The Maldives has been plunged into chaos following the arrest of the archipelago nation’s chief justice and other top judges, hours after President Abdulla Yameen imposed a 15-day state of emergency that suspended a host of political and legal rights.
The crackdown on the country’s senior judiciary — and the suspension of most civil and political rights — marks an escalation of the stand-off between Mr Yameen and the Supreme Court, which last week ordered the release of several incarcerated opposition politicians.
The Supreme Court’s judgment quashed the criminal conviction of former president Mohamed Nasheed, paving the way for the exiled opposition leader’s return to the Maldives to contest upcoming elections — in which Mr Yameen had expected to run virtually unchallenged.
But a defiant Mr Yameen said that his administration would not honour the court order, sparking street protests in the capital, Malé, by opposition supporters who demanded that their leaders released.
Announcing the 15-day state of emergency on Monday night, a presidential spokesman said the Supreme Court’s judgment “stands in defiance of the highest authority in the country: the constitution”.
He also said that releasing the incarcerated politicians would “raise concerns over national security”.
The state of emergency gives security forces powers to arrest and detain suspects, bans public gatherings, and suspends some constitutional protections, including the right to privacy.
As the nature of the crackdown became clear, Mr Nasheed appealed for India to send a military expedition to its smaller neighbour to free the judges and political prisoners. He also urged Washington — which has expressed dismay at the deteriorating situation — to impose financial sanctions on Maldivian government figures.
The US, UK, India and China have issued travel advisories to their citizens, urging them to postpone non-essential travel to the archipelago.