The Maldives military locked down the nation’s parliament on Tuesday in what opposition lawmakers said was an attempt to block a motion to impeach the speaker of the house.
Imthiyaz Fahmy, from the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), tweeted a video of what he said were security forces in plain clothes blocking representatives from entering the chamber.
Another lawmaker from the MDP, Eva Abdulla, said MPs were eventually allowed in but found that Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed was also surrounded by soldiers.
A close ally of President Abdulla Yameen, Mohamed opened the session and then immediately closed it before MPs were able to vote on the no-confidence motion, she said.
“The session was over in five minutes,” she said by phone. Lawmakers say they raised the motion against the speaker after he repeatedly refused parliamentary requests to scrutinise the government.
“The opposition has not been allowed to summon any government officials. We are not allowed to hold any part of the state accountable at all,” she added.
Yameen has been accused of reversing democratic progress in a country that became a multiparty democracy only in 2008. Regular bouts of political turmoil threaten a vital tourism industry on the Indian Ocean archipelago of just 400,000 people.
A similar opposition bid to oust the speaker was defeated in March after several lawmakers were evicted or walked out to protest against what they said were discrepancies in the vote count.
Last month, the armed forces padlocked the gates of parliament to prevent another attempt at impeachment, in which the opposition said it had the majority of votes. Some lawmakers eventually broke through the barrier but were forcibly thrown out. In a statement, the MDP called Yameen’s action “desperate, illegal and unconstitutional”.
In an age of autocracy, meet the dissidents speaking truth to power
The president’s hold over parliament has been threatened by a broad coalition of opposition groups, including the MDP, headed by the country’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Nasheed.
Nasheed travelled to Britain last year on medical leave and received asylum there after being sentenced to 13 years in jail on terrorism charges, handed down in a widely denounced trial.
Biraj Patnaik, Amnesty International’s south Asia director, said Tuesday’s incident in parliament comes against a “backdrop of attacks on freedom of expression on the island nation”, where the government is facing a deepening crisis.
“The space for legitimate dissent has been alarmingly shrinking over recent years, with members of the opposition thrown behind bars for lengthy prison terms after manifestly flawed trials,” he said.
He added that an intensifying crackdown on human rights includes plans to resume executions for the first time in more than 60 years.