Supporters of political parties that oppose the Maldives government clashed with police on the streets of the capital early on Friday after the country’s Supreme Court ordered the release of imprisoned politicians, including an ex-president living in exile in Britain.
Hundreds of people celebrated in Male by waving the country’s flag after the court-overturned verdicts against ex-president Mohamed Nasheed and an ex-vice president jailed after trials that were internationally condemned.
Police dispersed them using pepper spray and batons. Rocks were thrown at police and at least one injured officer was seen by an Associated Press reporter being carried to a hospital.
The ruling issued late on Thursday could allow Nasheed, the archipelago state’s first democratically elected president, to challenge President Yameen Abdul Gayoom when he seeks re-election later this year.
The court said the guilty verdicts against the politicians had been influenced by the government.
The ruling also reinstated 12 lawmakers who had previously been declared as having lost their positions for switching allegiance to the opposition.
Gayoom has maintained a tight grip on power, controlling institutions like the judiciary, police and the bureaucracy.
But he and his Progressive Party of the Maldives will lose a majority in the country’s 85-member Parliament when the 12 lawmakers who had been ousted return to Parliament.
Nasheed had been sentenced to 13 years in prison on terrorism charges but was allowed to go to Britain to seek medical treatment, where he received asylum.
The ruling could lead to him becoming eligible to run in the presidential election expected to take place between August and November.
Gayoom had been set to run for re-election virtually unopposed with all of his opponents either jailed or exiled.
Also named for release was Gayoom’s former deputy Ahmed Adeeb, who had been jailed on accusations of plotting to kill Gayoom.
Adeeb in 2016 was sentenced to 33 years in prison for alleged corruption, possession of illegal firearms and planning to kill Gayoom by triggering a blast on his speedboat even though FBI investigators said they found no evidence of a bomb blast.
The Maldives, known for luxury tourist resorts, became a multiparty democracy 10 years ago after decades of autocratic rule. However, it lost much of its democratic gains after Gayoom’s 2013 election.
The government said in a statement that it is trying to “vet and clarify” the court ruling.
The statement added, “The administration will work to engage, and consult with, the Supreme Court in order to comply with the ruling in line with proper procedure and the rule of law.”
The country’s opposition alliance in a statement welcomed the ruling and called for Gayoom’s resignation — saying the court’s decision “effectively ends President Yameen’s authoritarian rule.”