Former Maldives President Gayoom, Chief Justice Sentenced to Prison
Former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom meets with alliance partners (Photo: twitter @maumoonagayoom)

A court in the Maldives on Wednesday convicted former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and the sitting chief justice for obstruction of justice and sentenced them to 19 months in prison.

The trials are widely seen as part of a plan by President Abdulla Yameen to tighten his grip on power ahead of elections in September at which he seeks a second five-year term against an opposition yet to decide on a single candidate.

Gayoom, who was the country's longest serving leader, Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed and Supreme Court Justice Ali Hameed were found guilty on Wednesday after they were charged for refusing to hand over their mobile phones for a police investigation.

They received sentences of 19 months and six days.

The island nation has seen political upheaval since its first democratically elected leader, Mohamed Nasheed, was forced to quit amid a police mutiny in 2012. Nasheed was convicted of terrorism charges in 2015 and sentenced to 13 years after a trial criticized as unfair.

This year saw President Yameen, half brother of Gayoom, impose a 45-day state of emergency to annul a Supreme Court ruling that quashed the convictions of nine opposition leaders, including Nasheed.

The political clampdown on Yameen's opponents has not been well-received by the Indian government. The historic relationship between Male and New Delhi has seen a serious cooling and latest reports say the Maldives Immigration Authority has reportedly held up thousands of work permits to Indians. According to a report in The Hindu, new job ads are explicitly stating “Indians need not apply”, as they would not be given work permits. One post by the internationally renowned Marriott chain of hotels that advertised on Wednesday for 18 jobs said: “Please note that work permits are not currently being issued to Indian Nationals.”