London / AFP
Former Maldives president Mohamed Nasheed said he has been granted refugee status in Britain, after being toppled from power and jailed in a “slide towards authoritarianism” that has forced him into exile.
Nasheed, the country’s first democratically elected leader, was sentenced to 13 years imprisonment on controversial terrorism charges last year, but was allowed to travel to Britain in January for spinal cord surgery after he fell ill.
The island nation has been rocked by political turmoil in recent years, seriously denting its reputation as an upmarket tourist destination as current leader Abdulla Yameen enforces emergency rule.
“President Yameen has jailed every opposition leader and cracked down on anyone who dares to oppose or criticise him,” Nasheed, 49, said in a statement proclaiming his refugee status. “In the past year, freedom of the press, expression and assembly have all been lost.
“Given the slide towards authoritarianism in the Maldives, myself and other opposition politicians feel we have no choice but to work from exile —for now.” The Maldives government reacted swiftly, accusing Nasheed—whose legal team includes the high-profile human rights lawyer Amal Clooney—of trying to avoid serving his prison sentence.
“The government of the Maldives is disappointed, if confirmed, that the UK government is allowing itself to be part of this charade, and further, is enabling an individual to circumvent his obligations under the law,” it said in a statement. Britain’s Home Office interior ministry declined to confirm the former president’s status when contacted by AFP, saying it did not comment on individual cases.