Maldives thrown into turmoil as President orders arrest of Supreme Court judges

Irish citizens thinking of travelling to the area have been urged to exercise extreme caution

Maldives thrown into turmoil as President orders arrest of Supreme Court judges

Maldives defence soldiers and policemen guard the main street after government declared a 15-day state of emergency in Malé, Maldives, 06-02-2018. Image: Mohamed Sharuhaan/AP/Press Association Images

The Maldives opposition leader and two senior judges have been arrested after a state of emergency was declared.

The Indian Ocean nation was thrown into turmoil when the Supreme Court ordered several jailed politicians to be freed last week - something the current president did not agree with.

Early on Tuesday, opposition leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was charged with bribery and attempting to overthrow the government, his lawyer, Maumoon Hameed said on Twitter.

Mr Gayoom is the half-brother of the current president, Yameen Abdul Gayoom, under whose rule the Maldives has lost many democratic powers.

Maumoon Gayoom was also president between 1978 to 2008 when the Maldives, which relies on tourism, became a multi-party democracy.

Policemen arrest former Maldives president and opposition leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, 06-02-2018. Image: AP Photo/Mohamed Sharuhaan

State of emergency

Late on Monday, the President issued a 15-day emergency degree after protests spilled onto the capital, Male's streets.

The decree gives the government sweeping powers to make arrests, search and seize property, and restricts freedom of assembly.

Travel warning

The Department of Foreign Affairs has warned any Irish people thinking of travelling to the Maldives to “exercise a high degree of caution” particularly on Malé Island.

“Particular caution is advised on Malé Island due to the possibility of civil unrest,” it said.

“Avoid any protests, demonstrations or large gatherings, as outbreaks of violence may occur, and pay close attention to your personal security at all times.”

Security forces

Since the decision last week ordering the release of imprisoned opposition leaders, President Gayoom has continually hit out at the Supreme Court.

Soldiers in riot gear have also been preventing lawmakers from meeting in the parliament building.

Moments after the President made the emergency declaration on Monday security forces stormed the Supreme Court building where they arrested Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed and Judge Ali Hamid.

Their charges have not been made public and on Tuesday morning their whereabouts were unknown.

The President's office said the court order to release prisoners was overstepping the mark and was an "infringement of national security and public interest".

The Supreme Court has argued otherwise, saying "there are no obstacles in implementing the ruling and that this has been informed to the Prosecutor General's office."

Martial Law

Mohamed Nasheed, the country's first democratically elected leader, told Sky News that the President's order is "tantamount to a declaration of martial law in the Maldives."

"This declaration is unconstitutional and illegal," he said. "Nobody in the Maldives is required to, nor should follow the unlawful order."

He claimed he was ousted as president and made to resign at gunpoint by police and military officers in February 2012.

In 2015 he was convicted under the anti-terrorism act of Maldives and sentenced to 13 years in prison.

Amnesty International has called his conviction "politically motivated."

Under much international pressure the Maldivian government allowed him to travel to London for spinal surgery. He has been granted asylum and has been living in Britain since 2016.

International response

Several nations have called on the Maldives to respect the court order.

The US strongly criticised the decree, which imposes travel restrictions, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.

President Yameen Abdul Gayoom has "systematically alienated his coalition, jailed or exiled every major opposition political figure" since his election in 2013, Ms Nauert said.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said he was "gravely concerned" about the Maldives situation.

He asked "Yameen and Maldives government to peacefully end the state of emergency, restore all articles of the constitution, take immediate steps to implement in full the order of the Supreme Court, and to permit and support the full, free and proper functioning of Parliament."