U.K. Calls on Maldives to End State of Emergency

U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has called on the government of the Maldives, a former colony, to lift the state of emergency imposed as the country plunged into a political crisis.

Maldives President Abdulla Yameen declared the state of emergency on February 5, after he defied a Supreme Court order to release a number of political prisoners.

The Supreme Court quashed terrorism convictions against nine leading opposition figures including the country's exiled first democratically elected president, Mohamed Nasheed.

However, Yameen ordered the arrest of two senior judges and instructed security forces to seize control of the court.

Johnson expressed concern over the deteriorating situation in the country, a popular holiday destination with Brits.

"The damage being done to democratic institutions in Maldives and the sustained misuse of process in Parliament is deeply worrying," he said in a statement.

"I call on President Yameen and the Government of Maldives to peacefully end the state of emergency, restore all articles of the constitution, take immediate steps to implement in full the order of the Supreme Court and to permit and support the full, free and proper functioning of Parliament."

Johnson's comment came as Nasheed, who was granted asylum by Britain after the government allowed him to leave jail for medical treatment abroad in 2016, sought Indian intervention to resolve the island nation's most serious political crisis in years.

"On behalf of Maldivian people we humbly request: India to send envoy, backed by its military, to release judges & pol. detainees... We request a physical presence," Nasheed, who is currently in Colombo, said in a Twitter post.

He also urged the U.S. to block financial transactions of Yameen's government.

Maldives state of emergency
Maldives police forcibly enter the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) camp to break up celebrations of opposition supporters gathered to celebrate the Supreme Court's decision to order the release of all jailed political leaders near the capital Male on February 2, 2018. Tensions ran high in the Maldives on February 2 after a shock Supreme Court decision to clear the exiled former president and eight other convicted political dissidents triggered overnight clashes between police and opposition activists. AFP/Getty Images

Police also arrested another former president, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, along with his son-in-law, local media reported.

Gayoom, Yameen's half-brother, ruled the country from 1978 until 2008 and is now aligned with the opposition.

He said on Twitter early on February 6: "A large number of police around my residence. To protect me or to arrest me? No idea."

Gayoom's son Faris, who was one of the imprisoned opposition leaders that the court ordered to be freed, was released on Tuesday, his lawyer told Reuters.

Other opponents of Yameen remained in prison.

Since Yameen took control of the overwhelmingly Muslim country of 400,000 people in 2013, his government has faced heavy criticism over the detention of opponents, political influence over the judiciary and the lack of freedom of speech.

Addressing the nation on state television, Yameen said he had acted to prevent a coup, and suggested that the judges had chosen to side with his opponents because they were being investigated for corruption.

"I declared the state of emergency because there was no way to hold these justices accountable. This is a coup. I wanted to know how well planned this coup," he said.

Rival influences

Located near key shipping lanes, the Maldives have assumed greater importance after China began building political and economic ties as part of its so-called 'String Of Pearls' strategy to build a network of ports in the Indian Ocean region.

Having historically held more clout in the islands, India has sought to push back against China's growing influence there.

India, the United States and Britain have urged Yameen to honor the rule of law and free the detainees.

Indian intervention in the Maldives would not be unprecedented, as New Delhi sent troops in 1988 to foil a coup, purportedly involving foreign mercenaries.

China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said it was an internal matter for the Maldives.

"We believe that the Maldives government, political parties and people have the wisdom and ability to cope with the present situation themselves," Geng told a daily news briefing.

China has had good ties with Yameen's government and a free trade agreement between the two countries was signed in December, despite criticism from the opposition.

Any Indian involvement would risk raising tensions further in the overwhelmingly Muslim archipelago of 400,000 people and intensify the rivalry with China.

Aside from the intervention in 1988, India has generally tried to avoid meddling in the Maldives' internal affairs, although it has continued to provide military and economic assistance.