January 18, 2016 / 11:22 AM / 3 years ago

Maldives minister rejects Amal Clooney's criticism as 'stories'

COLOMBO (Reuters) - Maldives Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon on Monday rejected international human rights lawyer Amal Clooney’s criticism that democracy was “dead” in the Indian Ocean island.

Former Maldives' President Mohamed Nasheed arrives at Mal'e City with police officers, for the first hearing of the trial held at Criminal Court in Male, February 23, 2015. REUTERS/Waheed Mohamed/Files

Clooney, the international lawyer acting for jailed former leader Mohamed Nasheed, last week used a high-profile interview with U.S. news channel NBC News to condemn President Abdulla Yameen’s administration in the Maldives.

Nasheed, who was the Maldives’ first democratically elected president, is serving a 13-year sentence on terrorism charges for the alleged abduction of a judge after a rapid trial last March in a case which drew international criticism.

Clooney, in an interview with NBC, had said her client’s case showed that democracy is “dead in the Maldives”.

Defending the Maldives, popular for its pristine beaches, scuba diving and high-end tourism, Foreign Minister Maumoon told Reuters that Clooney had “spun a compelling tale” but it was not true.

“My appeal to the rest of the world is to have a good understanding and not be persuaded purely by charm-filled Amal Clooney when she goes and gives some of these stories,” she said.

Maumoon’s comments came as Nasheed was permitted by the Maldives government to leave Male and fly to Colombo, Sri Lanka, where he is likely to stay for some time before leaving for surgery in Britain, party sources told Reuters.

There had been some confusion over whether the government would grant him permission to travel or not, as Nasheed refused to nominate a guarantor, someone who could face criminal prosecution if Nasheed does not return to Maldives.

Nasheed was ousted in disputed circumstances in 2012 for ordering the arrest of a judge. His conviction was condemned by United Nations, the United States and human rights groups as being politically motivated.

Clooney, who is married to actor George Clooney, had sought to draw attention to political turmoil in the country.

In her NBC interview, she said: “Every opposition leader is either behind bars or being pursued by the government through the courts.”

Reporting by Shihar Aneez; editing by Sarah Young/ Richard Balmforth

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