The Maldives said Wednesday an arrest warrant has been issued for ex-president Mohamed Nasheed for failing to return to the troubled archipelago to complete a jail sentence after receiving medical care in Britain.
Nasheed, the Maldives’ first democratically elected president, won political asylum in Britain in May after being granted permission to travel there for treatment while serving the sentence for a terror-related offence.
“A court order (has been) issued for arrest of former president Mohamed Nasheed,” the government said in a statement, released days after Nasheed flew to neighbouring Sri Lanka.
“The Maldives correctional service is seeking to have him brought back to serve the remainder of his 13-year sentence,” the statement said.
Opposition sources said Nasheed has been meeting Maldives opposition groups in Sri Lanka in recent days to hatch a plan to topple President Abdulla Yameen.
Nasheed was among members of several exiled opposition groups meeting in Colombo, two people in Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party told AFP at the weekend.
The Indian Ocean island chain has been gripped by political turmoil since Nasheed was forced to resign in 2012, denting its image as a paradise for upmarket tourists.
Nasheed was sentenced to prison in March 2015 after being convicted on a charge of terrorism for having a judge arrested during his time as president.
The international community has fiercely criticised what they say is Yameen’s unlawful jailing of Nasheed as well as a string of other opponents in a crackdown on dissent.
The Maldives government has accused Nasheed -- whose legal team includes high-profile human rights lawyer Amal Clooney -- of only securing asylum to avoid serving jail time.
Nasheed’s party on Wednesday played down the chances of his being arrested abroad since he had already secured asylum.
“I am wondering how the Maldivian government plans to execute the arrest warrant,” Colombo-based party spokesman Hamid Abdul Ghafoor told AFP.
Ghafoor declined to say if Nasheed planned to return voluntarily to his homeland at some stage in the future, something he told reporters in London earlier this year was on the cards.
- ‘Democracy under threat’ -
Nasheed, a climate change activist who was also imprisoned during the three-decade rule of former strongman Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, was elected president in 2008.
But he was forced to resign in February 2012 after a mutiny by police and troops, which followed protests over the arrest of the top judge for alleged corruption as well as for politically motivated rulings.
Yameen, a half-brother of former strongman Gayoom, won a presidential election run-off against Nasheed in late 2013.
US Secretary of State John Kerry warned in May last year that democracy in the Maldives was under threat, saying Nasheed had been “imprisoned without due process”.
In June Yameen’s former deputy Ahmed Adeeb was jailed for 15 years on a charge of plotting to assassinate the president.
Sources close to Nasheed said he was eager to discuss the Maldives turmoil with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who is due to arrive in Colombo late Wednesday on a two-day visit for talks with Sri Lankan leaders.
“He would be keen to meet with Ban Ki-moon,” a person close to Nasheed said, adding that no formal request for a meeting has been made.