A court in the Maldives ordered the country’s former longtime dictator and the Supreme Court chief justice to be detained until the end of their trials on terrorism charges. The order was issued yesterday at the first hearing in the Criminal Court for Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed. Prosecutors have not explained the basis of the terrorism charge filed against nine people in all, including another Supreme Court judge, a judicial officer and four lawmakers including Gayoom’s son. If convicted, each could be jailed 10 to 15 years. Gayoom and Saeed were among several people arrested last month during a state of emergency amid political unrest that followed a Supreme Court ruling to release several jailed political opponents of President Yameen Abdul Gayoom, the former dictator’s half-brother. The state of emergency, which gave police sweeping authority to make arrests, search and seize property, and restrict freedom of assembly, expires today. Saeed, Justice Ali and the judicial officer also have been charged with receiving bribes to help overthrow the government. After the arrests of the two judges, the three remaining on the Supreme Court reversed the order to release Yameen’s political opponents.
The country’s traditional political alliances have been upended in recent years. Gayoom had campaigned for Yameen in 2013 but is now an opposition leader and allied with the country’s first president elected in a free election. Mohamed Nasheed was a democracy activist repeatedly jailed during Gayoom’s rule before defeating the dictator in the 2008 presidential election. He resigned from office amid public opposition to his order for the military to detain a judge and was jailed under the terror law for that decision. After he was allowed to leave prison to seek medical treatment abroad, he received asylum in Britain.
Had he been cleared of the charge if the Supreme Court’s initial order had taken effect, Nasheed could have been a strong rival to Yameen in the presidential election scheduled for later this year. However, Yameen is now poised to run for re-election virtually unopposed with all of his rivals either jailed or in exile. Since being elected, Yameen has rolled back much of the democratic gains and freedoms. Apart from Nasheed, Yameen’s former vice president and a defense minister are among the many who have been jailed since Yameen took office.