COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — The Maldives' foreign minister on Tuesday accused a former president of politicizing a 30-day medical leave from prison by engaging in a media campaign in Britain.
The government allowed Mohamed Nasheed, a former leader of the Indian Ocean archipelago who is serving a 13-year sentence for ordering the arrest of a judge while in power, to go to Britain for surgery for chronic back pain.
Soon after arriving in Britain, Nasheed met British Prime Minister David Cameron and held a news conference with journalists — actions that showed his "primary goal was to court publicity in the United Kingdom," Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon said in a statement.
"This is not medical leave, but media leave," she said, adding that Nasheed's busy itinerary "undermines the notion that his medical condition is grave enough to warrant treatment abroad."
Her statement came a day after Nasheed implied that he may not return to Maldives immediately. Nasheed told reporters in London that he would return, but the question is "how and when."
Maumoon stressed that Nasheed has committed a serious crime. Nasheed has appealed the conviction.
"The opportunity for Mr. Nasheed to clear his name remains in the Maldives, not in the TV studios of London or Los Angeles," she said.
Nasheed, 48, became the Indian Ocean nation's first democratically elected president in 2008. He grabbed international attention by holding a Cabinet meeting underwater to highlight the threat from rising sea levels to the low-lying archipelago.
He resigned in 2012 after losing support from the military and police and was convicted last year.
The U.N. working group on arbitrary detention has said that Nasheed was unlawfully imprisoned and has called for his release.
Nasheed says his back pain comes from torture during earlier bouts of imprisonment. His legal team is pressing London and Washington to impose asset freezes and travel bans on senior Maldivian officials until Nasheed and other political prisoners are freed.