POLICE in the Maldives have arrested opposition leader and ex-President Mohamed Nasheed on terror charges.
They relate to his order to detain a judge while in office in January 2012.
The case against him was dropped last week, but the allegations were yesterday reintroduced under anti-terror laws that punish acts against the state.
Nasheed resigned as president in February 2012 following weeks of public protests against his order to arrest criminal court chief judge Abdulla Mohamed. Mr Mohamed was charged with corruption, but later released.
A document signed by a senior criminal court judge said Mr Nasheed was being charged under anti-terrorism laws. Television stations in the country yesterday aired scenes of the arrest.
Nasheed – a former human rights campaigner who was president from 2008 to 2012 – had been planning to lead an opposition demonstration on Friday.
He alleged that he had been removed by a coup, but this was denied by his vice-president, who replaced him.
The current president, Abdulla Yameen, was elected in controversial polls in 2013 and is the half-brother of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who served for 30 years as president and was widely accused of autocracy.
Commentators say Nasheed’s latest arrest adds to growing instability in the country.
President Yameen has recently become alienated from key former colleagues.
He arrested his defence minister, accusing him of plotting a coup. He has also been deserted by another former ally, a resort tycoon who has now joined forces with Mr Nasheed.
Nasheed’s party described his arrest as “a desperate and reckless attempt by President Yameen to cling onto power in the face of growing opposition”.
Government minister Mohamed Shareef said Nasheed was arrested because the court felt he may not honour a summons to stand trial.
Shareef said the anti-terrorism laws cover not only acts or planned acts of violence, but a wide range of “acts against the state”.
Mr Nasheed is accused of using the military to arrest the senior judge when it had no authority to do so, Shareef said.
Mr Mohamed was arrested soon after he released an opposition politician Mr Nasheed’s government had detained. He was accused of bias and corruption.
Maldivian Democratic Party spokesman Hamid Abdul Gaffoor said in a statement that “Nasheed had never absconded from court, nor has taken the opportunity to flee or go into hiding,” and called on the authorities to release him immediately.
Mr Nasheed was a pro-democracy campaigner during Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s 1978-2008 rule, and was arrested a number of times for his activism. He defeated Mr Gayoom in the country’s first multiparty election in 2008.
Yesterday police used teargas to disperse protesters from Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) as he was taken from his home.
“I call on the public to do all that is necessary to stop the harassment meted out to me and other politicians to save Maldives,” Nasheed said in Male while being taken to a detention centre on a separate island.
Last week Mr Nasheed asked India to intervene in case President Yameen imposed emergency rule.
An opposition alliance between the MDP and Jumhooree Party, which broke away from Yameen’s ruling coalition, has held a series of street demonstrations in recent weeks accusing the government of breaching the constitution a number of times.
Earlier this month Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim was arrested on terrorism charges while MDP’s chairperson Ali Waheed was taken into police custody yesterday.
Hamid Abdul Ghafoor, MDP’s international spokesman, said they were planning a big protest on Friday and hoped some members of parliament would switch from supporting the government to the opposition at the next parliamentary session on 3 March.
The MDP said in a statement it now feared the actions by the Maldives government may “lead to uncontrollable scenes of unrest and confrontations on the streets”.