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Maldives says UN rights chief's call to free jailed ex-president is effort to circumvent law


COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — The Maldives criticized the U.N. human rights chief's call to release the country's imprisoned former president, calling it an effort to circumvent rule of law.

The foreign ministry said in a statement Monday that it rejects High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein's allegation that the law in the Maldives is being manipulated for political ends.

"To seek the release of an individual purely on the basis of his political standing . is inappropriate, and clearly seeks to circumvent the rule of law," the statement said.

Hussein made his comments in his opening speech at the human rights council.

"I was initially encouraged by the government's decision, in July, to move former President Nasheed to house arrest, for health reasons and to appeal his conviction after a flawed trial. But the decision to return him to prison last month, and pursuit of a further criminal investigation against his family, are serious setbacks," Hussein said.

"Given the deeply tainted nature of this case, I urge the government to release him, and to review several hundred pending criminal cases against opposition supporters in relation to protests in recent months."

Former President Mohamed Nasheed is serving a 13-year sentence after being found guilty of ordering the military to arrest a top judge three years ago. The verdict alleged that the judge's arrest was akin to abducting, an offense under the terrorism law.

His trial was criticized internationally for an apparent lack of due process.

Nasheed's lawyers said that they were not given enough time to prepare their defense and not allowed to call witnesses. After his conviction the case documents were not given to them in time to lodge an appeal, they said.

Hopes for Nasheed's release increased after his party and the government started negotiations in June and Nasheed's lawyers said that his sentence had been commuted to house arrest. However he was sent back to prison after eight weeks and the government said that the house arrest was only a temporary measure considering Nasheed's health.

Nasheed in 2008 became the country's first democratically elected president, ending a 30-year autocratic rule.

He resigned in 2012 amid weeks of public protests against the arrest of the judge and after losing support from the military and police.

Nasheed lost the 2013 presidential election to President Yameen Abdul Gayyoom, a half-brother to the country's former strongman ruler.

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