Maldives’ embattled president calls state of emergency amid protests calling for his impeachment
Strongman president has ignored a court order to free political prisoners and reinstate opposition lawmakers
The Maldives government has declared a 15-day state of emergency amid a deepening political crisis between the president and the judiciary over its order to release a group of imprisoned opposition leaders.
Legal Affairs Minister Azima Shakoor announced the state of emergency on state television Monday evening local time, prompting a swift response from the US government.
“America stands with the people of Maldives. The Maldivian government and military must respect the rule of law, freedom of expression, and democratic institutions. The world is watching,” the White House National Security Council said in a post on Twitter.
America stands with the people of Maldives. The Maldivian government and military must respect the rule of law, freedom of expression, and democratic institutions. The world is watching.
— NSC (@WHNSC) February 5, 2018
The Maldives crisis has been sparked by President Abdulla Yameen’s refusal to release nine jailed dissidents and reinstate opposition lawmakers, per a shock ruling by the Maldives’ top court.
Opposition leaders in the country on Monday urged the international community to pressure Yameen into obeying the court order and “restore democracy” to the troubled honeymoon islands.
The Supreme Court on Sunday asked Yameen to comply with its order, saying the dissidents must be released because their trials were politically motivated and flawed.
But the strongman leader has remained defiant, suspending parliament, ordering the arrest of two returning opposition defectors and staging a rally on Sunday with hundreds of supporters in the capital Male.
In a letter addressed to the international community, Maldive opposition lawmakers appealed for external support in persuading Yameen to end the tense stand-off with the country’s highest court.
“We request the international community, including India, Sri Lanka, the US, Britain, the EU … to do everything in their power to help return power to the people of the Maldives and restore democracy,” the statement read.
Yameen has faced increasing pressure to respect Thursday’s landmark court ruling, with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres at the weekend calling for “restraint” as the crisis escalated.
The United Nations, Australia, Britain, Canada, India and the United States welcomed the court’s decision as a move towards restoring democracy in the troubled Indian Ocean nation.
Yameen has faced previous unsuccessful opposition attempts to impeach him for alleged corruption.
But the court order, to restore the seats of 12 government MPs who defected to the opposition, would effectively reduce Yameen’s party to a minority.
Attorney General Mohamed Anil warned Sunday that any move to impeach the president would be “unconstitutional and illegal”.
Two opposition lawmakers who returned to the Maldives since the court’s ruling were detained by police to face court on Monday.
One was freed by a criminal court in Male, while the other awaits a hearing.
Parliament, due to resume Monday, was suspended indefinitely at the weekend by Yameen, who has deployed troops to occupy the People’s Majlis since March last year.
Opposition parties rallied in Male on Sunday, but there was no repeat of the police clashes and tear gas that rocked the capital over the weekend.
The court’s ruling also opens the way for exiled former leader of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed to run for president after the Supreme Court quashed his conviction for terrorism.
Nasheed – who was barred from contesting any election after a controversial 2015 conviction on a terrorism charge – has described Yameen’s refusal to obey the Supreme Court as a “coup”.
Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party said the court’s ruling “effectively ends President Yameen’s authoritarian rule”.
Yameen’s crackdown on dissent has tarnished the Maldives’ image as an upmarket holiday paradise.
He has jailed almost all the political opposition since 2013, when he won a controversial run-off election against Nasheed.