Maldives ex-president refused bail, denied legal access on terrorism charges

MALÉ (AFP) - A court in the Maldives on Monday refused bail to former president Mohamed Nasheed after he was arrested on terrorism charges and denied access to his lawyers, his party said.

Police forcibly dragged the opposition leader into the court in the capital Male, ignoring his plea to be allowed to walk in himself, and he was taken to hospital after the hearing.

"The court ordered President Nasheed to be kept in police custody until the end of the trial," said a spokeswoman for the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), Shauna Aminath.

The MDP says his arrest on "trumped-up charges of terrorism" was an attempt to shut down growing opposition agitation against the government of President Abdulla Yameen before a planned protest rally on Friday.

Nasheed's lawyer said the charges against him were "blatantly politically motivated" and condemned authorities for refusing him legal access.

"This arrest and detention is completely arbitrary," said Nasheed's top legal adviser, Hissan Hussein.

"The conduct of the courts, police and President Yameen's administration has been reprehensible." The MDP said Nasheed had been told lawyers should have registered two days before the hearing - even though he was only arrested and charged on Sunday.

State prosecutors pressed the court to deny Nasheed bail after he took refuge at the Indian High Commission (embassy) to avoid arrest in 2013.

He asked for medical attention and was taken to hospital after the hearing finished, but was not thought to be seriously injured.

Hundreds of party activists took to the streets shouting anti-government slogans after Nasheed, the country's first democratically elected president, was detained on Sunday.

The charges against the 47-year-old relate to the 2012 arrest of the atoll nation's criminal court chief judge Abdullah Mohamed for alleged corruption.

The ex-president's party, in a statement Sunday night, said there was "little hope president Nasheed can be afforded anything approaching a fair trial".

There was no immediate comment from the authorities.

UNREST DENTS IMAGE

The Maldives is a major tourist attraction, but political unrest has dented its image as a peaceful island paradise in recent years - particularly since Nasheed's February 2012 ousting in what he described as a coup.

International reaction to his arrest has so far been muted, but Britain's junior foreign minister Hugo Swire said he was "very concerned".

"UK watching closely. Urge calm and restraint on all sides," Swire tweeted.

Nasheed resigned as president in February 2012 following a mutiny by police and troops that followed weeks of protest over Mohamed's arrest.

Since his downfall, he has been plagued with court action over the judge's arrest.

The former president was detained just days after the state prosecutor dropped criminal charges of abuse of power against him over the arrest.

On Sunday he was charged again, this time under tough anti-terrorism laws that carry a higher maximum penalty of over 10 years in jail.

Yameen came to power in November 2013 after an election that Nasheed initially led, although without an outright majority.

Yameen won a controversial run-off election with the help of another eliminated presidential candidate and business tycoon Qasim Ibrahim, who has since become an ally of Nasheed.

Last month, he sacked his defence minister Mohamed Nasim and later had him arrested on charges of illegally possessing a weapon.

The next presidential election is not due until late 2018, but the opposition has been staging regular anti-government demonstrations in the tiny island capital Male.