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Maldives in state of emergency, ex-leader arrested

February 5, 2018

The president of the Maldives has ordered his predecessor arrested and called a state of emergency. Soldiers charged into the Supreme Court and arrested two judges after they ordered imprisoned politicians released.

Maldivian police stand guard on a main street during a protest by opposition supporters against the government's delay in releasing their jailed leaders
Image: Reuters

Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen called a state of emergency on Monday and ordered soldiers to arrest his 80-year-old predecessor and estranged half brother, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who supported the main political opposition.

Yameen is in an escalating power struggle with the South Asian island nation's Supreme Court after judges ordered the release of all imprisoned opposition leaders in a surprise ruling last week.

Read more: Maldives government warns Supreme Court against impeaching President Yameen Abdul Gayoom

Supporters of political parties that oppose the Maldives government have clashed with police on the streets of the capital after the country's supreme court ordered the release of imprisoned politicians
Protesters have been calling for the release of political prisonersImage: picture-alliance/M.Sharuhaan

State of emergency

  • Yameen called a 15-day state of emergency, deepening a political crisis.
  • The emergency decree empowers police to make arrests, search and seize property and restricts freedom of assembly, officials said.
  • Soldiers forced their way into the Supreme Court building and arrested two of the tribunal's four justices.
  • Police used pepper spray to disperse hundreds of protesters who had gathered outside the court.
  • Former President Gayoom was charged with bribery and attempting to overthrow the government, according to his lawyer.

Read more: Maldives court orders release and retrial of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed

'Unlawful order'

In a video message shortly before his arrest, Gayoom said: "I have not done anything to be arrested. ... I urge you to remain steadfast in your resolve, too. We will not give up on the reform work we are doing."

The opposition legislator Eva Abdulla said the state of emergency "only serves to show an isolated man who no longer has the confidence of the Maldivian people and independent institutions. He has no democratic mandate to govern and must resign immediately."

In a letter to the Supreme Court on Monday, Yameen wrote that judges had encroached on the powers of the state and called its recent ruling an "infringement of national security and public interest."

US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Yameen had "alienated his coalition, jailed or exiled every major opposition political figure" since his election in 2013. 

Read more: Maldives comes under fire for death penalty, and free speech crackdown

Islamist surge threatens Maldives tourism industry

Dismantling democracy: The declaration of a state of emergency is Yameen's latest move to stifle dissent. Since taking power he has systematically been reversing years of democratic progress. Instigating such political turmoil could jeapordize the country's vital tourism industry.

Read more: Maldives political crisis: 'worst in its modern history'

Maldives political turmoil

How it came to this: The Maldives has been mired in political unrest since Mohamed Nasheed, Yameen's main rival and the country's first democratically elected president, was ousted and jailed in 2012. Since then, Yameen's government has cracked down on dissent and locked up almost all the political opposition.

Power struggle with the Supreme Court: Last week, judges ordered nine jailed opposition leaders freed, including Gayoom's son Farish. The ruling also ordered the government to reinstate 12 legislators who were sacked for defecting to the opposition, potentially paving the way to impeach the president. Yameen has defied the ruling.

Gayoom's role: He ruled the Maldives autocratically for 30 years, until the country's first democratic elections in 2008, in which Nasheed won power. He now supports the opposition and was campaigning for the toppling of his half brother and current President Yameen.

Possible impeachment: Yameen is facing international pressure to follow the court order and reinstate the opposition. If that happens, he could face impeachment.

Read more: Maldives ex-president eyes risky political comeback

Holiday greetings from the Maldives

aw/rt (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)