Former Maldives' president calls for sanctions against government figures

LONDON (Reuters) - Former president of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed, freed from jail last week to seek medical care in Britain, called on Monday for sanctions against Maldivian government figures as his lawyer warned a militant attack on tourists was highly likely.

Former president of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, reacts during a news conference in central London, Britain January 25, 2016. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

Nasheed, the Maldives’ first democratically elected president, was jailed for 13 years on terrorism charges last March after a rapid trial that drew international condemnation. He was granted permission to leave the Indian Ocean island for 30 days to travel to London for treatment for his back.

In his first comments since being released, he indicated he would not return before that deadline and called on the international community to impose sanctions against those responsible for human rights abuses in the Maldives.

“Sanctions imposed can easily be rolled back. But unless they are imposed, President (Abdullah) Yameen will have no incentive to take further action,” Nasheed told reporters in London.

Nasheed was ousted in disputed circumstances in 2012 for ordering the arrest of a judge. The United Nations, the United States and human rights groups have said Yameen’s government failed to follow due process and that the case was politically motivated.

Nasheed’s lawyer Amal Clooney said only the threat of action led to the former president’s release, while Ben Emmerson, another member of Nasheed’s legal team, said the Maldives had now become a “hotbed of fundamentalism and terrorism”.

He said it was estimated that more than 200 people from the Maldives had joined the Islamic State militant group, the highest number per capita of any state in the world.

“It is only a question of time before the Maldives witnesses an incident comparable to the tragedy that occurred on the beaches of Tunisia last year,” he said, referring to an attack on a beach hotel last July claimed by Islamic State in which 38 tourists, mainly British, were killed.

The Maldives Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon said Nasheed had exploited his release and had been “disingenuous at best, and misleading at worst” about his medical condition.

“It is now clear his primary goal was to court publicity in the United Kingdom. This is not medical leave, but media leave,” he said in a statement.

Nasheed said his medical condition was serious and he had suffered from a chronic back problem since being tortured when in his 20s.

He said the date of his return was a “fluid situation” and suggested he might seek to exert influence from India or Sri Lanka or could return to jail.

“I will definitely go to the Maldives. But only the question is how and when,” he said.

Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Katharine Houreld