The Maldives president on Wednesday welcomed a Supreme Court move to reinstate the convictions of high-profile political prisoners after he arrested two top judges and declared a state of emergency, plunging the upmarket holiday paradise into chaos.
President Abdulla Yameen attracted international censure for his refusal to comply with last week’s shock Supreme Court order to release his jailed political opponents and to quash the conviction of Mohamed Nasheed.
Exiled opposition leader Nasheed has said he will run against Yameen in presidential elections due later this year, and the court’s ruling had appeared to pave the way for his return to the honeymoon islands.
But late on Tuesday the remaining three judges reinstated his controversial 2015 terrorism conviction and reversed their earlier order to free eight other political prisoners.
A statement on Yameen?s website on Wednesday said his administration welcomed the court’s U-turn, which the judges had said was made “in light of the concerns raised by the president”.
The worsening political turmoil has led several countries to warn against travel to the country, which depends heavily on tourism, at the peak of the holiday season.
The 15-day state of emergency imposed earlier this week gives the government sweeping powers to arrest and detain individuals and curtails the powers of the judiciary and the legislature.
Maldives Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed and another judge were arrested at dawn Tuesday after security forces stormed the court complex in the capital Male.
In a televised address to the nation hours later, Yameen said the judges were part of a plot to overthrow him.
“I had to declare a national emergency because there was no other way to investigate these judges,” he said.
“We had to find out how thick the plot or coup was.”
– Escalating crackdown –
Yameen has had almost all the political opposition jailed since he came to power, in an escalating crackdown on dissent.
This week he ordered the arrest of his estranged half-brother, former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who last year sided with the opposition.
The 80-year-old Gayoom — president for 30 years until the country’s first democratic elections in 2008 — was taken from his home in the capital Male around midnight on Monday, hours after the emergency was declared.
Nasheed has appealed to regional superpower India to send troops to the strategically located archipelago, which has grown increasingly close to regional rival China under Yameen’s leadership.
“President Yameen has illegally declared martial law and overrun the state. We must remove him from power,” said Nasheed, the first democratically elected leader of the Maldives, in a statement Tuesday.
“We would like the Indian government to send an envoy, backed by its military, to free the judges and the political detainees.”
In a statement, India said it was “disturbed” by the president’s latest moves and was monitoring the situation closely, but did not directly address Nasheed’s request.
London-based Amnesty International called for the immediate release of the detained judges, warning that the “eyes of the world” were on the worsening crisis in the troubled archipelago.
The United States said earlier it was “troubled and disappointed” at the declaration of a state of emergency and called on Yameen to comply with the rule of law.