MALE, Maldives (AP) – A Maldives opposition leader returned home Thursday after being exiled in Germany for months to escape a prison sentence on charges of plotting to overthrow the government.
Qasim Ibrahim was welcomed at the airport by President-elect Ibrahim Mohamed Solih.
Ibrahim, a businessman who owns a chain of tourist resorts, was among dozens of political opponents who were jailed by outgoing strongman Yameen Abdul Gayoom following trials criticized for lack of due process. He went into exile in Germany after undergoing heart surgery in Singapore.
“People have spoken. There is no use of acting up now,” Ibrahim said in a brief speech to the gathering that came to greet him, referring to claims by Yameen that there were irregularities in the election process.
“Nothing President Yameen does now will change the people’s decision,” he said.
Yameen has not challenged the election results despite claiming irregularities.
Ibrahim is the first exiled opposition leader to return home after Yameen’s election defeat last month. He has been allowed bail after Solih’s victory.
Mohamed Nasheed, the country’s first democratically elected president, is to return next month. He had been exiled in Britain and later lived in neighboring Sri Lanka after being sentenced to 13 years in prison on terrorism charges. He claimed the charges against him were politically motivated and his trial was widely criticized internationally as being unfair. Yameen’s halfbrother and former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and his son have also been released on bail.
“The return home of political leaders, along with the freeing of some political prisoners, is a step forward for justice and democracy,” said Solih’s spokeswoman Maria Didi.
“The president-elect has said that his priority is to see all political prisoners in our country freed as soon as possible.”
Ibrahim was arrested last year and sentenced to more than three years in prison after he joined other party leaders in forming an opposition alliance to unseat Yameen.
Yameen’s defeat by Solih in last month’s presidential election is seen as a second chance for Maldives’ young democracy, established 10 years ago.
Yameen had rolled back much of the democratic gains – jailing opponents and wresting control of the military, police, courts, bureaucracy and the elections commission.