Sri Lanka has warned the Maldives against “regional instability,” slamming a state of emergency declared here in the wake of an explosion on the presidential speedboat that has seen a cross-border killing and arrests.
Soon after Sri Lanka’s unprecedented statement, Maldives lifted the state of emergency, citing progress in the boat blast probe, and international criticism.
Referring to its authoritarian past, Sri Lanka said it “finds it deeply concerning that Sri Lanka, a country which has always maintained the closest friendly relations with the Maldives is being used to initiate questionable action against political and social media activists.
“Sri Lanka encourages the government of Maldives to ensure that recent developments are not allowed to escalate into a source of regional instability.”
The statement is unexpected in that Sri Lanka has refrained from criticising the Maldives, despite several years of political turmoil that has drawn censure from western democracies and international human rights groups.
The September 28 blast has plunged the Maldives into fresh political turmoil, with a shakeup of the security forces, including the sacking of the defence minister and the police chief, the arrest and impeachment of the vice president, and the discovery of weapons and bombs.
In Tuesday’s statement, Sri Lanka said it was concerned by the impact of the state of emergency on the fundamental rights and freedoms in the constitution, and urged the Maldives to uphold commitments it has made to the universal and Commonwealth values of democracy and the rule of law.
Maldives narrowly avoided being placed under review by the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) in June when it began talks with the opposition over the release of political prisoners, including former President Mohamed Nasheed.
Talks have since collapsed.
A Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting is coming up in Malta in late November.
Sri Lanka also said it was concerned by the impeachment of Vice President Ahmed Adeeb, who was removed in a sudden vote without the opportunity to defend himself.
The arrest of two Sri Lankan nationals in the Maldives, one of whom the government labeled a sniper hired to kill President Abdulla Yameen, is also “deeply concerning,” the statement said.
Sri Lankan media have said the man was a dry fish seller, while credible sources have told The Maldives Independent that the man was arrested on a charge of bribery, and not plotting an assassination attempt.
Sri Lanka went on to note the expulsion of an 18-year-old Maldivian social media activist from Sri Lanka despite possessing a valid visa.
Maldivian authorities had claimed Ahmed Ashraf, known as Shumba Gong on Twitter, lacked travel documents, and said he was wanted in connection to the explosion on Yameen’s boat.
However, the court order presented for Ashraf’s arrest said he was wanted for issuing death threats.
The statement also noted the killing of a Maldivian national, Hussain Razeen, a well-known gangster, in Sri Lanka. He was found dead in a paddy field with stab wounds. Colombo based Daily Mirror said Razeen, who had set off a vicious cycle of revenge killings in Malé in 2007, was killed on a contract of RS 140 million (US$1million) due to the rivalry of two Maldivian gangs.
A Sri Lankan and a Maldivian have been arrested over Razeen’s death.
Referring to its long civil war, the statement said: “Having endured similar challenges in its recent past, the new Sri Lankan Government is committed to the principles of democracy, good governance and the rule of law. We also believe the right to dissent is an integral part of a functioning democracy. Unlike the previous regime in Sri Lanka which silenced dissenting voices in the guise of fighting terrorism, the new administration is committed to the fundamentals of democracy.”