COLOMBO, Sept 12 (Reuters) - The main Maldives opposition party said on Wednesday that President Abdulla Yameen’s government must ease “draconian” visa measures in place aimed at limiting the number of foreign journalists covering the presidential poll on Sept. 23.
Yameen is seeking a second five-year term in the Indian Ocean archipelago popular with tourists. But his main rivals have been jailed for charges ranging from terrorism to attempting to topple the government, leading to doubts abroad over the legitimacy of the vote.
The Maldives has been beset by political instability since a police mutiny forced its first democratically elected leader, Mohamed Nasheed, out of office in 2012.
The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party said in a statement that measures aimed at keeping foreign journalists out of the Maldives “in order to reduce scrutiny of (Yameen’s) unlawful and unconstitutional behaviour” must be eased.
“The measures should be viewed as a pre-emptive cover-up of planned electoral fraud,” it said.
The opposition presidential candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih on Twitter called on the authorities to “reverse restrictive measures against international journalists”.
Government officials declined to comment.
The government has said that journalists who try to cover the election on a tourist visa will face punitive measures. In February, it deported two AFP journalists working while on tourist visas.
According to the new measures, journalists must apply for business visas, for which they need a Maldivian sponsor, and submit forms giving details of previous employment, travel history, qualifications, bank account details and a police clearance certificate, the MDP said.
Previously, the Maldives gave journalists visas on arrival.
The opposition statement came two days after police said they had received information of an “organised conspiracy” to commit serious offences aimed at convincing foreign stakeholders that the upcoming election “is not independent and fair”.
On Friday, president Yameen’s administration accused the United States of intimidation, after Washington called for the release of “falsely accused” political prisoners and threatened action if the island’s election is not held freely and fairly.
Former leader Nasheed, fearing possible poll rigging, has urged the international community to examine the results of the election in consultation with all political parties prior to accepting the victory of any candidate.
President Yameen’s government has rejected repeated requests by the United Nations, rights groups and the West to release the president’s rivals. (Reporting by Shihar Aneez; Editing by Hugh Lawson)