The Maldives’ chief justice is being unconstitutionally detained after being forcefully dragged on the floor from his chambers by security personnel in riot gear, his lawyer said Thursday, expressing grave concern about the reaction to the Supreme Court’s surprise ruling last week to free jailed politicians. “This Executive encroachment of Judicial powers is a blatant violation and completely erodes the doctrine of separation of powers,” said the statement in which lawyer Hisaan Hussain called for the chief justice’s immediate release.
Police accused Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed and a second Supreme Court justice of taking millions of dollars in bribes in return for the court ruling.
Political turmoil has swept the Indian Ocean archipelago nation since the court ordered the release of several jailed opposition leaders, including many of President Yameen Abdul Gayoom’s main political rivals.
Yameen has cracked down on civil liberties since coming to power in 2013, imprisoning or forcing into exile nearly every politician who opposes him. The Maldives became a multiparty democracy 10 years ago but lost much of those gains after Yameen was elected.
On Monday, Yameen declared a 15-day state of emergency, giving his government sweeping powers, including to make arrests, search and seize property, and restrict freedom of assembly.
Hours after the state of emergency was declared, security forces in riot gear and blue camouflage uniforms stormed the Supreme Court building to arrest Saeed and Justice Ali Hameed.
The acting national police chief, Abdulla Nawaz, said Wednesday that police had proof of bribes and found “piles of cash under the bed” of an arrested judicial official who is accused of influencing the court justices.
Since the detentions, the three Supreme Court justices who were not arrested have annulled the court’s order to free the imprisoned opposition politicians.
The United Nations, India and other foreign governments have expressed concern over the state of emergency and have urged Yameen to respect the earlier court order.
Police also this week arrested the country’s former dictator, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who was president from 1978 to 2008, when the Maldives became a multiparty democracy. He is accused of trying to oust the government, run by his half brother.
The Maldives is an archipelago of more than 1,000 islands with fewer than 400,000 citizens, more than one-third of them living in the crowded capital city, Male. Tourism now dominates the economy, with wealthy foreigners flown to hyper-expensive resort islands.
The political turmoil has been limited to the capital of Male, far from many tourist destinations. Several countries have updated their advice to travelers since the crisis began, urging them to be cautious.