COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – Police in the Maldives arrested former President Mohamed Nasheed on Monday after he twice failed to appear before a court to face charges that he illegally ordered the arrest of a judge while in office.
Nasheed, who has said the military ousted him from office in a coup earlier this year, was arrested while campaigning for next year's elections. His arrest could trigger protests by his supporters who have previously clashed with police in the Indian ocean archipelago and who say the charges against him are politically motivated.
Police spokesman Hasan Haneef said Nasheed was arrested on Fares-Mathoda island, in the Gaaf Dhaal atoll, around 440 kilometers away from the capital Male on Monday.
"He is in police custody in order to be produced before courts on Tuesday," Haneef added.
On Sunday, Hulhumale magistrate court issued an arrest warrant on Nasheed after he twice defied summons to appear before courts. The same courts, two weeks ago, ordered him not to leave the capital, Male, without the court's permission. Nasheed defied that order too.
There was no immediate comment from Nasheed's Maldivian Democratic Party on the arrest, but it said Sunday that it was "deeply disturbed and worried by the court warrant issued to arrest the Party's Presidential Candidate and the Maldives' first democratically elected President.
The party said last week that the Hulhumale court itself was created in violation of the constitution and therefore is illegal. It also said Nasheed may not get a fair trial.
Nasheed was a democracy activist and political prisoner before becoming president in the Maldives's first multiparty election in 2008.
He resigned as president in February after losing the support of the military and police during widespread protests triggered by the secret arrest of a senior judge.
He insisted that he was ousted in a coup and was forced to sign his resignation at gunpoint, but an inquiry commission concluded that he left office legally. He was charged in July with illegally ordering the judge's arrest.
Nasheed's party has said the case against him is aimed at preventing Nasheed from campaigning ahead of next year's elections.
But Abbas Riza, spokesman for current President Mohammed Waheed Hassan, last week rejected that allegation, saying the court order was "the usual practice, according to the country's law."
Nasheed's supporters have held frequent protests in recent months demanding early elections. Hassan has said he will hold elections in July 2013, the earliest time permitted by the constitution.