Australia urges Maldives to allow opposition activity for credible polls

Australia on Tuesday urged the Maldives government to release jailed political leaders and allow legitimate political activity to ensure the upcoming presidential elections would be free and fair.

In a statement, the Australian government expressed grave concern over recent action taken by the government to undermine democracy and democratic institutions which threatens free and fair presidential elections in the country.

"As an Indian Ocean neighbour, Australia urges the Maldivian government to respect the fundamental rights and freedoms of all Maldivians, including freedom of assembly and speech and the right to participate fully in election processes," the statement read.

"Australia calls in particular on the Maldivian government to release political prisoners and permit legitimate opposition activity, which is essential for any election to be credible."

Australia's comments came as the police continues to block-off main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) from campaigning for the elections.

Police had prevented MDP supporters from putting up posters in the capital Male on Monday after blocking a campaign run on Friday.

Police on Friday had arrested several prominent MDP officials over a campaign event for self-exiled former president Mohamed Nasheed.

MDP had planned a run as a campaign event at the running track in the capital Male on Friday afternoon. But police had blocked the event saying that the sports ministry "suddenly needed" the running track from 4pm to 6pm.

Several MDP officials including chairperson Hassan Latheef, his deputy Ali Nizar and MDP lawmaker Imthiyaz Fahmy had been taken into custody along with several supporters.

However, police had released them shortly after, MDP had confirmed.

Nasheed lives in self imposed exile most recently in Sri Lanka after he was allowed to leave to the UK on medical leave in an internationally brokered deal following his jailing on terrorism charges.

He was sentenced to 13 years in prison over the arbitrary arrest and subsequent detention of a sitting judge while he was president.

The main opposition leaders including former presidents Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and Nasheed along with Gasim and religiously conservative Adhaalath Party (AP) leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla inked pact to form what they called a 'reform alliance'.

With the candidacy of the four leaders - all convicted and serving sentences on questionable charges in serious doubt, the united opposition had announced plans to nominate a single candidate for the upcoming presidential elections.

However, the coalition now seems to have fractured with Nasheed contesting and winning the highly disputed presidential primary held by his party. Nasheed is also pressing ahead with his campaign despite the country's electoral watchdog refusing to accept his candidacy.