Security forces in the Maldives stormed the Supreme Court late on Monday and arrested two judges, including the chief justice, hours after President Abdulla Yameen declared a 15-day state of emergency in the country. Police also arrested former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who is Yameen’s half-brother, Reuters reported.
The emergency came within a week of the Supreme Court’s order on February 1 to revoke terrorism charges against nine Opposition leaders, including exiled former president Mohamed Nasheed. The government has defied the order.
Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed and Judge Ali Hameed were arrested in the early hours of Tuesday, Al Jazeera reported, quoting police. Police did not specify the charges against them. After the emergency was declared, police barricaded roads leading up to the top court, and reportedly baton-charged protestors.
After his arrest, Gayoom said in a recorded video on social media: “I have not committed any crime. This arrest is unlawful. I will remain strong, and I ask the beloved people to remain strong.” Gayoom was president for 30 years till 2008.
On Monday evening, Yameen had declared emergency, claiming the Supreme Court was obstructing the government from carrying out its responsibilities. “All basic rights have been suspended,” MP Eva Abdullah had said. “Security forces have sweeping powers to arrest and search.” On Sunday, security forces had sealed off the Parliament and arrested two Opposition legislators.
The United States Department of State said it was “troubled and disappointed” by the state of emergency in Maldives. It said the president, Army and police had failed to implement a lawful court order, “against the Constitution and rule of law”.
The US National Security Council said on Twitter: “The Maldivian government and military must respect the rule of law, freedom of expression, and democratic institutions. The world is watching.”
India’s Ministry of External Affairs has advised citizens to avoid non-essential travel to Male or other areas in the Maldives. It also advised expatriates in Maldives to “exercise due caution in public and avoid public gatherings”.
Amnesty International said that the emergency must not become a licence for further repression. The country’s authorities have “an appalling track-record of suppressing freedom of expression and any form of opposition, a pattern of behaviour that has intensified over recent years”, said Dinushika Dissanayake, Amnesty’s Deputy South Asia Director.