The tiny tourist archipelago has been plunged into a political crisis pitting the country’s top court against Yameen, whose crackdown on dissent has tarnished the nation’s image as an upmarket holiday paradise.
The judges on Thursday night ordered authorities to release nine political dissidents and restore the seats of 12 legislators who had been sacked for defecting from Yameen’s party, ruling the cases were politically motivated.
But the Yameen government has so far refused to comply with the shock ruling. It has shuttered parliament and resisted international calls to respect the judicial order and restore democracy.
In a national television address on Sunday Attorney General Mohamed Anil remained defiant.
“Any Supreme Court order to arrest the president would be unconstitutional and illegal. So I have asked the police and the army not to implement any unconstitutional order,” Anil said.
Former president and current opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed described the government’s refusal to obey the supreme court as a “coup.”
Nasheed, who was controversially convicted of a terrorism charge and jailed for 13 years in 2015, urged police and troops to uphold the constitution.
“Statements made today by AG Anil...to disobey SC orders is tantamount to a coup. They, and President Yameen must resign immediately,” Nasheed said on Twitter. “Security services must uphold the constitution and serve the Maldivian people.”
Nasheed lives abroad after traveling out of the country in 2016 on prison leave for medical treatment. He is currently in Colombo meeting Maldivian dissidents based in Sri Lanka.
The Supreme Court’s reinstatement of the dozen legislators gave the opposition a majority in the 85-member assembly, and it can now potentially impeach Yameen.
However the authorities shut parliament indefinitely on Saturday to avert such a move. Yameen also sacked two police chiefs after the court’s decision.
The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party led by Nasheed has expressed fears that any move by the government to resist the Supreme Court’s order may trigger unrest in the nation of 340,000 Sunni Muslims.
The government said Friday it had concerns about releasing those convicted for “terrorism, corruption, embezzlement, and treason.”
The United Nations, Australia, Britain, Canada, India and the United States have welcomed the court’s decision as a move toward restoring democracy in the politically troubled Indian Ocean nation.
Nasheed, the country’s first democratically leader, was toppled in 2012. He was barred from contesting elections after his 2015 terrorism conviction, which was internationally criticized as politically motivated.