The unprecedented incident took place just hours after President Abdulla Yameen had declared a State of Emergency after refusing to comply with the Supreme Court’s Thursday order to release political dissidents.
“The reason for the declaration is that the Supreme Court’s ruling was obstructing the functioning of the government,” presidential aide Azima Shukoor said on national television. The declaration gives sweeping powers to security forces to arrest and detain individuals, curtails the powers of the judiciary and bars parliament from impeaching Yameen. But it must be officially conveyed to parliament within two days, according to officials.
As part of the crackdown, police arrested Yameen’s estranged half-brother and former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who had sided with the main Opposition.
The 80-year-old — president for 30 years until the country’s first democratic elections in 2008 — was taken from his home in the capital Male at around midnight on Monday, according to a tweet from his daughter Yumna Maumoon.
The united Opposition led by the Maldivian Democratic Party called the imposition of the Emergency as “unconstitutional.”
In its 2 February order, the Supreme Court said the “questionable and politically motivated nature of the trials of the political leaders warrant a retrial”. The court ordered authorities to “immediately free the jailed leaders until a court of law sentences otherwise”.
The favourable verdict was seen as clearing the way for exiled former leader Mohamed Nasheed to run for president. Nasheed, who is living in self-imposed exile, was sentenced to 13 years in jail on a terror charge widely criticised as politically-motivated.
International community calls for restoration of democracy
The US on Monday said it was “troubled” and “disappointed” by reports of declaration of state of emergency in Maldives and urged President Abdulla Yameen to comply with the rule of law and implement the Supreme Court ruling.
The US National Security Council backed the Maldivian opposition and warned the Yameen administration from destroying democratic institutions.
India and China issue advisories
Meanwhile, India and China, while showing concern over the situation in Maldives, issued travel advisories to their citizens.
“The prevailing political developments in Maldives and the resultant law and order situation is a matter of concern for the government of India,” the External Affairs Ministry said in a statement.
“Indian nationals are, therefore, advised to defer all non-essential travels to Male and other atolls until further notice. Indian expatriates in Maldives are also alerted to the need for heightened security awareness, and urged to exercise due caution in public and avoid public gatherings.”
China warned its citizens not to travel to the Maldives for holidays due to the political turmoil.
“China is closely following the developments in the Maldives,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang told the media, asking the Maldivian government and the political parties to resolve differences through dialogue while maintaining national stability and social order.
China’s travel advisory coming ahead of the Chinese New Year holiday season starting from 15 February is likely to deter thousands of Chinese who travel to the Maldives during the week-long holiday.
Ever since the verdict was delivered, opponents of the government have been clashing with police on the streets of the capital, demanding the release of imprisoned politicians. As hundreds of people celebrated in Male on Thursday, the police dispersed the crowds using pepper spray and batons. Rocks were thrown at police and at least one injured officer was seen being carried to a hospital.