Maldives court released five political prisoners and heard appeals for freedom from several others on Monday, including a former president, just hours after strongman leader Abdulla Yameen conceded a shock election defeat.
Yameen, who jailed or exiled most of his rivals during a turbulent five-year term, was unexpectedly beaten by an opposition candidate who immediately urged the ousted president to free all dissidents he had incarcerated.
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.
Former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the country’s longest-serving leader and estranged half-brother to Yameen, was among several other political prisoners brought to Male to lodge appeals against their sentences. Their cases were referred to the country’s High Court.
Officials said Gayoom, 80, and the other political prisoners were taken back to the Maafushi prison island near the capital and their appeals would likely be heard on Tuesday.
Gayoom, who ruled the Maldives for 30 straight years before its transition to democracy in 2008, was among those arrested during a February crackdown in the Indian Ocean island nation.
He was sentenced to 19-months in prison for obstructing an investigation into an alleged plot to oust Yameen who — suspecting a plot to impeach him — declared a state of emergency, arresting top judges and a host of others.
The UN called the February 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.
Yameen, 59, lost Sunday’s election to political lightweight Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, who had the backing of a unified opposition but little exposure due to heavy-handed decrees and reporting restrictions.
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.
A deepening political crisis in the Maldives has dented its image as a honeymooners paradise and attracted alarm abroad. The US and EU had threatened financial sanctions if the presidential poll was not free and fair.