Why Maldives is under a state of emergency

Seven major constitutional rights, including freedom of speech and freedom from arbitrary arrest, have been temporarily suspended by the nation's president.

Sharwaan/Sun Online via AP
A Maldives bomb squad member checks a suspected explosive inside the engine compartment of a parked broken car in Male, Maldives, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2015. The same was later confirmed to be not a bomb. The president of the Maldives declared a state of emergency on Wednesday that sharply curtails key rights of citizens for 30 days following an explosion on his speedboat and the discoveries of a homemade bomb near his residence and a weapons cache.

The president of the Maldives has declared a 30-day state of emergency in the country, following a series of attacks against the government.

President Abdulla Yameen made the declaration, which gives security forces the right to arrest any suspects who were planning to participate in an anti-government rally planned later this week by the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), the country's main opposition party. Mohamed Nasheed, who is the leader of the MDP and the first democratically elected-president of the Maldives, allegedly organized the upcoming protest from jail.

In March, Mr. Nasheed received a 13-year jail sentence under the Anti-Terrorism Act after a trial that the United Nations claimed was rushed and seriously flawed.

It was a rushed process that appears to contravene the Maldives’ own laws and practices and international fair trial standards in a number of respects,” said High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein in a press statement.

Opposition to President Yameen has grown in recent months. Attorney General Mohamed Anil said an accumulation of firearms and explosives were discovered, along with alleged plots to take down the government, according to the BBC.

In September, an explosion on Mr. Yameen’s speedboat left his wife and two others injured and was regarded as an attempted assassination. Mr. Yameen’s vice president, Ahmed Adeeb, was arrested in October on charges of “high treason” in connection with the bombing, The Guardian reported. The FBI in the United States later said there was no evidence the speedboat blast was caused by a bomb. Earlier this week, the Maldives National Defense Force claimed they safely diffused a remote-controlled bomb near the president’s residence.

The Maldives, a cluster of coral islands off the southern tip of India, relies heavily on tourism, which brings in roughly a million visitors a year from all over the world. The government is encouraging tourists to stay in spite of the 30-day emergency, which has suspended seven articles of the constitution (including free speech and freedom from arbitrary detention). Though it remains unclear whether the tourist industry will take a hit during the peak season this coming winter, the ongoing political instability seems likely to inflict long-term damage on the tourist trade. 

Rising terrorist threats are also causing unrest among the country’s 340,000 predominantly Sunni Muslim population. An estimated 50 to 100 citizens have left the country to join jihad in Syria, raising concerns.

From jail, Nasheed has called on the international community to organize sanctions against the current government.

“It is good and necessary to have a relaxing holiday but important [that tourists] understand what is happening here too,” Mr. Nasheed told The Guardian last February. “I have spent more than half my adult life in prison or banishment, but we cannot give up or relent. I hope Maldivians understand that if we lose these institutions we lose everything.”

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