Yameen resists freeing Maldives political prisoners: opposition

Colombo (AFP) –


Outgoing Maldivian strongman Abdulla Yameen is delaying freeing high-profile political prisoners despite calls by his successor for their release, the opposition said Wednesday.

Shortly after his shock defeat in the presidential election on Sunday, Yameen freed five prisoners. But scores of others -- including Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, his estranged half-brother and former president -- remain incarcerated.

"We expected president Gayoom to be freed on Monday. Courts brought up administrative issues and put off his release for Tuesday and yet nothing happened," a spokesman for his DRP party said.

"We understand reliably that he (Yameen) is mounting pressure on the Correctional Services not to release the political prisoners," the spokesman added.

There was no immediate comment from the government.

The DRP spokesman said Yameen was unwilling to give up power without a fight and appeared determined to hold political prisoners till his presidential term ends on November 17.

Yameen, who jailed or exiled most of his rivals during a turbulent five-year term, was unexpectedly beaten by opposition candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih.

Solih, who struggled to gain coverage from a media cowed by Yameen, immediately urged the ousted president to free all dissidents.

Opposition lawmaker and former police chief Abdulla Riyaz and four others were released by the Criminal Court in the capital Male on Monday.

They had been held indefinitely following an alleged plot to impeach Yameen in February that saw dozens detained.

Gayoom, the country's longest-serving leader, was among several political prisoners brought to Male from their prison on the dreaded Maafushi island to lodge appeals against their sentences. But they were turned back.

Gayoom, who ruled the Maldives for 30 years before its transition to democracy in 2008, was among those arrested during the February crackdown in the Indian Ocean nation.

He was sentenced to 19 months in prison for obstructing an investigation into an alleged plot to oust Yameen.

Yameen, suspecting a plot to impeach him, in February declared a state of emergency, arresting top judges and a host of others.

The UN called the purge an "all-out assault on democracy".

Gayoom also faces a separate charge of terrorism, along with Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed and Supreme Court Justice Ali Hameed. That case is still pending.

Solih had the backing of a unified opposition, including Gayoom's DRP.

The president-elect garnered more than 58 percent of the popular vote in the archipelago nation of 340,000 Sunni Muslims, a popular tourist haven known for its white-sand beaches and pristine waters.

Yameen's rule dented its image as a honeymooners paradise and attracted alarm abroad. The US and EU had threatened financial sanctions unless the presidential poll was free and fair.