The Maldives government has declared a 15-day state of emergency amid a deepening political crisis between the president and the judiciary over its order to release a group of imprisoned opposition leaders.

Legal Affairs Minister Azima Shakoor announced the state of emergency on state television Monday (5 February) evening.

A surprise ruling last week by the Supreme Court directing the release of the opposition leaders has led to a tense standoff between President Yameen Abdul Gayoom and the Supreme Court, with protests spilling into the streets of the capital, Male, and soldiers in riot gear deployed to the parliament building to stop lawmakers from meeting.

A former president is among those ordered freed by the court after trials criticised for flawed due process.

Shakoor said earlier Monday that the government doesn't believe that the court order can be enforced.

Maldives became a multiparty democracy 10 years ago after decades of autocratic rule, but lost many of the democratic gains after Yameen was elected in 2013.