March 16, 2015 / 1:53 PM / in 3 years

Maldives' foreign minister defends trial of jailed ex-president

COLOMBO/MALE (Reuters) - The Maldives’ Foreign Minister on Monday rejected international criticism of the trial of ex-President Mohamed Nasheed, the country’s first democratically elected leader, who was jailed for 13 years last week.

Maldivian presidential candidate Mohamed Nasheed, who was ousted as president in 2012, gestures at a political march around the island in Male, October 18, 2013. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte

Nasheed was sentenced on Friday on terrorism charges for illegally ordering the arrest of a judge in 2012. The conviction has stirred renewed concern about political instability in the Indian Ocean archipelago.

“The trial was conducted in accordance with the relevant laws and criminal procedures prevailing in the Maldives. Due process was followed and president Nasheed was accorded his rights fully,” Foreign Minister Dhunya Maumoon told reporters in Colombo, in nearby Sri Lanka.

“A free and fair trial has happened and no person, whether former president or not, is above the law,” she said.

The United States, Britain and several rights groups said on Saturday they were troubled by the conviction because of a lack of judicial independence and the denial of legal representation during Nasheed’s first hearing.

Tension has been mounting in the country since Nasheed, who was ousted in disputed circumstances in 2012, was arrested last month, sending thousands of his supporters onto the streets.

His political party said at the weekend it would launch fresh protests and a “national civil disobedience movement”. His supporters have held several small protests in the capital, Male, since his conviction.

Nasheed’s election as president in 2008 ended the autocratic 30-year rule of current President Abdulla Yameen’s half-brother, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

The political turmoil comes amid growing worries about Islamist militancy in the Maldives, which each year welcomes hundreds of thousands of well-heeled tourists to its tropical island hideaways, most of them insulated from everyday life.

Reporting by Shihar Aneez in COLOMBO and Daniel Bosley in MALE; Writing by Tommy Wilkes in NEW DELHI; Editing by Douglas Busvine and Ralph Boulton

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