MALE (AFP) – The Maldives’ top judge was arrested Tuesday as security forces stormed the Supreme Court at dawn, in a deepening confrontation with President Abdulla Yameen who has declared a state of emergency in the troubled honeymoon islands.
The detention of Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed and another Supreme Court judge raised the stakes in a dramatic clash after Yameen refused to comply with an order to release nine political dissidents.
Police said both men were under investigation for corruption and that the court’s top administrator had also been detained.
Yameen has presided over an escalating crackdown on dissent that has battered the image of the upmarket holiday paradise, and left almost all the political opposition jailed since he came to power in 2013.
On Monday he even ordered the arrest of arrest of his estranged half-brother and former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who had sided with the main opposition.
The 80-year-old — president for 30 years until the country’s first democratic elections in 2008 — was taken from his home in the capital Male around midnight on Monday, according to a tweet from his daughter Yumna Maumoon.
“I have not done anything to be arrested,” Gayoom said in a video message to supporters posted on Twitter.
“I urge you to remain steadfast in your resolve too. We will not give up on the reform work we are doing.”
Heavily armed troops and police special operations units stormed the Supreme Court in the early hours, the court said on Twitter, as police used pepper spray to disperse hundreds of people gathered outside.
The court’s shock move in support of the political dissidents on Thursday also included an order for the government to restore the seats of 12 legislators sacked for defecting from Yameen’s party.
The opposition now has the majority in the assembly — meaning they could potentially impeach the president.
But the government, which has ordered police and troops to resist any attempt to arrest or impeach Yameen, said the court was not above the law.
“The Supreme Court ruling stands in defiance of the highest authority in the country: the constitution,” spokesman Ibrahim Hussain Shihab said in a statement.
“The Supreme Court must remember that it too is bound by law.”