THE Maldives opposition leader and two Supreme Court judges have been arrested hours after the government declared a state of emergency.

The charges against opposition leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom include bribery and attempting to overthrow the government, his lawyer, Maumoon Hameed, said on Twitter.

Gayoom was president from 1978 to 2008, when Maldives became a multiparty democracy, and is the half brother of the current president, under whose rule the archipelago has lost many of its democratic gains.

The 15-day emergency decree issued late on Monday gives the government sweeping powers to make arrests, search and seize property and restricts freedom of assembly.

Soon after the declaration, security forces stormed into the Supreme Court building, where Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed and judge Ali Hamid were arrested. The charges against them have not been specified.

The whereabouts of the court’s other two judges were not known yesterday.

Since the surprise, unanimous ruling last week ordering the release of imprisoned opposition leaders, president Yameen Abdul Gayoom has lashed out at the court, while opposition protests have spilled into the streets of the capital Male, and soldiers in riot gear have stopped politicians from meeting in the parliament building.

Yameen said “though certain rights will be restricted, general movements, services and businesses will not be affected”.

In a letter to the court released by the president’s office, Yameen said the court’s order to release prisoners had encroached on the powers of the state and was an “infringement of national security and public interest.”

He urged the court to “review the concerns” of the government.

The government did not comment on soldiers entering the Supreme Court building or on Gayoom’s arrest, but the president’s main rival, who lives in exile, urged people not to obey what he called an “unlawful order.”

The United Nations and other foreign governments have urged the Maldives to respect the court order.