Police in riot gear and armed with an arrest warrant broke down a door of a house where Mohamed Nasheed was staying on the island of Fares Maathodaa in the south of the archipelago, a famous honeymoon spot for the rich and famous.
The ex-president, who resigned in February in what he considers to be a coup, was escorted by at least a dozen officers and was taken away by boat to the capital Male, according to his party and photos of the arrest.
“Police are carrying out their duties,” presidential spokesman Masood Imad told AFP. “Police have not used excessive force. He is being accorded due respect as a former president of the country.”
On Sunday, a local court ordered police to arrest Nasheed, who has twice failed to show up for trial. He faces charges of abusing his powers while in office by ordering the military to arrest a senior judge.
He has challenged the legality of the trial and says he is unable to get a fair hearing, and has refused to abide by a travel ban that restricts him to the capital island.
A magistrates’ court Sunday issued a warrant asking police to “keep Mr Nasheed in custody until he is produced before the court”.
In a statement issued hours before his arrest, Nasheed’s MDP party urged the international community to put pressure on his successor as president, Mohamed Waheed, his former deputy.
“The MDP strongly calls on the international community, our development partners, to immediately engage in dialogue with Dr Waheed to maintain maximum restraint,” said the statement.
Nasheed, who won the first free elections in the Maldives in 2008, resigned as president in February after public protests and a mutiny by police who took over the state television broadcaster.
A Commission of National Inquiry, consisting of four respected Maldivians and a Singaporean judge appointed by the Commonwealth group of nations, rejected the “coup” theory and held the transfer of power as “constitutional”.
MDP spokesman Hamid Abdul Ghafoor said that democracy had been “on life-support since February, but today the plug was pulled and the lights turned off.”
The government rejected the MDP allegation and said Nasheed was arrested because he was in contempt of court and Monday’s police action showed that democracy was at work in the nation of 330,000 Sunni Muslims.
“Democracy is strong and alive in the Maldives and we have shown that even a former president cannot be in contempt of court,” spokesman Imad told AFP.
If convicted, Nasheed could be jailed or banished to a remote island for three years, a punishment that could bar him from future elections.
The next elections are scheduled to take place by July next year.
Nasheed is a former Amnesty International prisoner of conscience. He was thrown in jail over a period of six years during the rule of former autocratic leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
Nasheed ousted Gayoom at the 2008 elections. But his party failed to win an outright majority at subsequent parliamentary elections, leading to constant friction between the executive and a hostile legislature.