Police arrested the former leader of the Maldives on Monday as he campaigned to regain the presidency, the latest chapter in the political saga roiling the tiny string of islands south of India.
The winding case has rattled the young democracy, which shook off decades of autocratic rule just a few years ago. Mohamed Nasheed was charged this year with illegally ordering the arrest of a judge during his presidency. His decision to arrest the judge triggered protests and a police mutiny before Nasheed resigned in February, the culmination of weeks of turmoil.
Nasheed later said he had been forced to step down. The former president defended his push to arrest the judge, saying he believed his rulings were politically tainted, and warned the nation was being dragged back into the days of dictatorship.
In late August, a national commission found that there was no coup and that no one had threatened to kill the former president, as he claimed. A Maldives court issued an order for his arrest Sunday after he repeatedly failed to appear in court, the Maldives Police Services said in a statement Monday.
Nasheed and his allies have disputed the commission findings and argue the court case is a pretext to thwart him from campaigning ahead of the presidential elections, expected to be held next summer.
“The focus on human rights violations during only Nasheed’s presidency appears politically motivated,” said Abbas Faiz, Amnesty International researcher on the Maldives.
Government officials disputed the opposition claims that police had used excessive force during the arrest, telling the New York Times that Nasheed "wasn't even handcuffed."
The arrest is expected to set off new protests in the Maldives, where political battles have frequently exploded on the streets. Last week, a lawmaker allied with the government was stabbed to death outside his home.
On Monday, the U.S. Embassy in neighboring Sri Lanka sent a statement to Maldivian media urging both sides to stay calm, “reject the use of violence and to avoid rhetoric that could increase tensions.”
“It is our expectation that former President Nasheed be given every due process that the law allows,” said the statement.
If Nasheed is convicted, he could be imprisoned up to three years, taking him out of the presidential race. His trial is scheduled to begin Tuesday.
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: In this photo released by the Maldivian Democratic Party, Maldives police escort former President Mohamed Nasheed, center left, after he was arrested on Fares-Mathoda island in the Gaaf Dhaal atoll on Monday. Credit: Associated Press / Maldivian Democratic Party Secretariat