(Reuters) - A court in the Maldives jailed an opposition politician for just over 38 months on Friday on a charge of bribery in connection with a bid to undermine the government, his lawyer said.
Opposition colleagues in the Indian Ocean archipelago, famous for its beaches, said the conviction of Qasim Ibrahim was a politically motivated bid to strip him of his parliamentary seat.
Qasim, leader of the Jumhooree Party and a former presidential candidate, was convicted of “attempted bribery” for a speech in which he called on legislators to join the opposition, an opposition coalition said in a statement.
“This is blatantly unfair,” Qasim’s lawyer, Hussein Shameem, told Reuters by telephone from the capital, Male.
“The allegation of offering bribe was untrue. In a political speech, he called help from all MPs to impeach the speaker.”
The government said Qasim’s trial followed due process.
Qasim was not in court for the verdict. He fainted during a hearing on Thursday and was taken to hospital.
The Maldives has been mired in political unrest since its first democratically elected leader, Mohamed Nasheed, was ousted in 2012. He was later sentenced to 13 years in jail on terrorism charges after a widely denounced trial.
Nasheed was later released to go to Britain for medical treatment.
Qasim, a tourism tycoon who ran for the presidency in 2013, was an ally of President Abdulla Yameen but they fell out and Qasim formed an opposition coalition with Nasheed and another former president, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
Yameen recently lost his majority in the 85-member legislature following defections to the opposition coalition, making the government very sensitive to any bid to encourage more.
“There was enough evidence to prove that he bribed to facilitate cross-overs,” Mohamed Hussain Shareef, a senior adviser to Yameen and head of foreign relations of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives told Reuters.
The opposition coalition condemned what it called the “breakdown of the entire criminal justice system”.
Apart form political wrangling, the largely Muslim island chain with a population of 400,000, has other looming problems, including significant numbers of radicalized youths who have enlisted to fight for the Islamic State group in the Middle East.
Reporting by Shihar Aneez; Editing by Robert Birsel