Jailed Maldives ex-president leaves for surgery in UK

Former Maldivian president Mohamed Nasheed visited Britain last week under a deal brokered by Sri Lanka, India and the former colonial power (AFP Photo/Ishara S. Kodikara)

Jailed Maldivian opposition leader and former president Mohamed Nasheed left the country Monday for urgent medical treatment in Britain after a delay caused by a legal dispute with the government, his party said.

Nasheed was originally due to leave on Sunday in line with a deal brokered by diplomats from neighbouring India and Sri Lanka as well as former colonial power Britain.

But the former leader refused a government request to leave a relative behind to act as a guarantor liable to prosecution if he failed to return to serve the rest of his 13-year sentence, leading to a tense back and forth over conditions.

One of his international lawyers, Jared Genser, said Nasheed had spoken with the US Secretary of State by telephone at Male international airport shortly before he boarded a Sri Lankan airlines flight to Colombo before transiting to Britain.

"Nasheed on a call with US Secretary of State John Kerry," Genser said in a tweet containing a photo of Nasheed.

It was not clear what they discussed, but Kerry had previously criticised the administration of strongman President Abdulla Yameen during a visit to neighbouring Sri Lanka last year.

Kerry described democracy as "under threat in the Maldives" at the time, saying Nasheed was imprisoned without due process.

Nasheed was convicted on terrorism charges in 2015 relating to the arrest of an allegedly corrupt judge in 2012, when he was still in power.

Lawyers for Nasheed have hit out at the government for delaying treatment on his spinal cord, but his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has agreed to an amended condition of providing a relative to communicate Nasheed's whereabouts while abroad.

"President Nasheed told members of his family that he wasn't prepared to put their freedom in jeopardy in order to secure his own," the MDP said in a statement.

The Maldivian government in a statement insisted that all legal formalities had been followed before Nasheed was allowed to leave.

"It is standard procedure for any prisoner who applies to travel abroad, for medical treatment, to sign a guarantee," Maldivian Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon said in a statement. "I am glad all relevant legal documentation is completed."

Nasheed's lawyer Hassan Latheef said the government had reneged on an internationally-brokered deal at the last minute on Sunday by demanding what he termed a "hostage" until the former leader returned from Britain.

"This kind of blackmail is illegal, unheard of in international affairs, and totally outrageous," Latheef told AFP.

- Climb down -

But with diplomatic pressure mounting on Yameen's administration, the government backed down as Sri Lankan diplomats close to the negotiations said they moved to end the deadlock.

Nasheed, 48, became the first democratically elected president of the Maldives in 2008 and served for four years before he was toppled in what he called a coup backed by the military and police.

The United Nations has said his trial was seriously flawed and he should be released and compensated for wrongful detention.

But hardline President Yameen has refused to accept the UN ruling and is resisting international pressure to release Nasheed.

The announcement of the concession came as Britain's Deputy Foreign Minister Hugo Swire visited the Maldives for talks with Yameen as well as the opposition and rights groups.

Swire tweeted that he "talked through concerns and opportunities" with the president, but full details of their discussions were not disclosed.

Swire left Male on Monday when Nasheed was still locked up in a cell at the Maafushi prison on an island near the capital. He was brought from there to the airport later Monday to board a flight out of the archipelago.

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.