Ex-leader wants India to intervene to free jailed Maldives judges

In this late Sunday, Feb.4 photo, Maldivian opposition supporters shout slogans during a protest as they the urge the government to obey a Supreme Court order to release and retry political prisoners, including an ex-president in Male, Maldives. The political crisis in the Maldives deepened Monday, as the government of the island nation said it would not obey a Supreme Court order to free a group of imprisoned opposition leaders. Placards in Divehi language from left, to right, read, "protect the citizens , carry out the supreme court's order, free political prisoners and to uphold justice". (AP Photo/ Mohamed Sharuhaan)

MALE, Maldives — The main political rival to the president of the Maldives called on India today to send an envoy — backed by its military — to free imprisoned Supreme Court justices and opposition leaders, as political turmoil battered the Indian Ocean nation.

The request from exiled former President Mohammed Nasheed came as Maldives security forces stormed the Supreme Court building overnight, arresting two judges and later a top opposition politician, after the government declared a state of emergency.

The government of President Yameen Abdul Gayoom has moved to assert its power since the Supreme Court ordered several imprisoned opposition politicians to be freed late last week. The government announced a 15-day state of emergency Monday night, giving it sweeping powers, including to make arrests, search and seize property and restrict freedom of assembly.

Nasheed, who was among the opposition politicians ordered freed by the Supreme Court and who is now in neighboring Sri Lanka, denounced the government’s actions.

“President Yameen has illegally declared martial law and overrun the state. We must remove him from power,” he said in a statement, calling for the Indian envoy and military to be sent. “We are asking for a physical presence.”

He also called on the U.S. to stop Maldives government officials from making transactions through U.S. banks.

There was no immediate response from India.

Yameen has cracked down on civil liberties since coming to power in 2013, imprisoning or forcing into exile nearly every politician who opposes him.

Hours after the emergency was declared, security forces in riot gear and blue camouflage stormed the Supreme Court building, arresting two of its judges, including Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed. It was not immediately clear what charges they faced, if any. The whereabouts of the court’s other two judges were not clear Tuesday.

Later, former dictator and opposition politician Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was seen on cellphone video shot by his daughter being quietly escorted from his home by security forces, hugging friends and family and waving to supporters before being driven away.

Shortly before his arrest he sent a message on Twitter saying a large deployment of police had surrounded his house: “To protect me or to arrest me? No idea.”

His lawyer, Maumoon Hameed, said Gayoom faced charges including bribery and attempting to overthrow the government.

Gayoom was president from 1978 to 2008, when the Maldives became a multiparty democracy.

The Maldives is an archipelago of more than 1,000 islands with fewer than 400,000 citizens, more than one-third of them living in the crowded capital city, Male. Tourism now dominates the economy, with wealthy foreigners flown to hyper-expensive resort islands.

But it remains, in many ways, a small community. Gayoom, the former dictator, is the half brother of President Yameen.

The two men are now political enemies.