Former President Mohamed Nasheed has been granted asylum in the United Kingdom.
The opposition leader was granted “political refugee status” by the British government on Thursday, his lawyer Hassan Latheef told The Maldives Independent today.
Home Minister Umar Naseer told local media that the government has not officially been informed of the former president’s political refugee status.
A British High Commission official in Sri Lanka told Reuters that it did not comment on individual asylum cases.
Nasheed, in a statement, said: “President [Abdulla] Yameen has jailed every opposition leader and cracked down on anyone who dares to oppose or criticise him. In the past year, freedom of the press, expression and assembly have all been lost. Given the slide towards authoritarianism in the Maldives, myself and other opposition politicians feel we have no choice but to work from exile – for now.”
The 49-year old opposition leader, whose jailing on a terrorism charge in March last year drew widespread condemnation from foreign governments, the UN, and international rights groups, was authorised to seek medical treatment in the UK last January.
The move followed threats from the EU parliament and the UK of targeted sanctions against top government officials.
Despite securing asylum, Nasheed has requested an extension of his medical leave. Earlier this month, the prisons authority had granted an extension until May 18 after reviewing its decision to revoke permission granted in April.
“We filed it on the 21st along with a letter from President Nasheed’s doctor, which also includes details on the treatment being given to him and his upcoming consultations,” Latheef said.
The Maldives Correctional Services was unavailable for comment at the time of publication.
Nasheed underwent a medical procedure under anesthesia on April 19 to alleviate a back problem arising from slipped discs in his spine.
Since his arrival in the UK, Nasheed has urged foreign governments to impose targeted sanctions on top government officials. He also met with UK Prime Minister David Cameron, Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma, and went on a media blitz.
Nasheed has said that he intends to the return to the Maldives and challenge President Abdulla Yameen in the 2018 presidential election. But the opposition leader will only be able to contest the election if the Supreme Court overturns his terrorism conviction.
The apex court wrapped up appeal hearings in February, but it is not clear when a verdict will be delivered.
In a speech earlier this month, Yameen suggested that the apex court decision may show the way out of the protracted political crisis sparked by the jailing of Nasheed and other high-profile politicians.
Nasheed was found guilty of ordering the “abduction” of a judge and sentenced to 13 years in prison.
Pressure has been mounting on the government since a UN rights panel ruled in September that Nasheed’s imprisonment was illegal and arbitrary.
In April, the US senate unanimously adopted a bipartisan resolution calling on the Maldivian government to redress the “injustice” of Nasheed’s imprisonment.
The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group has meanwhile threatened to take action if the government does not take steps by next September to resolve the year-long political crisis.
The UN also sent in a senior official for proximity or indirect talks last month to negotiate an end to the stalemate between the government and the opposition over Nasheed and other opposition leaders’ release.
However, the allied opposition parties refused to sit down for talks until Nasheed and Adhaalath Party leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla are released.