Unrest erupted after president rejected court ruling last week
China, India and UK issue travel warnings for popular tourist destination
Political unrest in the Republic of Maldives prompted the Asian nation’s President on Monday to declare a state of emergency for 15 days.
The move, which gives President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom power to arrest and detain people, reflects a power struggle between the island nation’s Supreme Court and its government.
“During this time, though certain rights will be restricted, general movements, services and businesses will not be affected,” said a statement from the office of the President.
The country’s court last week ordered the release of political prisoners and the reinstatement of elected members of Parliament that would give the political opposition majority power. But President Yameen has rejected adhering to the court order.
Situated to the southwest of India and Sri Lanka, the Maldives are a chain of atolls home to almost 400,000 people and hugely popular as a tourist destination, especially for Chinese visitors.
The Maldives attorney general on Sunday advised law enforcement to uphold the constitution and warned that the Supreme Court may “issue a ruling to impeach the President,” according to a press release from the Foreign Ministry.
On Monday, the tension escalated when Maldives National Defense Forces reportedly broke into the Supreme Court in the capital city of Male.
Security forces “blockaded and locked the Supreme Court building from outside and hence the justices are without any food,” Maldives’ former Attorney General Husnu Al Suood tweeted.
Former leader arrested
Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was also arrested on Monday, according to his family. The former leader stated earlier in the day that police has surrounded his residence. “To protect me or to arrest me? No idea,” he tweeted before reportedly being taken into custody.
Maumoon Abdul Gayoom is the half-brother of the current President, Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom, and ruled the country for 30 years until 2008.
Opposition supporters have staged street protests lobbying the government to obey the court order and have urged the international community to do what it can to persuade the government to obey the ruling.
“Once again, dissent and critical voices are coming under attack in the Maldives,” said Dinushika Dissanayake, Amnesty International’s South Asia deputy director. “Instead of respecting and implementing the Supreme Court’s ruling, the government is riding roughshod over any notion of justice and arbitrarily detaining members of the opposition.”
During the emergency period, the Maldives President said, “the safety of all Maldivians and foreigners living in and visiting the Maldives will be ensured.”
The US State Department said in a press release that it supports the Supreme Court’s decision and “it is imperative that the Maldivian President, government, and security services uphold the constitution and rule of law and implement the court’s ruling in full.”
Peak travel season
Almost 1.4 million tourists from across the world visited the Maldives in 2017, according to government statistics, including hundreds of thousands from China and the United Kingdom.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Monday the country had issued a travel warning for the island chain ahead of the Lunar New Year, which begins February 16 and is China’s peak travel season.
“We suggest the Chinese tourists who plan to travel to Maldives should not go there before the situation calms down,” he said Monday.
He added that there had been no reports of Chinese citizens being attacked.
India and the United Kingdom also issued travel warnings for archipelago.
“Security forces have been deployed in the capital Malé in response to political developments. If you’re in Malé, you should exercise caution and avoid any protests or rallies,” said the UK in their advisory.
A July 2017 population estimate in the CIA World Factbook said more than 392,000 live on the Indian Ocean archipelago, a popular tourist destination.
CNN’s Sarah Faidell and Joe Sterling in Atlanta and Sugam Pokharel in New Delhi contributed to this report.