Thu, Feb 08, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Court in Maldives does U-turn over political prisoners


The Maldives’ highest court on Tuesday revoked an order to release high-profile political prisoners a day after Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen declared a state of emergency and arrested two top judges on corruption charges.

The remaining three judges of the Maldivian Supreme Court said they were rescinding their order to release the prisoners “in light of the concerns raised by the president.”

“The Supreme Court bench hereby rescinds No. 5 of its order to release the individuals,” a statement said.

The court’s original decision signed by all five judges of the apex court had quashed a terrorism conviction against former president and opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed, among others.

The shock move was seen as clearing the way for Nasheed to end his self-imposed exile and return to the nation to contest elections later this year, but Yameen refused to comply with the order and instead declared a 15-day state of emergency, giving sweeping powers to troops to arrest and detain individuals, while curtailing the powers of the judiciary and the legislature.

Maldivian Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed and another judge were then arrested at dawn on Tuesday, after security forces stormed the court complex in the capital, Male.

The latest U-turn of the court would take Nasheed back to square one and is seen by opposition activists as a blow to their attempts at toppling Yameen — accused of plunging the tiny Indian Ocean nation into political turmoil.

However, the Supreme Court made no change to its other order to restore the seats of 12 legislators sacked for defecting from Yameen’s party.

This in theory gives the dissidents a majority in the assembly, but they are prevented from ousting the president because the declaration of a state of emergency takes away the legislature’s power to impeach.

Nasheed has accused Yameen of acting illegally and called on the international community to step in and help remove him from office.

On Tuesday, he urged 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. “We would like the Indian government to send an envoy, backed by its military, to free the judges and the political detainees.”

Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party said the Supreme Court U-turn was due to pressure brought on the three judges.

“Yameen has used coercion to get the original decision revoked,” party spokesman Hamid Abdul Ghafoor said in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Yameen has presided over an escalating crackdown on dissent since he came to power in 2013, battering the image of the upmarket holiday island.

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 US 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.

Several nations have warned against travel to the Maldives, which depends heavily on tourism, at the peak of the season.

In a televised address to the nation, Yameen accused the judges of being part of a plot to overthrow him.

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