Under fire from the international community including India and the Maldivian Opposition for not implementing its Supreme Court’s order to release political prisoners and lawmakers, embattled President Abdulla Yameen Monday night imposed a “state of emergency” for 15 days, plunging the island nation into deep crisis.
The Maldives Independent said the Maldivian Army had surrounded the Supreme Court and locked the judges inside. Reports suggested that security forces had started breaking the gates of the Supreme Court.
Shortly after former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom tweeted late Monday night that his house too had been surrounded, his daughter Yumna said the police had arrested her father and her husband.
A spokesperson for Yameen said he was “currently handling very important work”, and people should not bother him by sending text messages. The “state of emergency” suspends fundamental freedoms and rights of citizens, and gives powers to security forces to arrest and detain suspects.
Former President Mohamed Nasheed called the declaration of emergency “unconstitutional and illegal”.
“Nobody in the Maldives is required to, nor should, follow this unlawful order,” Nasheed said from Colombo. He urged India to “act swiftly” and said he was engaged with international partners, including India and other neighbouring countries, seeking a resolution to the crisis.
New Delhi expressed concern over the “recent political developments” in the Maldives and asked Indians to defer all non-essential travels to the Indian Ocean nation until further notice.
In an advisory, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said Indian expatriates in Maldives were being alerted to the need for heightened security awareness, exercise due caution in public and to avoid public gatherings.
“The prevailing political developments in Maldives and the resultant law and order situation is a matter of concern for the government. Indian nationals are, therefore, advised to defer all non-essential travels to Male and other atolls until further notice,” the advisory said.
The US also responded with the White House National Security Council tweeting, “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.”
China, the largest source of tourists for the Maldives, also issued a travel advisory, and said it had asked Maldives to protect Chinese enterprises, institutions and personnel.
With Yameen refusing to implement court orders to release political leaders from custody and reinstate 12 Opposition MPs, the Indian High Commission in Male conveyed to New Delhi that the apex judiciary in the island nation was being intimidated by the government.
“We have been in touch with various stakeholders in Male. What we have gathered is that the judges are being intimidated. The top judges are maintaining their calm, as the Chief Justice has been standing by them. Some diplomats have been able to speak to them,” sources told The Indian Express.
New Delhi was also in touch with envoys from other countries with concurrent accreditation in Maldives, said sources, adding that they were assessing the situation to decide the next steps.
Meanwhile, Nasheed spoke to Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed. “Nasheed and Chief Justice discussed the breakdown of rule of law and government institutions and expressed concern over these extremely worrying developments,” a statement said.
On Monday, the Maldives Supreme Court rejected letters from President Yameen asking it to revoke its order for the release of several jailed political leaders, a ruling party leader said.
In three separate letters to Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed, Yameen said the Supreme Court had failed to provide a solution to concerns raised by the chief prosecutor. This, he said, set dangerous legal precedents.
In a letter read out by Legal Affairs Minister Azima Shakoor on state television, Yameen also argued that the court’s order, if implemented, threatened the entire justice system and the constitution.
The Supreme Court, however, rejected the concerns, saying there were no legal or judicial reasons that would prevent authorities from implementing the order. “As referred to in the order, there is nothing preventing the prosecutor general from seeking a re-trial after the order has been implemented,” the Maldives Supreme Court said in a statement.
In addition to former President Mohamed Nasheed, the other political leaders named in the order include Jumhoory Party (JP) leader Gasim Ibrahim, religious conservative Adhaalath Party (AP) leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla, former defence minister Mohamed Nazim, former vice president Ahmed Adheeb Abdul Ghafoor and deposed ruling party leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s lawmaker son Faris Maumoon.