In a battle between two of Britain’s most well-known women barristers, Amal Clooney has taken victory over Cherie Blair by securing UK refugee status for a former Maldives president. Mohamed Nasheed, the opposition leader, was controversially jailed for 13 years under anti-terror laws last year after a trial that drew international criticism. But his case has now been successfully championed with the help of an international legal team that included Mrs Clooney, the British human rights lawyer and wife of the American actor George.
Amal Clooney on a visit to Mr Nasheed in prison in September 2015. (AFP/File)
The legal firm of former prime minister Tony Blair’s wife meanwhile provided advice for several months to the Maldives government of President Abdulla Yameen after it imprisoned Mr Nasheed.
A former human rights campaigner, Mr Nasheed became the nation’s first democratically elected leader in 2008, ending three decades of rule by former strongman Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
But he was forced from office in 2012 and detained after being accused of ordering the arrest of a judge. He resigned months later amid an army mutiny and public protests over the judge’s fate.
Mr Nasheed was then jailed last year on controversial terrorism charges following a hasty trial with no defence witnesses.
British educated Mr Nasheed had been allowed to travel to the UK to receive medical treatment on his spine in January. Now it has been revealed he has been granted political asylum.
And Mr Nasheed's office in a statement quoted him as saying that ‘President 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 in exile - for now.’
Since his release, Mr Nasheed has called for sanctions against Mr Yameen and his allies for detaining political prisoners, mainly opposition leaders, and for alleged human rights abuses in the Maldives.
Mr Nasheed was ousted in disputed circumstances in 2012 after ordering the arrest of a judge.
The United Nations, the US and human rights groups have said Mr Yameen’s government failed to follow due process and that the case was politically motivated.
Britain's Home Office said in a statement that it does not comment on individual asylum cases.
Mr Yameen, whose half-brother lost power to Mr Nasheed in 2008, has rejected accusations that Mr Nasheed’s trial was politically motivated and said the legal process was fair.
In 2009, Mr Nasheed led the world’s first underwater cabinet meeting to grab attention over rising sea levels that threaten his country.
Mr Nasheed previously had been forced into exile for many years when Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was in power and he was jailed repeatedly for his pro-democracy activism.
Before political parties were recognized in his country, Mr Nasheed helped form the Maldivian Democratic Party while living in exile in Sri Lanka.
The Maldives foreign ministry said in a statement that it is concerned about reports of Mr Nasheed being granted political asylum even though it has yet to be officially confirmed.
The ministry's statement said Mr Nasheed was given a medical leave on an exceptional basis and the latest development demonstrates that his motive in seeking the leave was to avoid serving his prison term.
Maldives, which is best known for its luxury island resorts, has in recent years lost much of the democratic gains reflected in Mr Nasheed's 2008 election.By Mark Duell
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