MALDIVES president Abdulla Yameen refused today (8) to meet senior European diplomats who were the first foreign dignitaries to visit the country since his crackdown on the islands’ judiciary.
Envoys from Britain, the European Union and Germany arrived in the capital, Malé, after top judges and several other dissidents were arrested this week, as Yameen appeared to gain the upper hand in a power struggle.
The tiny island nation has been grappling with a political crisis after the president refused to obey a Supreme Court order to release nine political prisoners and declared a state of emergency.
The German ambassador to Sri Lanka, Jorn Rohde, said the trio requested meetings to discuss Yameen’s crackdown on dissent which the UN human rights chief had dubbed “an all-out assault on democracy”.
“Sadly the Maldivian government refuses dialogue today with my UK/EU colleagues… Our requests were unfortunately refused,” Rohde said on Twitter. “That is surely not the way forward.”
The diplomats, based in neighbouring Sri Lanka but also accredited to the Maldives, arrived in Male after the regime said it was open to foreign observers visiting the country.
However, foreign media have effectively been barred after authorities imposed tough visa conditions and warned they would take up to three weeks to process applications.
The UN has urged Yameen to lift the state of emergency, and was due to discuss the crisis gripping the Indian Ocean archipelago in a closed-door meeting at the Security Council today.
“The Maldives have seen in recent years attacks on political opponents, on journalists, on civil society and human right defenders, and what is happening now is tantamount to an all-out assault on democracy,” UN rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said yesterday (7).
Western governments, as well as neighbouring India and China have asked their citizens not to go on holiday to the Maldives, a nation of 1,192 tiny coral islands scattered 800-kilometres (550-miles) across the equator.
Yameen yesterday (7) sent his economic development minister, Mohamed Saeed, to China, the foreign minister, Mohamed Asim, to Pakistan and farming and fisheries minister Mohamed Shainee to Saudi Arabia, according to a posting on his website late on Wednesday.
“Members of the cabinet, on the direction of President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom, will visit friendly nations of the Maldives and provide updates on the current situation,” it added.
The government wanted to send a special envoy to India as well, but the dates were not suitable for the Indian foreign ministry, said Ahmed Mohamed, the Maldives’ ambassador to India.
India sent soldiers to foil a coup against the government in 1988, but has since refrained from getting directly involved in the country’s unstable politics.
Experts say it is more likely to put diplomatic, and even economic, pressure on the Yameen government than send its military.
The crisis in the country of 340,000 Sunni Muslims came to a head a week ago when the Supreme court in a shock decision ordered Yameen to release all political dissidents after quashing their convictions.
Yameen refused to comply and insisted that the court reverses its order.
Eventually he declared a state of emergency, took away the powers of the judiciary and parliament to impeach him and arrested the Chief Justice and another judge.
He also arrested former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, his estranged half brother who was the last remaining opposition figure in the country. All other key opponents of Yameen are either in jail or in exile.