Male/Colombo: Maldives President Abdulla Yameen on Monday declared a state of emergency, ordered security forces into the supreme court and arrested a former president, in moves the opposition called a “purge” in the Indian Ocean island nation.
Maldives police also arrested Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed and another Supreme Court judge on Tuesday, dramatically escalating the legal battle with the archipelago’s top court.
Police said in a Twitter message they had arrested Saeed and Supreme Court Judge Ali Hameed “for an ongoing investigation”. The gave no details about the allegations or charges against the two judges.
The president has defied a Supreme Court ruling handed down last week, which revoked terrorism charges against nine leading opposition figures including the country’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Nasheed, who is now in exile.
The court ordered the opposition figures, six of whom are being held in the country’s main jail on a sparsely inhabited island, to be freed.
“The President has been compelled to declare a state of emergency due to the risk currently posed to national security,” said a statement from Yameen’s office on Monday. “Implementation of the Supreme Court ruling is – in its current form – incompatible with maintenance of public safety.”
Police arrested another former president, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom — who is also Yameen’s half-brother — at his residence along with his son-in-law. Gayoom ruled the country for 30 years until 2008, and is now in the opposition. Gayoom’s son Faris is one of the jailed opposition figures ordered freed by the court.
In a recorded video sent to social media, Gayoom said he was being taken to the prison island of Dhoonidhoo: “I have not committed any crime. This arrest is unlawful. I will remain strong, and I ask the beloved people to remain strong.”
Yameen, who has held his position since 2013, faces mounting pressure at home and from the United States and India to obey the court’s order.
The Maldives is made up of 26 coral atolls and 1,192 islands. Politics centres on the tiny but densely populated capital Male.
China, the United States and India issued travel advisories for the Maldives, a country of 400,000 people best known as a beach paradise for the tourists that provide most of its foreign currency revenue.
The tumult comes during the peak tourism season. Tourism brought in $2.7 billion of revenue for the Maldives in 2016.
As midnight approached, roads leading to the Supreme Court had been barricaded. At one spot, police with batons charged protesters to disperse them.
“I just spoke to the Chief Justice and he told me that the gates of the Supreme Court (are) being stormed by the military. He is inside and nobody can go out or come in,” Husnu Al Suood, the president of Maldives Bar Association and a former attorney general, told Reuters late on Monday.
“The emergency means the Supreme Court activities are suspended and nobody is in charge of the judiciary,” he said.
A court official later confirmed that state security forces had broken into the building and were not allowing its judges to leave.
“It is a purge of the political leadership, the parliament and the judiciary,” said opposition legislator Eva Abdulla.
Respect Rule Of Law – US
The U.S. National Security Council released a statement on Twitter saying, “The Maldivian government and military must respect the rule of law, freedom of expression, and democratic institutions. The world is watching.”
The US State Department said it was “troubled and disappointed” by the state of emergency and the failure by the president, army and police to obey a lawful Supreme Court ruling.