January 16, 2016 / 5:41 PM / 4 years ago

Corrected: Maldives allows jailed former leader to travel to UK for surgery

(Corrects S. Jaishankar’s designation to India’s Foreign secretary in 7th graph)

Maldivian presidential candidate Mohamed Nasheed, who was ousted as president in 2012, speaks during a news conference in Male, October 20, 2013. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte/files

By Shihar Aneez

COLOMBO (Reuters) - The Maldives on Saturday granted permission for jailed former leader Mohamed Nasheed to travel to Britain for surgery after pressure from the international community including human rights groups and his lawyer Amal Clooney.

Nasheed, the Maldives’ first democratically elected leader, is serving a 13-year sentence on terrorism charges after a rapid trial last March. The case drew international criticism.

The decision by President Abdullah Yameen’s government, which rejected the same request two months ago, comes after pressure by rights groups and the United Nations over the case.

“Maldives has granted permission to former President Mohamed Nasheed to travel to the United Kingdom to undertake a surgery at his request,” the Maldives foreign ministry said.

“Nasheed was granted permission under the condition to serve the remainder of the sentence upon return to the Maldives after the surgery.”

Political colleagues say he is suffering from back pain.

The permission was granted after a visit of Indian Foreign secretary S. Jaishankar, an unannounced visit by Sri Lanka’s two top ministers and ahead of a visit of Hugo Swire, British minister of state for Asia.

Hamid Abdul Ghafoor, Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party spokesman, said a similar request was rejected two months ago, but was granted this time after Nasheed’s legal team headed by human rights lawyer Amal Clooney started lobbying for sanctions on Maldives leaders.

“This medical leave comes after heavy international pressure. The whole trial process is wrong,” he told Reuters.

Nasheed was ousted in disputed circumstances in 2012 for ordering the arrest of a judge.

The United Nations, the United States and human rights groups have said Yameen’s government failed to follow due process and that the case was politically motivated.

Clooney, who is married to Hollywood actor George Clooney, early this week criticised Yameen’s administration.

“Democracy is dead in the Maldives,” Clooney told NBC News. “Literally, if there were an election now there would be no one to run against the president. Every opposition leader is either behind bars or being pursued by the government through the courts.”

Additional reporting by Ranga Sirilal; Editing by Stephen Powell

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