The Maldives was on the boil again on Sunday after authorities arrested former president Mohamed Nasheed on terrorism charges and ordered him to face trial for his 2012 decision to detain a top judge.
The Maldives Police Service arrested the leader of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) from his home with a warrant from the Criminal Court. Ali Waheed, chairperson of the MDP, was also arrested.
The arrest triggered protests by scores of Nasheed’s supporters, who gathered near his home and clashed with police, reports said. Hundreds of opposition supporters also gathered in different parts of the national capital Male.
The development came just a fortnight before an expected visit by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as part of his tour of four countries in the Indian Ocean region. Modi is expected to arrive in the Maldives on March 15.
Nasheed, ousted from the post of president three years ago, was detained on “terrorism allegations for having arrested and detained Abdulla Ghazi, the Chief Judge of the Criminal Court, during his administration”, Haveeru news portal reported.
According to the warrant, police were ordered to arrest Nasheed so that he would have “no opportunity to flee before trial”. Aides said he was taken to a prison in Dhoonidhoo Island.
The first hearing of the case was scheduled for Monday. Nasheed has been accused of using the military to arrest the senior judge when it had no authority to do so. He is also accused of ignoring a Supreme Court order to release the judge. If found guilty, Nasheed could face a prison term of 10 years.
Before being taken to Dhoonidhoo Island, Nasheed told reporters: “I call on the Maldivian public to do everything necessary to stop the arrest and harassment of myself and other politicians to save the Maldives.”
Nasheed has angered the Maldives government by seeking Indian intervention to counter the possible imposition of emergency by President Abdullah Yameen. In several interviews with the Indian media over the past few days, he had also expressed fears that he would be arrested.
Nasheed claimed in the interviews that the political crisis in the Maldives had deepened with the sacking of the defence minister last month and the decision by Gasim Ibrahim of the Jamhoree Party to withdraw support to Yameen.
He claimed he would prove the majority of his alliance on the floor of parliament next month.
Reacting to Nasheed’s comments, Maldives Islamic Minister Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed said on Sunday that religious extremists were backing Nasheed.
In February 2012, political unrest in the Maldives following the ouster of Nasheed briefly threatened the country's vital tourism industry, which draws thousands of well-heeled visitors every year.
The sea-faring nation is important as it has become a new area of competition between India and China.
Its more than 1,000 islands sit astride the world's most important east west shipping channel and its strategic location was appreciated by former colonial master Britain, which ran a military base there until 1976.