Maldives opposition members arrested after top court validates emergency rule

Maldives police arrested at least another four opposition members under state of emergency laws for protesting against President Abdulla Yameen's government, the opposition said on Tuesday.

Government declared emergency in Indian Ocean nation earlier this month amid political crisis

in an earlier protest, on Feb. 21, Maldivian police officers in the capital, Male, arrest an opposition protester who was part of a group demanding the release of political prisoners. (Ahmed Shurau/AFP/Getty Images)

Maldives police arrested at least another four opposition members under state of emergency laws for protesting against President Abdulla Yameen's government, the opposition said on Tuesday.

The top court in the Maldives validated last week a 30-day extension of the state of emergency, which was sought by Yameen over what he has called a national security threat and constitutional crisis.

Opposition politicians defied a police order to stop protesting after 10.30 pm local time on Monday and continued to demand that Yameen implement a Supreme Court ruling that quashed convictions against nine opposition leaders and ordered the release of politicians and officials held in prison.

Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen, centre, is surrounded by his bodyguards as he arrives to address his supporters in Male on Feb. 3. (Mohamed Sharuhaan/Associated Press)

The Maldivian Democratic Party, the main opposition party, said on Twitter police had arrested Mohamed Ameeth and Abdulla Ahmed, two lawmakers who had defected from Yameen's party, and two more from other opposition parties late on Monday.

Independent television Raajje TV, which showed footage of police forcibly blocking protesters, said Abdulla Ahmed was arrested while giving a media interview about the protest.

Yameen's government has so far ignored international calls to lift the state of emergency, first declared on Feb. 5 for 15 days, and release opposition leaders from jail.

EU calls for release of political prisoners

The Council of the European Union threatened the Maldives on Monday with "targeted measures" if the crisis did not improve.

"The Council condemns politically motivated arrests and calls for the immediate release of all political prisoners," the EU said in a statement.

Maldivian police officers stand guard on a street on Feb. 6, one day after Maldives President Abdulla Yameen declared a state of emergency for 15 days. The country's parliament approved a 30-day extension of the state of emergency on Feb. 20. (Reuters)

"The Council also condemns any interference with the work of the Supreme Court of the Maldives and actions taken against the judiciary and the judges," it said.

The Maldives foreign ministry said in a statement there was no legal mandate to implement the Supreme Court order, which also included reinstating 12 lawmakers stripped of their parliamentary seats by Yameen's party for defecting last year.

"The government will ensure that the state of emergency is lifted as soon as the threats posed to national security are addressed satisfactorily," the statement said.

Countries including the United States, Canada, and neighbouring India, along with the United Nations, have urged Yameen to lift the emergency.

Tour operators say hundreds of hotel bookings have been cancelled daily since the emergency was imposed, despite government assurances that all was normal in Indian Ocean resort islands far from the capital.

The government said in a statement on Monday it had to take difficult steps to safeguard the constitution and ensure that civil and political rights were protected. The prosecutor general has said the extension of the state of emergency was unconstitutional because parliament did not have the required quorum when it voted last week.

However, the three-judge Supreme Court, which is functioning without a chief justice, said late on Monday the parliamentary vote on the extension was valid.

Under the emergency, Yameen's administration has arrested the chief justice, another Supreme Court judge and former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom on allegations of attempting to overthrow the government.

Yameen has also fired two police chiefs who said they would uphold the court's rulings. His government retains a majority in parliament in the absence of the 12 MPs stripped of their seats.