Maldives top court fires contempt warning after U-turn criticism

Maldives top court late Wednesday warned that anyone criticizing its decision to rescind the order releasing jailed political leaders would face contempt of court proceedings.

Supreme Court on Tuesday had rescinded its landmark ruling ordering the release of as many as nine political dissidents including self exiled former president Mohamed Nasheed.

The island nation has been embroiled in fresh political turmoil after the Supreme Court on Thursday ordered the immediate release of as many as nine people and also barred the judicial watchdog from probing any case against the top court bench.

President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom had declared a 15 day state of emergency after his last ditch attempt to convince the top court to revoke the order failed as the apex court rejected the government's 'legal and judicial' concerns over the order.

The constitutional rights suspended by president Yameen effectively quashed any moves by the opposition to impeach him while also stripping the Supreme Court of any authority.

Since emergency state was declared police have made a series of high profile arrests including former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, chief justice Abdulla Saeed, top court judge Ali Hameed and the chief judicial administrator.

Less than a day after the arrest of the two judges, the remaining three judges rescinded its ruling to release the political leaders referring to the concerns raised by president Yameen in the letters he had sent to the chief justice hours before state of emergency was declared.

The sudden U-turn by the court had attracted harsh criticism especially from the opposition which questioned the validity of the order when the Supreme Court had been under the control of the security forces.

In response to the criticism, a fresh order signed by the three judges rejected the claims as baseless and illegal. "Anyone questioning the order would face strict legal action and would be held in contempt without discrimination," the court warned.

The arrest of the top court judges came after president had alleged that the chief justice had been bribed to issue the court order in a bid to overthrow the government.

"I had to declare a national emergency because there was no other way to investigate these judges. We had to first suspend their authority and immunities. Because we had to find out how thick the plot or coup is," president Yameen said in his address to the nation on live television.

Following president Yameen's accusations, police on Wednesday implicated Gayoom in a plot to overthrow the government by bribing the judges to issue the order to release political prisoners.

Acting police chief Abdulla Nawaz during a live press conference had read out the accusations against the trio along with the now jailed judicial administrator Hassan Saeed.

The accusations against Gayoom included bribing lawmakers and judges to influence their authority while the deposed ruling party leader has also been accused of creating discord within the security forces to back the overthrow of his half-brother's government.

The two top court judges are accused of accepting bribes to influence Supreme Court rulings, abuse of power and blocking the functioning of the entire justice system.

Nawaz claimed that police had uncovered evidence of millions of transactions made in connection to the plot.

"We have also seized huge sums of cash linked to judge Ali Hameed," Nawaz said.

Nawaz who is the third police chief appointed by president Yameen since the crisis began said police had found "a large amount of cash hidden underneath the mattress" when police searched the judicial administrator's room.

"Even as I speak, we [police] are uncovering more evidence in this case," Nawaz added.

In addition to Nasheed, the other top political leaders named in the now rescinded order included Jumhoory Party (JP) leader Gasim Ibrahim, religiously conservative Adhaalath Party (AP) leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla, former defence minister Mohamed Nazim, former vice president Ahmed Adheeb Abdul Ghafoor and Gayoom's lawmaker son Faris Maumoon.

Former prosecutor general Muhthaz Muhsin, magistrate Ahmed Nihan and Adheeb's brother in law Hamid Ismail make up the rest of the list.

The top court had not rescinded the part of the order which quashed its anti-defection ruling ordering the country's electoral watchdog to re-instate the dozen government lawmakers disqualified over the ruling.