Entire Maldives election commission sentenced

Election commission head Fuwad Thowfeek Election commission head Fuwad Thowfeek has publicly criticised the court

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The Maldives Supreme Court has given all four election commissioners six-month jail sentences, suspended for three years, for "disobeying orders".

The head of the commission and his deputy have also been sacked.

The BBC's Charles Haviland in Colombo says the ruling comes at an awkward time as the commission is supposed to be preparing for parliamentary elections in less than two weeks.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed has called for protests against the ruling.

Open challenge

The four election commission members were brought to trial under new rules that allow the Supreme Court to initiate proceedings, prosecute and pass judgement.

The judges said they had disrespected the court by not following election guidelines.

Last October the head of the commission, Fuwad Thowfeek, openly criticised the Supreme Court after it annulled a presidential election that was deemed free and fair by hundreds of observers.

The election commission twice tried to hold run-off votes but was obstructed by the police.

Former President Nasheed, who lost the eventual re-run of the poll to President Abdulla Yameen, has reacted to the court's decision by calling it the "saddest day in the history of the Maldives' constitutional life".

He added that the top court had "destroyed the hopes of Maldivians".

Parliamentary elections are due on 22 March, and the Supreme Court has ordered parliament to fill the commission vacancies within six working days.

On hearing Sunday's ruling, the election observation team from the European Union said it would "study the verdict carefully", but praised the current election commission which it said had fostered "transparent, inclusive and credible electoral processes".

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