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Maldives' former president Mohamed Nasheed speaks during a news conference in Colombo, Sri Lanka January 22, 2018. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte

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By Tom Miles

GENEVA (Reuters) - The Maldives must quash the conviction of former president Mohamed Nasheed and allow him to stand for office, including in a presidential election later this year, the U.N. Human Rights Committee said on Monday.

The panel of independent experts, who oversee governments' compliance with the U.N. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, said in a finding that Nasheed's conviction on terrorism charges was based on vague laws, contained serious flaws and violated his right to a fair trial.

"Political rights can be suspended or restricted only in exceptional circumstances and under certain conditions. And judicial proceedings that violate the right to fair trial can render the resulting restriction of political rights arbitrary,” committee member Sarah Cleveland said in a statement.

Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in jail but went into exile during a medical trip to Britain. He was disqualified from running in presidential elections for 16 years.

The committee said it wanted information from the Maldives within 180 days about measures taken to take its views into account, and said those measures should be disseminated broadly in the official languages of the Maldives.

The Maldives, home to 400,000 people and best known as a tropical paradise for tourists, has experienced political unrest since Nasheed, the island's first democratically-elected leader, was forced to quit amid a mutiny by police in 2012.

The current president Abdulla Yameen imposed a state of emergency in February to annul a Supreme Court ruling that quashed the convictions of nine opposition leaders, including Nasheed.

During the 45-day emergency, Yameen's administration arrested former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the chief justice, another Supreme Court judge and a Supreme Court administrator on charges of trying to overthrow the government.

All four have been charged under terrorism laws. They have all rejected the charges.

The Supreme court, now reduced to three bench judges after the arrests, went on to reverse its decision to quash the convictions of the opposition leaders.

(Reporting by Tom Miles, Editing by Alison Williams and William Maclean)

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Reuters