Maldives hits out at US remarks over possible sanctions

The Maldives has hit out at the United States after the U.S. warned of possible sanctions against key officials of the island nation if upcoming elections are not free and fair.

President Donald Trump's administration warned the Indian ocean archipelago on Thursday of possible sanctions if it doesn't reverse democratic backsliding and ensure free presidential elections on Sept. 23.

On a statement posted late Friday on the foreign ministry website, the Maldives said it views the U.S. statement as "as an act of intimidation, imposing undue influence on the democratic processes of a sovereign state."

It urged the United States and others "to allow the people of the Maldives to freely decide on 23 September on who should lead them for the next five years."

The United States' remarks came amid rising accusations from the Maldivian opposition that the elections will not be held in a free and fair manner.

Opposition presidential candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih has expressed fears that the government will rig the election. The government rejected Solih's claims, saying it will not unduly influence the election.

Current President Yameen Abdul Gayoom had expected to contest the election virtually unopposed, with all of his potential opponents either in jail or forced into exile.

However, Solih came forward to contest the election after his party's leader, exiled former President Mohamed Nasheed, abandoned plans to run because of legal obstacles.

Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in prison, making him ineligible to contest the election. The verdict was widely criticized as politically motivated.

The Supreme Court earlier this year ordered Nasheed's release and retrial, but the government refused to implement the ruling.

Following the Supreme Court order to release and retry Nasheed, the government arrested the chief justice and another judge. The remaining three Supreme Court justices then reversed the order.

The Maldives had its first multiparty election in 2008, with Nasheed defeating 30-year autocrat Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Nasheed resigned in 2012 amid public protests over his order to the military to detain a sitting judge. He lost the 2013 election to Gayoom's half brother, Yameen, who has reversed many of the country's democratic gains.

Gayoom is now an ally of the pro-Nasheed coalition and was jailed by his half brother.

Yameen's administration has also jailed his former vice president, two defense ministers, the chief justice and a Supreme Court judge, as well as many other politicians and officials. The opposition and rights groups have claimed they are political prisoners.

The foreign ministry's statement said that the Maldives has no political prisoners, and that all those who have been convicted have undergone due process.