Paradise Lost: Maldives in chaos after alleged murder plot

It's billed as the ultimate beach destination — a desert island paradise with white sandy beaches and turquoise seas.

But the tourist brochures steer clear of mentioning the demonstrations, violence, dramatic arrests and trials that have gripped the nation this year — still less that its political chaos is worsening by the moment.

Couple on a tropical beach jetty at Maldives.
Haveseen | Getty Images
Couple on a tropical beach jetty at Maldives.

On Wednesday, the government instituted a 30-day state of emergency after a crackdown on dissent and an alleged attempt to blow up the president, according to reports.

The state of emergency limits freedom of movement and assembly and makes it easier for security forces to make arrests. The move has been criticized by the governments of the U.S., the U.K. (its former colonial ruler) and the European Union, as well as campaigning group, Amnesty International.

"The decision to declare a state of emergency and suspend fundamental freedoms enshrined in the constitution of the Maldives is the latest in a series of worrying developments in the country. It is essential that all constitutional fundamental rights and freedoms are immediately restored and that due process of law is respected," the European Union said in a statement on Thursday.

Onlookers fear that the nation is sliding back towards authoritarianism, following the arrests this year of both the vice-president and former president.

On Wednesday, Vice-President Ahmed Adeeb was voted out of power, following his arrest last month on charges of treason. He is accused of attempting to assassinate the president, following a blast on his speedboat that left the leader unharmed but injured his wife.

Critics say the arrest was politically motivated — the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has said there is no evidence that a bomb caused the blast as the president alleges, according to media reports.

Adeeb's arrest follows the jailing of former President Mohamed Nasheed, the country's first democratically elected leader, in March for 13 years on terror charges.

The U.S. government said Nasheed's arrest was "politically motivated" and the United Nations has called for his early release. It has also demanded a review of the pending criminal cases against several hundred opposition protesters in recent months.

Then in September, one of Nasheed's lawyers — who had reportedly criticized the way his trial was conducted — was stabbed in the head and required emergency surgery.

"Political tensions in Maldives are running high and there is a climate of fear spreading among opposition supporters and human rights defenders, as the human rights situation has deteriorated over the past two years," said Amnesty International at the time.

"Maldivian authorities must send a clear message that these attacks are not tolerated — impunity will only foster intimidation and violence."

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that the Maldives are in the Indian Ocean.