Three Maldives supreme court justices have annulled their own order to free a group of imprisoned opposition politicians after two of the court’s justices were arrested amid a growing crisis in the Indian Ocean archipelago nation.
The new ruling came as President Yameen Abdul Gayoom moved to assert his power over the court, declaring a state of emergency and ordering security forces to raid the court compound where they arrested the justices.
Political turmoil has swept the Maldives since the surprise court ruling last week ordering the release of the opposition leaders, including many of Mr Yameen’s main political rivals.
The annulment of that order was announced in a court statement issued late on Tuesday night after Mr Yameen issued a state of emergency for the country, restricting citizens’ rights. He also labelled the original court ruling a coup and a plot.
Mr Yameen said on national television: “This is not a state of war, epidemic or natural disaster. This is something more dangerous.
“This is an obstruction of the very ability of the state to function.”
The president has rolled back a series of democratic reforms during his five years in office and said that the court overstepped its authority in ordering the politicians’ release, saying the order “blatantly disrupts the systems of checks and balances”.
The emergency decree gives officials sweeping powers to make arrests, to search and seize property and to restrict freedom of assembly.
Mr Yameen said: “This state of emergency is the only way I can determine how deep this plot, this coup, goes.”
Meanwhile, Mr Yameen’s main political rival called on India to send an envoy — backed by its military — to free the imprisoned justices and opposition leaders.
Exiled former president Mohammed Nasheed, who was among the opposition politicians ordered freed and who is now in neighbouring Sri Lanka, said Mr Yameen “has illegally declared martial law and overrun the state. We must remove him from power”.
He called for the Indian envoy and military to be sent, saying: “We are asking for a physical presence.”
Mr Nasheed also called on the US to stop Maldives government officials from making transactions through American banks.
The spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was seriously concerned about the declaration of a state of emergency and the entry of security forces into the supreme court premises.