Israel warns its nationals to leave crisis-racked Maldives

Jerusalem has no diplomatic relations with the Muslim-majority archipelago, officials warn, so Israelis who get in trouble there are on their own

This file photo taken on September 11, 2013, shows an aerial view of the island of Male, capital of the Maldives. (Roberto Schmidt/AFP)
This file photo taken on September 11, 2013, shows an aerial view of the island of Male, capital of the Maldives. (Roberto Schmidt/AFP)

Israel issued a travel warning for its citizens, urging them not to visit the Indian Ocean archipelago nation of the Maldives amid an escalating political crisis in the country that has seen Supreme Court justices arrested and sparked growing concern in the international community.

“On February 5, 2018, the government of the Maldives declared a state of emergency in the country,” Israel’s Foreign Ministry said in its travel warning, issued Thursday. “The country is in a state of uncertainty and instability, and has seen protests against the government and clashes with security forces.

“Anyone currently residing in the country should consider ending their stay. Those who choose to remain should follow local and international media reports, take extra precautions, and avoid crowded areas and demonstrations.”

The statement warns: “Since Israel has no diplomatic relations with the Maldives, any Israeli citizen who finds themselves in trouble there could face serious difficulties in obtaining help.”

A general view of the Mulee-aage, the official residence of the President of the Maldives, in Male on February 7, 2018. (STR/AFP)

Any Israeli who chooses to stay, the ministry adds, “bears personal responsibility” for the decision.

It also notes “there is no prohibition in Israeli law against visiting the aforementioned areas.”

The tiny island nation has been grappling with a political crisis after its president, Abdulla Yameen, refused to obey a Supreme Court order to release nine political prisoners this week and instead declared a state of emergency.

On Thursday, Yameen refused to meet senior European diplomats who were the first foreign dignitaries to visit the troubled nation since his crackdown on the islands’ judiciary.

Envoys from the European Union, Germany and Britain arrived in the capital after top judges and several other dissidents were arrested this week, as Yameen appeared to gain the upper hand in a bitter power struggle.

The German Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Jorn Rohde, said the trio requested meetings to discuss Yameen’s crackdown on dissent which the UN human rights chief had dubbed “an all-out assault on democracy.”

“Sadly the Maldivian government refuses dialogue today with my UK/EU colleagues… Our requests were unfortunately refused,” Rohde said on Twitter. “That is surely not the way forward.”

The diplomats, based in neighboring Sri Lanka but also accredited to the Maldives, arrived in Male after the regime said it was open to foreign observers visiting the country.

However, foreign media have effectively been barred after authorities imposed tough visa conditions and warned they would take up to three weeks to process applications.

The UN has urged Yameen to lift the state of emergency, and was due to discuss the crisis gripping the Indian Ocean archipelago in a closed-door meeting at the Security Council on Thursday.

“The Maldives have seen in recent years attacks on political opponents, on journalists, on civil society and human right defenders, and what is happening now is tantamount to an all-out assault on democracy,” UN rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said Wednesday.

Israel’s is not the first travel warning to the country. Western governments, as well as neighboring India and China, have asked their citizens not to vacation in the Maldives, a nation of 1,192 tiny coral islands scattered 800 kilometers (550 miles) across the equator.

The crisis in the country of 340,000 Sunni Muslims came to a head a week ago when the Supreme Court in a shock decision ordered Yameen to release all political dissidents after quashing their convictions.

Yameen refused to comply and insisted that the court reverse its order.

Eventually he declared a state of emergency, took away the powers of the judiciary and parliament to impeach him and arrested the chief justice and another judge.

He also arrested former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, his estranged half brother who was the last remaining opposition figure in the country. All other key opponents of Yameen are either in jail or in exile.

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