Malé (AFP): Opposition leaders in the Maldives urged the international community yesterday to pressure President Abdulla Yameen into obeying a court order to free political prisoners and “restore democracy” to the troubled honeymoon islands.
Yameen’s regime has so far refused to release nine jailed dissidents and reinstate opposition lawmakers as ordered by the Maldives’ top court, in a shock ruling last week that has deepened turmoil in the atoll nation.
The Supreme Court on 4 February asked Yameen to comply with its order, saying the dissidents must be released because their trials were politically motivated and flawed.
But the strongman leader has remained defiant, suspending parliament, ordering the arrest of two returning opposition defectors and staging a rally late Sunday with hundreds of supporters in the capital Malé.
In a letter addressed to the international community, Maldives opposition lawmakers appealed for external support in persuading Yameen to end the tense standoff with the country’s highest court.
“We request the international community, including India, Sri Lanka, the US, Britain, the EU... to do everything in their power to help return power to the people of the Maldives and restore democracy,” the statement read.
Yameen has faced increasing pressure to respect the landmark court ruling on 1 February, with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres at the weekend calling for “restraint” as the crisis escalated.
The United Nations, Australia, Britain, Canada, India and the United States welcomed the court’s decision as a move towards restoring democracy in the troubled Indian Ocean nation. Yameen has faced previous unsuccessful opposition attempts to impeach him for alleged corruption.
But the court order, to restore the seats of 12 government MPs who defected to the opposition, would effectively reduce Yameen’s party to a minority.
Attorney General Mohamed Anil warned on 4 February that any move to impeach the president would be “unconstitutional and illegal.”
Two opposition lawmakers who returned to the Maldives since the court’s ruling were detained by police to face court yesterday. One was freed by a criminal court in Malé, while the other awaits a hearing.
Parliament, due to resume yesterday, was suspended indefinitely at the weekend by Yameen, who has deployed troops to occupy the People’s Majlis since March 2017.
Opposition parties rallied in Malé on 4 February, but there was no repeat of the police clashes and tear gas that rocked the capital over the weekend.
The court’s ruling also opens the way for exiled former leader of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed to run for president after the Supreme Court quashed his conviction for terrorism. Nasheed, who was barred from contesting any election after a controversial 2015 conviction on a terrorism charge, has described Yameen’s refusal to obey the Supreme Court as a “coup”.
Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party said the court’s ruling “effectively ends President Yameen’s authoritarian rule.”
Yameen’s crackdown on dissent has tarnished the Maldives’ image as an upmarket holiday paradise.
He has jailed almost all the political opposition since 2013, when he won a controversial run-off election against Nasheed.