Karen Lumley is MP for Redditch.
I was deeply shocked to learn of the news that my good friend Mohamed Nasheed, former President of the Maldives and leader of the Maldivian Democracy Party, was arrested on Sunday afternoon on terrorism charges.
I first came to know President Nasheed a number of years ago, when I worked for the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and assisted with his election campaign. He was the first democratically elected president of the Maldives, but unfortunately the situation in the country has deteriorated recently. In 2012, democratic progress suffered a major setback when a coup forced him to resign the presidency.
This new arrest relates to an order he gave to detain a judge in January 2012, and the warrant seeks to justify Nasheed’s arrest by citing concerns that he would abscond and go into hiding. This is clearly a smoke-screen. President Nasheed has never absconded or attempted to flee the country, even when frankly many of us would have forgiven him for doing just that. But he is committed to the Maldives, its people and democracy.
Instead, his arrest appears to be an attempt by President Yameen (the half brother of the former dictator), who took power after flawed elections in 2013, to cling on to his position despite a collapse of his support. He is desperate to ensure that President Nasheed is sentenced for more than three years to prevent him running for election in 2018, a tactic similar to those repeatedly used by Yameen’s half-brother during his rule.
The case took another sinister turn when his legal team were informed by the criminal court that they would be unable to represent him, as they had to register with the court two days before trial, despite Nasheed being arrested less than 24 hours ago.
Mohamed Nasheed is a true friend and ally of Britain, the Conservative Party and above all of freedom. The pictures that have emerged of his brutal arrest are deeply shocking, he is visibly injured and was dragged by police officers. His shirt was torn, glasses missing and he was using his tie as a makeshift sling for what appeared to be a broken arm. To see this occur anywhere in the world is horrendous, but for me personally these images were all the more horrifying as President Nasheed is a man I know well, and indeed whom I saw just weeks ago.
I have seen him three times in the past six months. I met him for lunch in Parliament in September, then again in October at Party Conference, during which time he actually received death threats from Islamic extremists, and finally just a month ago when he met with me to discuss how he could help our party in the run-up to May 2015. He even planned to come up to Redditch to canvass for me.
Throughout his life he has been arrested, imprisoned and tortured in the Maldives for his political beliefs. I always find speaking to Mohamed extremely thought-provoking. The way in which he has put his life on the line for the causes of freedom and democracy is inspiring. It certainly makes you feel grateful for the liberty and rights we have in this country and so often take for granted. I will be seeking an urgent meeting with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and hope that governments the world over will do all they can to secure his release and to get the Maldives back on the path to democracy.