Malé: Former Maldives president and opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed has been sentenced to 13 years in prison after being convicted of a terrorism charge, a ruling likely to fuel further unrest in the honeymoon islands.
A three-judge criminal court unanimously found Nasheed, the Indian Ocean archipelago`s first democratically elected leader, guilty of ordering the arrest of a chief judge when he was president in January 2012.
"Nasheed is found guilty of arresting and illegally detaining judge Abdulla Mohamed," judge Abdulla Didi told the court late Friday. Nasheed was then taken to Dhoonidhoo prison, near the capital island Male.
Nasheed, however, remained defiant and through his office urged supporters to take to the streets and continue the protests they have been holding since his incarceration on February 22.
"I appeal to all of you today to stay courageous and strong, to confront the dictatorial power of this regime," his office quoted him as saying.
Nasheed`s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) said the verdict dealt a blow to the young democracy seven years after it embraced multi-party elections following three decades of rule by former strongman Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
"Democracy jailed for 13 years on March 13, 2015," said MDP spokeswoman Shauna Aminath. "Nothing good will come out of this. It`s a sad, sad, sad day for the Maldives," she added.
Local media reported that after the ruling police clashed with pro-Nasheed protesters across Male.
The United States said in a statement it was "concerned" at the "apparent lack of appropriate criminal procedures during the trial" against Nasheed.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the US called on Male to "restore confidence in its commitment to democracy and the rule of law".
"We urge the government to ensure former president Nasheed`s safety and well-being in custody, and we hope all Maldivians will express their views peacefully," she said. The controversial verdict is likely to anger regional power and giant neighbour India, whose Prime Minister Narendra Modi dropped Maldives from a tour of Indian Ocean countries.
Modi visited the Seychelles and Mauritius this week before arriving in Sri Lanka, but he opted not to take in the Maldives because of the political unrest, diplomats said.
There was no immediate comment to the ruling late Friday from India, who, along with the United States, had voiced concern about the charges.
New Delhi had also expressed worry about the treatment of Nasheed, 47, who was dragged to court on February 22 and appeared to be in pain after being pushed and pulled by police.
Britain`s junior foreign minister, Hugo Swire, tweeted that he was "deeply concerned".
"Many questions over due process and transparency," he wrote.
Nasheed was charged over the arrest of Mohamed on corruption allegations three years ago.
He resigned as Maldives leader in February 2012 after a mutiny by police and troops that followed weeks of protests over the arrest.
Charges against Nasheed were dropped last month but a few days later the prosecutor general had him re-charged and arrested under tough anti-terror laws.
Friday`s ruling came four days after Nasheed`s lawyers quit in protest against what they called a biased trial aimed at destroying his political career. The jail term will effectively prevent Nasheed running for president at the 2018 elections.
Current President Abdulla Yameen, a half brother of Gayoom, has denied that the trial was politically motivated.
Nasheed has maintained his innocence throughout. His party said he was denied medical attention while in police custody.