The island nation of the Maldives has been plunged into fresh political turmoil after armed police arrested a former president while he was campaigning ahead of next year's election.
Mohamed Nasheed, forced from office earlier this year in what his supporters say was a coup, is due to appear in court later today.
Police said they had arrested Mr Nasheed on the island of Fares-Mathoda, 300 miles from the capital Male, after he twice failed to answer a court summons and a magistrate issued a warrant for his arrest. He is accused of illegally ordering the arrest of a judge during his time office.
But Mr Nasheed’s supporters say the charge and the arrest are purely motivated by politics and amount to nothing less than an attempt to ensure the former political prisoner is prevented from standing for election.
“It’s just like the lights have gone out. It is such a shock for us. All the gains we made during the three years in office are slipping away, said Hamid Abdul Ghafoor, a spokesman for Mr Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party.
Mr Ghafoor said he had been campaigning with Mr Nasheed with the former president when he was arrested. Mr Nasheed’s supporters said heavily armed police kicked down the door to a house he was visiting and used batons and pepper spray. The house belongs to a former minister, Mohamed Aslam.
Saleema Mohamed, who was present when the police arrived, said in a statement: “They pushed their way in, hurting anyone inside the house. Mr Aslam asked them repeatedly to calm down and to not hurt anyone. He was saying ‘this is my house’. The police shoved him and pushed him and he fell on the glass table and broke the table.”
A police spokesman, Hasan Haneef, confirmed to the Associated Press that Mr Nasheed had been arrested and would be brought before a court today. “He is in police custody in order to be produced before courts on Tuesday,” he said.
In 2008, Mr Nasheed become the nation’s first democratically-elected president when he swept aside the former dictator Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. During his time in office, Mr Nasheed, who has links to British Prime Minister David Cameron and the Conservative party, drew attention to environmental issues and pointed out that no country more at risk from climate change than the low-lying Maldives. He once held an underwater cabinet meeting.
But he was forced to resign in February following demonstrations by the police and apparently losing the support of the nation’s small military. He claimed he was effectively forced out at gun point though a Commonwealth-backed Maldivian inquiry decided in August that the transfer of power to the deputy president was legitimate.
His arrest follows the issuing of a warrant by a magistrates’ court after he twice failed to appear to answer charges over the arrest of a judge during his time as president. Mr Nasheed said he was forced to order the arrest of the judge, Abdulla Mohamed, because he had stopped implementing legislation and court rulings. He claimed that the judge, along with the current president of the Maldives, Mohammed Waheed Hassan, have the support of the former president, Mr Gayoom.
If Mr Nasheed is convicted he faces up to three years in jail. He would also be prevented from taking part in next year’s scheduled election.