By J.J. Robinson
MALE (Reuters) - The Maldives formally charged the ousted president, Mohamed Nasheed, on Monday with the detention of a Criminal Court judge during his final days in office, increasing the chance he will be arrested and adding to rising tension in the island nation.
Maldives' Prosecutor General Ahmed Muizz has filed charges against Nasheed for his role in detaining Criminal Court Chief Justice Abdulla Mohamed in January, which sparked opposition protests and later turned into a policy mutiny, forcing Nasheed out of office.
Nasheed says he was overthrown in a coup, but the current president, Mohamed Waheed Hussain Manik, who served as vice president under Nasheed, says his predecessor resigned voluntarily after protests triggered by the arrest of the judge.
Nasheed's supporters have ramped up protests in recent weeks as they seek an early election with him as their candidate.
If convicted, Nasheed, a former human rights and democracy campaigner, could face a jail sentence or banishment for three years or a fine of up to 3,000 Maldives rufiyaa ($200).
"This is nothing to do with the government. The charges are based on an investigation by the prosecutor general and Nasheed is free to face the charges through his lawyers," Presidential spokesman Abbas Adil Riza told Reuters.
Waheed has ruled out any early presidential poll before July 2013.
Clashes between Nasheed's supporters and riot police have erupted during the past week amid speculation that Nasheed could face an imminent arrest.
Footage shot by local television station Raajje TV showed the former president apparently being pepper-sprayed by riot police during a protest on Saturday.
The Indian High Commission in Male said in a statement the escalation of tension was a "matter of serious concern".
Nasheed on Sunday defended the judge's arrest.
"I did nothing unlawful during my tenure," he said at a protest rally. "This is a case that I want to face myself. I will not back down from this case."
Nasheed ended former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom's 30-year reign and ushered in an agenda of constitutional reform agenda after winning election in 2008.
His administration had accused the judge of political bias, obstructing police, stalling cases, links with organized crime and "taking the entire criminal justice system in his fist" to protect key figures of Gayoom's government from facing corruption and human rights abuse allegations.
(Writing by Shihar Aneez; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel)