MALE, Maldives—The president of the Maldives declared a state of emergency on Wednesday that sharply curtails citizens’ rights for 30 days following an explosion on his speedboat and the discoveries of a homemade bomb near his residence and a weapons cache.
Attorney General Mohamed Anil said President Yameen Abdul Gayoom made the decision to safeguard public safety.
“The military and police found weapons and an explosive from two locations in their operations. Because these would be a threat to the public and the nation, the National Security Council has advised to take immediate steps to protect the people of Maldives,” Anil said.
Under the state of emergency, the military and police are able to enter and search homes without warrants and can make arrests virtually at will. Citizens are forbidden to hold protests or labor strikes or to travel between the country’s many islands.
Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon said that the measures were “pre-emptive and precautionary” and that airports, transport hubs and tourist resorts are all safe.
“The security of our resorts and islands is not under threat and we have received no evidence to suggest otherwise. The Maldives is safe for international visitors,” she said in a statement.
The declaration effectively thwarts plans by the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party to hold a mass rally on Friday demanding the release of its jailed leader, former President Mohamed Nasheed. It is customary for people to travel from outer islands to participate in protests in the capital, Male.
In a statement, the party called for Gayoom’s resignation saying he has lost control of the country.
“His (Gayoom’s) paranoid regime lurches from crisis to crisis,” party spokesman Hamid Abdul Gaffoor said.
“Yameen has jailed or threatened every opposition leader, placed criminal charges against 1,700 opposition activists, and is now turning on his own by jailing the vice president. For the good of the nation, it is time for Yameen to resign.”
The United States voiced deep concern about recent events in the Maldives, and urged the government “to restore immediately full constitutional freedoms to its citizens by terminating the state of emergency.” State Department spokesman John Kirby also called for an end to politically motivated prosecutions and detentions, including that of Nasheed.
Abbas Faiz, Amnesty International’s Maldives researcher said the emergency declaration was surprising and that the government hasn’t given a clear justification for its move that curtails many rights including the freedom of assembly.
“This must not be an excuse to violate human rights and to silence critics and opponents,” he said.
The government had earlier passed a law allowing authorities to monitor sympathizers of the IS group by fitting electronic tags on suspects and fitting cameras in their homes. The government says some 100 Maldivians are known to be fighting for IS, a disproportionately high number for a small population.
Maldives has been tense since a Sept. 28 blast on the president’s speedboat and a subsequent series of arrests of people, including Vice President Ahmed Adeeb, on suspicion of involvement in the explosion.
Gayoom was unhurt by the blast, which the government called an assassination attempt.
The U.S. FBI, which investigated the explosion, said it found no evidence that it was caused by a bomb.
The military said Monday it found a homemade bomb in a parked vehicle close to the president’s official residence. Days earlier, an arms cache was found on an island being developed as a tourist resort.
Maldives, best known for luxury island resorts and beaches, has had a difficult transition to democracy since holding its first multiparty election in 2008, which ended 30 years of autocratic rule by Gayoom’s half-brother.
Nasheed, the country’s first democratically elected leader, resigned following public protests against his decision to order the arrest of a top judge in 2012.
In 2013, Gayoom defeated Nasheed in a disputed election in which the Supreme Court annulled the results of the first round, which Nasheed was leading, and delayed a revote until Gayoom was able to negotiate a winning coalition with other parties.
Nasheed is now serving a 13-year prison sentence under a terrorism law for his role in arresting the judge. His trial was widely criticized for its apparent lack of due process.