Hissan Hussein, told AFP the charges against Nasheed were "blatantly politically motivated" and condemned authorities for refusing him legal access. "This arrest and detention is completely arbitrary," Hussein said. "The conduct of the courts, police and President Yameen's administration has been reprehensible."
After Nasheed, 47, was detained on Sunday, hundreds of party activists took to the streets shouting anti-government slogans.
Their cries grew louder on Monday, following a scuffle between Nasheed and police officers outside court in the capital of Malé. Video shows Nasheed stopping to talk to journalists and police dragging him away. The Indian Ministry of External Affairs described the police conduct as "manhandling."
According to journalists on the scene, Nasheed's shirt buttons were missing and he appeared in pain following the altercation. The BBC reported that Nasheed, who was denied bail, "was later seen with his arm in a sling."
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The Maldivian daily newspaper Haveeru caught the scene on film:
Outraged by the incident and arrest, thousands protested in Malé on Monday, calling for Nasheed's release and Yameen's resignation.
Nasheed's supporters also took their message to Twitter:
"As president, Nasheed had become one of the world’s most outspoken figures in the struggle against climate change, given the impending impact of rising sea levels on his country’s survival," Stephen Zunes wrote in 2012. "A journalist by training, Nasheed was repeatedly jailed and tortured for his writings exposing government corruption and other abuses under the Gayoom regime. He eventually found himself leading a campaign of nonviolent protests and civil disobedience which eventually brought an end to a thirty-year dictatorship which had facilitated corruption, drug trafficking and human rights abuses."
Zunes continued: "[R]egardless of the circumstances surrounding Nasheed’s resignation, it seems clearer every day that the regime that replaced his government has little regard for human rights or the democratic process. Indeed, the real test of a government’s legitimacy is its tolerance of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly."