Britain grants refugee status to ex-president of Maldives Mohamed Nasheed, says lawyer

Mohamed Nasheed (front) visiting the National Orchid Garden on June 28, 2010 when he was Maldives president during a two-day official visit.
Mohamed Nasheed (front) visiting the National Orchid Garden on June 28, 2010 when he was Maldives president during a two-day official visit.ST PHOTO: CAROLINE CHIA

COLOMBO (REUTERS) - Britain has granted refugee status to Mohamed Nasheed, former president of the Maldives, who was jailed in 2015 after a trial that drew international criticism, his lawyer said on Monday.

Nasheed, the Maldives' first democratically elected president, was allowed to go to Britain in January for medical treatment after President Abdulla Yameen came under international pressure to let him leave.

Nasheed was jailed for 13 years on terrorism charges after illegally ordering the arrest of a judge in a trial that cast a spotlight on instability in the Indian Ocean archipelago known as a paradise for wealthy tourists.

"Nasheed has been granted political refugee status in the UK," Hasan Latheef, Nasheed's lawyer, told Reuters from the capital, Male.

A British High Commission official in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo said it did not comment on individual asylum cases. The Home Office (interior ministry) in London was not immediately available for comment.

Since his release from jail, Nasheed has called for sanctions against Yameen and his allies for detaining political prisoners, mainly opposition leaders, and for alleged human rights abuses in the Maldives.

On Monday Nasheed issued a statement accusing Yameen of jailing all opposition leaders and cracking down "on anyone who dares to oppose or criticise him".

"In the past year, freedom of the press, expression and assembly have all been lost. Given the slide towards authoritarianism in the Maldives, myself and other opposition politicians feel we have no choice but to work from exile - for now," Nasheed said in the statement.

Nasheed was ousted in disputed circumstances in 2012 after ordering the arrest of the judge. The United Nations, the United States and human rights groups said Yameen's government had failed to follow due process and that the case was politically motivated.

The Maldives foreign ministry said the reports of Nasheed seeking asylum demonstrated his intention to avoid serving his prison sentence and "once again exhibited a distinct lack of commitment to the legal process".

Yameen has proposed all-party talks to resolve the Maldives' political crisis but opposition parties insist their jailed leaders must first be released.

His government has faced international criticism over the detention of 18 journalists after they said a proposed defamation bill was aimed at suppressing freedom of expression.

Yameen, whose half-brother lost power to Nasheed in 2008, has rejected accusations that Nasheed's trial was politically motivated and said the legal process was fair.

In 2009, Nasheed led the world's first underwater cabinet meeting to draw attention to the threat to his country posed by rising sea levels.