Authorities charged the Maldives longtime former dictator and top judges and police officials with terrorism Tuesday as the government deals with political turmoil that prompted a weeks-long state of emergency.
The nine people charged at the criminal court included Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the 30-year ruler of the Indian Ocean archipelago state; Supreme Court Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed and Justice Ali Hameed; four lawmakers including Gayoom’s son; and a former police commissioner.
Prosecutors did not specify the grounds on which they are charged with terrorism. If convicted, they could be jailed for 10 to 15 years. All three also were charged with obstruction of justice on suspicion of refusing to hand over their phones to investigators.
Saeed, Hameed and another judicial officer were charged with receiving bribes to help overthrow the government.
Gayoom and the judges were arrested last month following a Supreme Court order to release several of President Yameen Abdul Gayoom’s political opponents who were jailed after trials that involved alleged due-process violations. After the government arrested the two judges, the three remaining judges annulled the order to release the opponents.
The president is a half-brother of the former dictator, who are now political enemies.
Among the prisoners named in the court order was Mohamed Nasheed, the country’s first president elected in a free election. He was jailed for 13 years under the terror law for detaining a sitting judge when he was in power in 2012 but received asylum in Britain when he traveled there for medical treatment.
Had he been cleared, Nasheed could have been a strong rival to Yameen in the presidential election scheduled for later this year. However, Yameen is now poised to run for re-election virtually unopposed with all of his rivals are either jailed or in exile.
Gayoom ruled the Maldives between 1978 and 2008, before losing a free election to Nasheed, whom he had repeatedly jailed.
Nasheed resigned in 2012, four years into his presidency, amid public opposition to his order for the military to detain a judge. Nasheed lost to Yameen in the 2013 presidential election and then was jailed for ordering the judge’s detention.
Since being elected, Yameen has rolled back much of the democratic gains and freedoms.
Apart from Nasheed, Yameen’s former vice president and a defense minister are among the many who have been jailed since Yameen took office.
The country’s traditional political alliances have been upended in recent years. Gayoom, who campaigned for Yameen in 2013, is now allied with Nasheed, who unseated him in the 2008 elections.
The state of emergency, which was criticized by several foreign governments, is due to expire Thursday, and a Maldives envoy has said the government had no plan to extend it. Ambassador Mohamed Hussain Shareef told journalists in neighboring Sri Lanka the state of emergency had allowed time for the government to investigate corruption allegations against the judges who issued the order.
The Maldives is an archipelago of more than 1,000 islands. Tourism dominates the economy, with wealthy foreigners flown directly to hyper-expensive resort islands.