Maldives shuts parliament, resists pressure to free political prisoners

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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 Friday. — AFP

MALE — Maldivian authorities on Saturday announced an indefinite postponement of parliament as President Abdulla Yameen’s regime resisted international pressure to comply with a landmark Supreme Court order to free political prisoners.

The People’s Majlis, or parliament, told local reporters in a brief message that the assembly will not have its scheduled sessions on Monday “due to security reasons”.

No fresh date was given for the sessions.

The move followed a shock order Thursday by the country’s Supreme Court to release nine political dissidents. It also restored the seats of 12 legislators who had been sacked for defecting from Yameen’s party.

The reinstatement of the dozen legislators has given the opposition a majority in the 85-member assembly, and it can now potentially impeach Yameen as well as his Cabinet.

The beleaguered president announced on Saturday that he sacked police chief Ahmed Saudhee, who was appointed just two days ago. His predecessor Ahmed Areef was fired on Thursday, shortly after he said he will honor the court’s decision.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) said Yameen was yet to release any political prisoners.

“Although Yameen has said he will abide by the ruling, he is yet to comply with the order delivered more than 36 hours ago,” Colombo-based MDP spokesman Hamid Abdul Ghafoor said on Saturday morning.

On Friday, Attorney General Mohamed Anil said he had held discussions with Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed over the administration’s concerns about releasing individuals whose offenses ranged from terrorism to corruption and treason.

“The prosecutor general is currently in the process of examining the cases to determine the best way to proceed with the implementation of the Supreme Court’s ruling, and the prosecutor general will present recommendations at the earliest,” the government said in a statement.

The court had said that cases against the nine dissidents, including MDP leader and former President Mohamed Nasheed, were politically motivated and asked the government to release them immediately.

In a statement issued overnight, the joint opposition, which includes Nasheed’s MDP, said there were concerns the regime would ignore the ruling and that it would trigger further unrest in the nation.

“We are deeply fearful that the government’s refusal to implement the Supreme Court order could escalate to unrest and incite violence across the country,” the opposition said.

Nasheed, the country’s first democratically-elected president, has urged the government to respect the top court’s decision.

The United Nations, Australia, Britain, Canada, India and the United States welcomed the court’s decision as a move toward restoring democracy in the politically troubled Indian Ocean nation.

In a statement, the office of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said, “The Secretary-General reiterates his belief in finding a solution to the political stalemate in the Maldives through all-party talks, which the United Nations continues to stand ready to facilitate.”

“We understand the situation is extremely tense,” Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights told reporters on Friday.

The agency was “closely watching how the situation develops in the aftermath of Thursday’s decisions by the Supreme Court, and in particular, the reactions of the government, military and police,” he added.

The European Union urged the government to hold “inclusive dialogue with the leaders of all political parties that should pave the way for credible, transparent and inclusive elections”.

Earlier, Nasheed had said the ruling cleared the way for him to return to the Maldives and contest elections due later this year.

“I can contest and will contest,” he said in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo.

For its part, the Maldivian government said on Friday that it had concerns about releasing those convicted for “terrorism, corruption, embezzlement, and treason”.

Nasheed was barred from contesting any election in the Maldives after a controversial 2015 terrorism conviction internationally criticized as politically motivated. — Agencies


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