Maldives gives Nasheed leave for surgery

Male, January 17

Jailed Maldives opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed has been given 30 days’ leave from prison to travel to Britain for urgent surgery and was expected to leave today, the prisons chief said.

Prisons Commissioner Mohamed Husham said Nasheed, who in March last year began serving a 13-year jail term, would be allowed to undergo treatment for one month there and then return to prison.

“We are making arrangements so that he can travel later today,” Husham told reporters.

Nasheed’s lawyers met him today, a day after the government made a U-turn and agreed to let him travel to Britain for spinal cord surgery.

Lawyer Hassan Latheef said he and his colleagues met Nasheed at his high-security prison to discuss the latest development, but were awaiting a formal communication from the authorities.

The Maldives government, which had previously refused overseas medical treatment for Nasheed, announced yesterday that he had been given permission to travel to Britain.

Local media reports speculated that he could leave the island today evening.

The 48-year-old former president was sentenced on terrorism charges relating to the arrest of an allegedly corrupt judge in 2012, when he was still in power.

The UN has said his trial was seriously flawed and he should be released and compensated for wrongful detention. Hardline President Abdulla Yameen has refused to accept the UN ruling and is resisting international pressure to release Nasheed. London-based barrister Amal Clooney is on the legal team pressuring the government unconditionally to release Nasheed. Otherwise she will call for targeted sanctions from the international community.

The sudden change of heart by Maldivian authorities came amid a flurry of high-level diplomatic activity involving neighbouring India, Sri Lanka and former colonial power Britain.

India’s Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar visited Male for talks with the government and stopped over in Colombo last week, while Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera made an unscheduled visit to Male on Thursday. Britain’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hugo Swire arrived in Male today and held talks with Yameen but details were not disclosed. President Yameen is a half-brother of former strongman Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who ruled for 30 years until his defeat by Nasheed in the country’s first multi-party elections in 2008. He has cracked down on dissent and arrested political opponents.

Nasheed was toppled in February 2012 in what he called a coup backed by the military and police.