President Abdulla Yameen of the Maldives has declared a state of emergency Wednesday, claiming a threat to national security after an assassination attempt.
“President Yameen has declared (a) state of emergency to ensure the safety and security of every citizen,” Maldives presidential spokesman Muaz Ali tweeted Wednesday afternoon.
The presidential decree came into effect at noon local time in the Maldives, and suspends all civil rights. This gives the government security forces sweeping powers to arrest anyone before a major anti-government rally that was planned for the end of the week.
Political analysts point out the opposition Maldivian Democratic party (MDP) is organizing the anti-government protest rally. The leader of the MDP, Mohamed Nasheed, has been in jail for almost a year after his conviction under new Maldives anti-terror laws.
Statement from Maldives President Yameen
In an address to the nation Wednesday, Maldives President Yameen said: “My beloved citizens, I assure you, that in enforcing this decree, the rights and freedoms stated in the constitution will only be restricted within the limits of … the constitution, and only to the extent strictly required by the situation.”
More on Maldives emergency
The emergency decree suspends seven articles of the constitution, including those guaranteeing Maldivean citizens the rights of assembly, free expression, freedom from arbitrary detention and freedom of movement.
The state of emergency was limited to 30 days and there was no curfew at this time, according to the government statement.
The foreign minister of Maldives, Dunya Maumoon, called the emergency decree a “precautionary action by the government in light of several security threats that have emerged in the last week”.
“As a government we have a responsibility to our citizens to ensure they can go about their daily lives in peace and security. We are determined to root out a small minority who seem intent on causing damage to people and property,” she noted.
Malé, the capital of the Maldives, was quiet on Wednesday afternoon, but soldiers were visible and were not allowing access to water and power plants and other facilities.
Residents of Malé said that the authorities were making raids at various locations throughout the city looking for weapons and explosives.
James Dauris, the British high commissioner to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, noted that he was “most concerned by restrictions on fundamental rights and freedoms in the Maldives from today”.
Thoriq Hamid, from the nonprofit Transparency Maldives, commented that his group was “extremely … concerned that the situation has escalated to this point”.
The defacto declaration of martial law comes during heightened tensions after an explosion on the presidential speedboat at the end of September that wounded his wife and two associates. Yameen was not hurt in the explosion, and the U.S. FBI has said there is no evidence it was caused by a bomb (ie, it was very likely an accidental explosion). The Maldivean authorities, however, insist it was an attempt on Yameen’s life.
Around a month later Yameen arrested the vice-president, Ahmed Adeeb, and accused him of “high treason” after connecting him to the boat explosion.
Earlier this week, the Maldives National Defence Force said it had located and defused a remote-controlled bomb near the president’s official residence in Malé.
Maldivean officials also claimed on Wednesday that several caches of guns and explosives had been found. Others point out that a large stash of weapons and ammunition missing from state armories has still not been fully recovered.
Anti-government MDP rally to continue as planned on Friday
The MDP rally scheduled for Friday is designed to pressure Yameen into releasing Nasheed, the first democratically elected leader of the Maldives and a well-known anti-climate change advocate.
Nasheed gave up the presidency in 2012 amid large protests, in what his supporters claim was an organized coup.
MDP parliament member Eva Abdulla commented the rally would proceed as planned on Friday. “We saw this coming. Everything has been leading up to this. This is the last straw – the only straw – left for Yameen. He has totally lost grip on governance. He doesn’t have the public with him and any control is based on fear and intimidation,” she explained.
Additional political instability in the Maldives will hurt the tourist trade, the biggest industry and source of foreign currency. Over a million tourists visit the 1,192 small coral islands of the Maldives annually.