Maldives on Wednesday announced envoys to “friendly countries” – China, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia – to give them updates on the political situation in the country. Two of the envoys left for their visits on Wednesday, and the one to Riyadh will leave on Thursday, the office of President Abdulla Yameen said.

The Maldives Embassy in New Delhi said that their special envoy’s “first stop” was to be India, but that the Indian government declined their request to visit. “The Government of the Maldives was informed that the said dates were not suitable for India’s leadership”, a statement from the embassy said.

The Chinese state media had on Tuesday warned New Delhi against intervening in Maldives’ affairs.

Maldives has been in turmoil since the Supreme Court ordered it on February 1 to release political prisoners. Yameen’s government defied the order, and instead, on February 5, declared a 15-day state of emergency. Security forces stormed into the court premises and arrested two judges, including the chief justice. The police also arrested former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

On February 6, the Supreme Court revoked its order to free the political prisoners, “in light of the concerns raised by the president”.

Soon, another former president, Mohamed Nasheed, urged India to send its envoy to Male and involve its troops to help release the judges. India said it was “disturbed” by the developments and concerned about “the suspension of constitutional rights”, but made no mention of Nasheed’s appeal.

Chinese state media reacted to India’s statement, saying New Delhi should not interfere in the affairs of the Maldives. It claimed India has a “strong desire to control South Asian countries” and considered the region its “backyard”.

New Delhi’s relations with Male suffered a setback after the island nation signed a free trade agreement with Beijing in 2017, which prompted India to remind Maldives of its “India First” policy. In December 2017, bilateral ties were strained further after Maldives suspended three members of a local body for allegedly meeting the Indian ambassador without permission.

‘All-out assault on democracy’

Meanwhile, the United Nations criticised Yameen’s actions, and called it an “all-out assault on democracy”.

“The suspension of several functions of the judiciary and Parliament, and the restrictions on a series of constitutional rights, create a dangerous concentration of power in the hands of the President,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in a statement on Wednesday. The situation has undermined the checks and balances necessary in any functioning democracy, he said.

“The Maldives have seen in recent years attacks on political opponents, on journalists, on civil society and human right defenders, and what is happening now is tantamount to an all-out assault on democracy,” Al Hussein said.

On February 6, UN Secretary General António Guterres had urged Maldives to lift the state of emergency “as soon as possible”, and uphold the Constitution and rule of law. He had appealed to the government to take all steps to ensure security of citizens, “including members of the judiciary”.