A Maldives court released a political prisoner 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 free those he had incarcerated.
Opposition lawmaker and former police chief Abdulla Riyaz was released by the Criminal Court in Male on Monday. He was being held indefinitely following an alleged plot to impeach Yameen in February that saw dozens detained.
Sources in the Maldives said Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the country’s longest-serving leader and estranged half-brother to Yameen, was among a number of political prisoners brought from prison to the capital in order to lodge appeals against their sentences.
It was not immediately clear when the court would rule on all the petitions, although opposition sources said they expected the process to continue into the night.
The family of Gayoom, 80, his legislator son Faris Maumoon, and son-in-law Mohamed Nadheem, said the trio had all filed applications for their freedom.
Gayoom, who ruled the Maldives for 30 straight years before its transition to democracy in 2008, was among those arrested during the February crackdown in the Indian Ocean island nation.
He was sentenced to 19-months prison for obstructing an investigation into the alleged plot to oust Yameen who—suspecting a plot to impeach him—declared a state of emergency and arrested top judges and a host of others deemed rivals.
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.