COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Police in the Maldives arrested former President Mohamed Nasheed on Monday after he twice failed to appear before a court to face charges that he illegally ordered the arrest of a judge while in office.
Nasheed, who has said the military ousted him in a coup earlier this year, was arrested while campaigning for next year's elections. His arrest could trigger protests by his supporters who have previously clashed with police in the Indian ocean archipelago and who say the charges against him are politically motivated.
Police spokesman Hasan Haneef said Nasheed was arrested on Fares-Mathoda island, in the Gaaf Dhaal atoll, around 440 kilometers away from the capital Male on Monday and was being brought to Male by boat.
"He is in police custody in order to be produced before courts on Tuesday," Haneef added.
On Sunday, Hulhumale magistrate court issued an arrest warrant on Nasheed after he twice defied summons to appear before courts. The same courts, two weeks ago, ordered him not to leave the capital, Male, without the court's permission. Nasheed defied that order too.
Nasheed's Maldivian Democratic Party condemned the arrest, saying it was politically motivated.
"This morning, at 9:45 a.m., 50 heavily armed masked police in full riot gear and wearing gas masks smashed down the door of a house where President Nasheed and his campaign team were staying and took him into custody," the MDP statement said.
"The police used disproportionate force to arrest Nasheed. They landed on this tiny island dressed in full SWAT gear and carrying weapons. They behaved aggressively, and sometimes violently, towards Nasheed's supporters," said Ahmed Naseem, former foreign affairs minister in Nasheed's government, in the release.
Police came in speedboats, and coast guard vessels were also seen near the island. Except for two police media officials, all the police were in full riot gear, fully masked with tear gas guns, it said, adding that Naseem and Nasheed's ex-press secretary were pepper sprayed and dragged from the house.
Naseem also said the arrest was "aimed at solely at preventing him from campaigning ahead of the presidential elections."
The party said last week that the Hulhumale court itself was created in violation of the constitution and therefore is illegal. It also said Nasheed may not get a fair trial.
The charge against Nasheed carries a maximum penalty of three years' imprisonment or banishment to a remote island.
The United States urged all parties to respect the rule of law and the constitution.
"We urge all sides to remain 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," the U.S. Embassy in Colombo said in a statement.
Nasheed was a democracy activist and political prisoner before becoming president in the Maldives's first multiparty election in 2008.
He resigned as president in February after losing the support of the military and police during widespread protests triggered by the secret arrest of a senior judge.
He insisted that he was ousted in a coup and was forced to sign his resignation at gunpoint, but an inquiry commission concluded that he left office legally. He was charged in July with illegally ordering the judge's arrest.
Nasheed's party has said the case against him is aimed at preventing Nasheed from campaigning ahead of next year's elections.
But Abbas Riza, spokesman for current President Mohammed Waheed Hassan, last week rejected that allegation, saying the court order was "the usual practice, according to the country's law."
Nasheed's supporters have held frequent protests in recent months demanding early elections. Hassan has said he will hold elections in July 2013, the earliest time permitted by the constitution.
Maldives is an island nation of 300,000 people off southern India. Tourism is the main industry of the chain of nearly 1,200 islands blessed with sandy beaches and coral.