A state of emergency has been declared in the Maldives, as President Yameen suspends parts of the constitution and arrests key figures in the judiciary and opposition in response to a court ruling.

China has advised citizens to avoid travelling to the islands. The UK’s FCO has issued a warning (see below), but does not currently warn against travel. India has asked citizens to defer all non-essential travel, adding that ‘Indian expatriates in Maldives are also alerted to the need for heightened security awareness, and urged to exercise due caution in public and avoid public gatherings.’ See below for further travel advisories.

If you are headed to the Maldives, please check with your travel agent and your travel insurance to see how this situation will impact on your trip. Not all travel insurance policies cover political unrest – make sure you read the small print on your policy.

What is going on

This is an evolving situation – if you are in the Maldives or you are headed there soon, we highly recommend you monitor media and consular channels.

Arrests and protests

On Monday night, military personnel in riot gear arrested two of the country’s four Supreme Court judges in the capital Malé. The troops were further deployed ‘to the parliament building to stop legislators from meeting.

Media outlets are under extreme pressure, and are likely to shut down. Former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was also arrested.

The BBC reports that the ‘turmoil began when President Abdulla Yameen refused to obey a court order to release political dissidents.‘ Time offers some further context

The Maldives’ latest political crisis is the culmination of a standoff between President Abdulla Yameen and the Maldives Supreme Court, which last week ruled that nine opponents of the president had been unfairly convicted. Those opponents include exiled former president Nasheed — who in 2015 was sentenced to 13 years in prison after a trial broadly viewed as politically motivated — and Mohamed Nazim, a former defense minister who many Maldivians believe was framed, according to the New York Times. 

Pardoning the members of the opposition would give them the parliamentary majority – and the possibility of impeaching President Yameen. The decision also means former president Mohamed Nasheed could return from exile and run in the elections later this year.

Political background

Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was president for 30 years, from 1978 until 2008, after winning six elections in which he was unopposed. At least three attempted coups failed during that time – the most serious one in 1988 was put down with the assistance of Indian paratroopers and the Indian Navy. His regime was considered autocratic and was marked by allegations of torture and political repression. A growing opposition movement and constitutional reform led to the first direct presidential elections in 2008, in which Mohamed Nasheed was elected president.

Nasheed was a journalist and activist before his election. His government enacted significant changes that included introducing benefits and reforming taxes. Three years after the election, opposition grew and Nasheed resigned in complex circumstances in February 2012 after widespread protests and a mutiny by police and soldiers. He won the early round of the 2013 elections, but this result was annulled by the Supreme Court. The election was subsequently won by President Yameen, the half-brother of Gayoom.

Nasheed was arrested and, following several stops and starts in the process, he was convicted of terrorism in a trial that independent experts have termed flawed and politically motivated. In March 2015 he was sentenced to 13 years in prison. The following year he travelled to the UK for medical treatment, where he sought and was given asylum. He has been living in exile in the UK ever since, but has been quite vocal about intervention.

The BBC reports that President Yameen has ‘faced questions over freedom of speech, the detention of opponents and the independence of the judiciary.’

President Yameen and Gayoom had a ‘spectacular falling out‘ that led to Gayoom aligning himself with fellow former president Nasheed. Gayoom and Nasheed reportedly attempted to lead a ‘democratic coup’ against President Yameen in August, prompting President Yameen to call in the military last summer.

 

Responses

Travel advisories

From the FCO

On 5 February 2018, the Maldives government declared a state of emergency. 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. There are no reports that outlying islands, resorts or Malé International Airport are affected.

Political protests and demonstrations often take place in Malé. Some have led to violence and arrests. You should take appropriate security precautions, comply with local security requirements and avoid protests and rallies.

Please click here to read the rest of the travel advice for the Maldives.

From the Government of Canada

On February 5, 2018, the Maldives government declared a 15-day state of emergency due to political developments. Recent protests led to clashes with police in central Malé. Further protests and clashes are possible and could lead to violence. If you are in Malé, be vigilant at all times, avoid all demonstrations and large gatherings and follow the instructions of local authorities.

Please click here to read the rest of the travel advice for the Maldives.

Sources

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