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UNHCHR Urges Maldives to Release Former President

FILE - Maldives former president Mohamed Nasheed as he is taken back to Dhoonidhoo prison after a court dismissed his appeal against his arrest in Male, March 2015.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al-Hussein has called on the government of the Maldives to release former president Mohamed Nasheed, whose jailing on Sunday constituted "a serious set-back," a spokesman said on Tuesday.

Nasheed, the country's first democratically elected leader, was ousted in disputed circumstances in 2012 for ordering the arrest of a judge in a case that has brought widespread international criticism and highlighted political instability.

He was sentenced to 13 years, but moved to house arrest. On Sunday night was taken to a high-security prison on Maafushi Island and "force, including pepper spray, was used against his supporters," U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville said.

"The High Commissioner has expressed his deep concern to the government of the Maldives after former president Mohamed Nasheed was once again sent to prison late on Sunday," Colville told a news briefing.

Zeid called for Nasheed's early release and a review of criminal cases pending against several hundred opposition supporters arrested in protests since May in the Maldives, known as an island paradise popular with wealthy tourists.

Mona Rishmawi, head of rule of law division in the U.N. rights office who visited Nasheed in prison and under house arrest, said: "His trial took a very short period of time, it was very flawed, there was no lawyer, his right to defense was seriously curtailed; he couldn't call a witness, he couldn't really argue his own case in front of the court, which for us was a bit shocking."

His case had been under judicial review and the U.N. human rights office was in dialogue with the government when he was suddenly sent back to prison, she said.

"We are worried about this situation where basically, with something which is very unclear, people can be just locked up and go back to prison," Rishmawi said.

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