A senior U.N. human rights official has visited jailed former Maldives president Mohamed Nasheed for two hours and urged the country’s government to take action over his flawed trial, as supporters of Nasheed took to the tropical island's streets to call for his release.
"We kind of started to get signals that even the government recognises that something went wrong with the process of the trial," Mona Rishmawi, chief of the rule of law, equality and non-discrimination branch of the U.N. Human Rights Office, told a regular U.N. briefing.
"We would like to see this translate into concrete political action and see something happening in this case... What is very clear is that the president still has clemency powers.".
Thousands of protesters have gathered in record numbers for the rally on the International Labor Day, to protest against what they claim is a deteriorating human rights situation in the country.
Police used stun guns, tear gas and pepper spray to disperse crowds and stopped them from entering the high-security government zone in the capital Male, a police spokesman said.
The protest was the largest since Nasheed was imprisoned.
"The regime's unprecedented efforts to intimidate (the opposition) have failed," said 27-year-old protester Yameen Rasheed.
Nasheed, the country's first democratically elected leader, was imprisoned for 13 years in March for his role in ordering the arrest of a senior judge after a trial that the UN high commissioner for human rights said was marked by "flagrant irregularities."
The country is increasingly polarised between Nasheed's supporters and those who back current President Abdulla Yameen, whose half-brother lost power to Nasheed in 2008, ending 30 years of authoritarian rule.
Nasheed's legal team applied to the UN to rule his detention illegal under international law.
"In less than three weeks, Nasheed was arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced," wrote Amal Clooney, a member of the high-profile legal team, in British daily The Guardian.
Also on Thursday, the European Parliament passed a resolution calling member states to issue travel warnings to tourists about the human rights situation in the Maldives.
The nation's economy relies heavily on tourism, which is its largest industry.
The EU resolution called on all sides to "refrain from any action that may further aggravate this crisis" which has seen 140 protesters arrested since February.
President Abdulla Yameen has attacked foreign detractors and urged security forces to resist foreign interference in the country’s affairs.
Last week, Yameen said that the threat of mass protests on May Day would not force either his resignation, or negotiations with the opposition.
International concern over the growing crisis has heightened elsewhere this week, with the U.S. State Department calling on Maldivian authorities to "credibly investigate the disappearance" of local journalist Ahmed Rilwan, who was believed to have been abducted in August last year.
Amnesty International described the human rights situation as "rapidly deteriorating" following a visit to the country this month, prompting a furious response from the government, which accused the rights watchdog of colluding with the opposition to tarnish the country’s image.