The Maldives’ first democratically elected president is due to go on trial on abuse of power charges, seven months after being replaced in what he has called a “coup d’etat”.
Mohamed Nasheed was forced out of office by a police mutiny in February, after he detained the country’s chief criminal court judge on corruption allegations.
Nasheed is currently on island arrest, meaning he cannot leave the capital Male without first obtaining permission, and will face charges on Monday. Once an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, the 45-year-old is facing up to three years in jail, or banishment to a remote islet in the archipelago.
The former leader says that he was forced from office with a gun to his head in a “coup” involving his former deputy, Mohamed Waheed, who has since become president.
“The coup has not yet been completed,” Nasheed told the AFP news agency after his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) staged a mass rally on the tiny capital island Male on Friday to denounce the charges against him.
Nasheed had criminal court judge Abdullah Mohamed arrested in January over corruption charges – a move that triggered weeks of opposition-led protests and his eventual downfall on February 7 after police mutinied.
‘No chance of fair trial’
Conviction as a result of his trial could disqualify Nasheed from contesting the next presidential elections – an outcome he alleged the new government is keen to see occur.
Al Jazeera’s in depth coverage of the Maldives political crisis:
“People will not allow the regime to steal the next election. A free and fair election is our over-arching goal,” he said.
Earlier this month, a national commission said that the toppling of Nasheed’s government was not a coup, a ruling that led to further street protests.
Nasheed, who won global attention as a campaigner against global warming, said that he had “no chance of a fair trial, particularly in a case as political as this”.
The man who brought democratic reforms to the nation of 330,000 said he believed the country’s judiciary was still loyal to Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the country’s former dictator who Nasheed replaced as president after elections in 2008.
Nasheed formed his MDP in exile but returned home to a hero’s welcome, sweeping 54 per cent of the vote in the elections that ended Gayoom’s 30-year autocratic rule.
“You can bring down a dictator in a day, but it can take years to stamp out the remnants of his dictatorship,” Nasheed said, referring to Gayoom’s defeat in the nation’s first multi-party election.
Gayoom ruled the islands between 1978 and 2008 and repeatedly threw Nasheed in jail over a period of six years.
While Nasheed was popularly elected, his four-year tenure was also marked by problems of unemployment, a lack of housing in the overcrowded capital, widespread drug abuse and a rise in religious extremism.
The new government denies Nasheed’s trial on Monday is politically motivated, but accuses him of exceeding his powers when in office. It has pledged to maintain law and order on the tiny capital island of 130,000 people.
“You can bring down a dictator in a day, but it can take years to stamp out the remnants of his dictatorship“
– Mohamed Nasheed, former president
The government will not allow any opposition violence, a presidential spokesman said, and denied opposition accusations that the trial was politically motivated.
Apart from the criminal case, Nasheed also faces two defamation suits filed against him by Police Commissioner Abdullah Riyaz and by Mohamed Nazim, the defence minister.
The first defamation case was called on Sunday but it was immediately put off indefinitely at the request of Riyaz, local media reports said.
Nasheed’s MDP party official Shauna Aminath said they were yet to be told the damages claimed by the two petitioners.
Nasheed’s administration had decriminalised defamation in 2009 as part of democratic reforms.
Soon after Nasheed’s downfall, the government issued an arrest warrant for him on charges of abuse of power, but it was never executed due to international pressure.