However, the top court also ordered the retrial of Nasheed and other opposition leaders
In a surprise ruling Thursday evening, the Supreme Court of the Maldives ordered the immediate release of exiled former leader Mohamed Nasheed and eight others, terming their trials a violation of the constitution and international law.
The apex court has ordered new trials, citing the “questionable and politically motivated nature of the trials of the political leaders,” according to a news report of the AFP.
The government has said the administration “is currently working to vet and clarify” the ruling, and sources in Male indicate that the order is yet to be implemented.
“While the ruling makes significant implications on various points of constitutional import and criminal justice procedures, it was issued without representation of the State from either the Attorney General or the Prosecutor General,” international spokesperson at the President’s office Ibrahim Hussain Shihab said in a statement.
Tweeting on the development, former President Nasheed said late Thursday: “Welcome tonight’s SC ruling calling for the immediate release of political prisoners and the restoration of their civil and political rights. President Yameen must abide by this ruling and resign. Urge all citizens to avoid confrontation and engage in peaceful political activity.”
Even as the Male administration has said it will work to engage, and consult with, the Supreme Court in order to comply with the ruling, the police have reportedly clashed with dissidents on the streets of the capital early Friday, as they demanded the release of politicians whose convictions were overturned. “The police pepper-sprayed many of us there. They were trying to disperse the crowd that had assembled spontaneously in a show of solidarity and to celebrate the verdict,” Rushdha Rasheed, a journalist of local news channel Raajje TV, who was present there, told The Media over telephone.
With his terrorism conviction now lifted, Mr. Nasheed will be able return to Male. He has been in London since 2016, when the United Kingdom granted him political asylum. As the Indian Ocean island prepares for Presidential polls this year, the SC ruling and his possible return foretells a significant change in the course of politics in Male.
President Abdulla Yameen’s official website said the defence minister had called on the Maldivian people to put on a united front and work together to maintain peace and stability.
U.S. Ambassador for Maldives Atul Keshap welcomed the Supreme Court decision. “I urge the government and security services to respect this ruling, which bolsters democracy and rule of law all Maldivians,” Mr. Keshap tweeted.
The country has been mired in political unrest since Nasheed, its first democratically elected leader, was ousted in 2012. He was later sentenced to 13 years in jail on terrorism charges after a trial denounced as hasty and unfair by the United Nations human rights chief.
Mr. Nasheed, who has been in exile in the United Kingdom but wants to contest a presidential poll this year, had sought U.N. help to restore his political rights. The joint opposition in a statement welcomed the rulings and called for the immediate resignation of President Yameen.
“The Supreme Court’s verdict effectively ends President Yameen’s authoritarian rule,” it said in a statement.