The jailed ex-president of the Maldives, whose conviction and 13-year sentence have drawn international condemnation, was flown out of the island nation Monday to undergo back surgery in the United Kingdom.
The trip comes days after one of Mohamed Nasheed's lawyers — human rights attorney Amal Clooney, wife of activist actor-director George Clooney — gave NBC News' Cynthia McFadden an exclusive interview about his situation and lobbied Washington lawmakers for sanctions.
Negotiations to allow Nasheed to travel hit a last-minute snag over the weekend when his lawyers said the government was insisting a relative stay behind and sign a document that would subject the relative to criminal prosecution if Nasheed did not return.
In the end, Nasheed's brother was allowed to serve as a "guarantor" but also travel to London with him. Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon said the brother would not face any criminal charges if Nasheed refused to come back.
His legal team said Nasheed spoke with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry by phone at the airport, and also spoke with Clooney.
"I was delighted to speak to President Nasheed for the first time in months today, and to see him board a flight out of the Maldives," said Clooney in a statement. "I am very relieved that he will now be able to obtain the medical treatment that he so urgently needs in the U.K. I thank all the members of the international community who have helped to bring about this result."
Asked whether she expected Nasheed to return, the Maldives foreign minister was noncommital.
"It’s difficult to predict," said Maumoon, who is the daughter of the politician who ruled the Maldives for 30 years until Nasheed was elected in 2008. "We have to see how events unfold."
"He is a convicted criminal and he is serving a sentence for terrorism," Maumoon added. "He is not being released. This is a specific clearance for a particular period of time."
She said that Nasheed is expected to fly back in 30 days if he does not have surgery, and 45 days if he has an operation. He can request an extension for medical reasons, she says.
If he refuses, the Maldives can request his extradition, but the British Secretary of State would have to sign off on it. British Prime Minister David Cameron recently described Nasheed to the Guardian as his "new best friend."
Mamoun said the biggest reason for Nasheed to return to a country that has branded him a terrorist for having a judge arrested while he was president is to try to get the conviction overturned by the courts and re-enter politics.
But another Nasheed lawyer, Freedom Now founder Jared Genser, says the judiciary cannot be trusted.
Nasheed, 48, served as president of the Maldives for three years before leaving office in what he claims was a gunpoint coup. The current government says he left office voluntarily. A United Nations expert blasted his subsequent trial as a "mockery" and a U.N. panel has called for his release.
During her trip to Washington last week, Clooney told NBC News that she believes "democracy is dead" is the Maldives and that political repression, abuse of women and jihadism are on the rise. A U.N. report found that Maldives has the highest per capita rate of foreign recruits for ISIS.
She pushed for the Obama administration to impose travel bans and asset freezes on regime leaders who refused to release Nasheed.
Maumoon said the criticism was "entirely untrue" and that sanctions would harm the small country of 345,000 and its tourist-dependent economy.
"With all these actions and all the media hype, the image of the Maldives is being tainted," she said.