AFP – Mohamed Nasheed, the former president of the Maldives, has been granted refugee status in Britain, his office said Monday.
The 49-year-old was jailed in the Maldives last year on controversial terrorism charges, but was allowed to travel to Britain in January for spinal cord surgery after he fell ill in prison.
Nasheed claimed Monday he had “no choice” but to work from exile against President Abdulla Yameen.
The government of the Maldives said Nasheed was trying to avoid serving his prison sentence, adding that it would be “disappointed” if it was confirmed that Britain had “allowed itself to be part of this charade”.
A statement on Nasheed’s website said: “Former Maldives president Mohamed Nasheed has refugee status in the UK.” It was also announced by his party.
Nasheed became the first democratically-elected president of the Indian Ocean island nation in 2008 and served for four years before he was toppled in what he called a coup backed by the military and police.
He was jailed for 13 years on terrorism charges relating to the arrest of an allegedly corrupt judge in 2012, when he was still in power.
“President Yameen has jailed every opposition leader and cracked down on anyone who dares to oppose or criticise him,” Nasheed said in the 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.”
Britain’s Home Office interior ministry declined to comment when contacted by AFP.
“We do not routinely comment on individual cases,” a spokeswoman said.
– ‘Charade’ –
The Maldivian government reacted swiftly, saying it was “concerned” about the reported granting of refugee status to Nasheed.
“It is noted that former president Nasheed was granted medical leave exceptionally by the appropriate authorities in the Maldives after which he is expected to return to serve the remainder of his sentence,” the Maldivian foreign ministry said.
It said Nasheed’s securing refugee status in Britain demonstrated that his intention was to avoid serving his prison sentence.
“Further, 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,” the statement said.
The Maldives last month stripped Nasheed of his pension entitlements and health insurance, after demanding he return from medical leave in Britain.
The Maldives has suffered prolonged political unrest in recent years, seriously denting its reputation as an upmarket tourist destination.
Yameen is a half-brother of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who ruled for 30 years until his defeat by Nasheed in the country’s first multi-party elections eight years ago.
Western countries and the United Nations have widely criticised Nasheed’s trial and jailing.
He was accorded a red carpet welcome and received by Prime Minister David Cameron after arriving in Britain for medical treatment in January in a deal brokered by the former colonial power along with Sri Lanka and India.