Maldives Vice President Joins Calls To Free Judge

Published January 20, 2012 1:18PM (EST)

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — The Maldives' vice president joined calls Friday for the release of a detained senior judge, in a sign of divisions within the government of President Mohamed Nasheed.

Vice President Mohammed Waheed Hassan criticized the "extrajudicial arrest" this week of Criminal Court Chief Justice Abdulla Mohamed after he ordered the release of a detained government critic. Hassan told The Associated Press the detention sets a bad precedent for the country's new democracy.

Nasheed's government has been accused of using the military and police to crack down on critics and of defying court rulings.

A group of journalists accused the government Thursday of harassing media that are covering the present political crisis and the judge's arrest. They said the government has penalized television stations for broadcasting opinions expressed by opposition politicians, and an independent regulator, the Maldives Broadcasting Commission, said the country's communications minister has threatened to withdraw the frequencies of TV and radio stations if the commission does not properly monitor them.

The judge is being detained by the military despite orders by the country's Supreme Court and prosecutor general that he be released.

"When it comes to the judiciary, its head is the chief justice and the rulings of the chief justice should be obeyed by all parties," Hassan said.

"I think the government is in a very difficult situation because of this."

Maldives had 30 years of autocratic rule before Nasheed led a successful pro-democracy campaign that brought him to power in 2008. His government established free elections, an independent judiciary, and human rights and media commissions.

Hassan acknowledged there was a clear disagreement between him and Nasheed over the judiciary but insisted they could still work together.

Judge Mohamed's arrest sparked street protests in the capital, Male, which were broken up by police using tear gas.

On Friday, police arrested a prominent Muslim cleric and leader of a hard-line religious political party for allegedly inciting hatred during a protest. Several politicians including a lawmaker were also arrested.

Sheik Imran, leader of the Justice party, has been calling for strict Islamic law to be implemented in the Maldives and accused Nasheed of working against Islam, the state religion, with the support of Christians and Jews.

Following a faith other than Islam is forbidden in the Indian Ocean archipelago of 300,000 people.

Imran led a protest last month demanding the government cancel plans to allow direct flights from Israel, stop selling alcohol in the islands where Maldivians live and to dismantle monuments donated by other countries to a South Asia summit which he called idols.

The government has warned of rising fundamentalism and called for a moderate form of Islam to be practiced.

By Salon Staff

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