The Maldives asked the United Nations on Sunday to send a group of international jurists to resolve what it calls a judicial system failure that has resulted in the military's detention of a senior judge.
A government statement said Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem made the request in a letter to the office of the U.N High Commissioner for Human Rights.
President Mohamed Nasheed's government is under heavy pressure. Street protests have broken out in the capital Male following last week's arrest of Criminal Court Chief Justice Abdulla Mohamed after he ordered the release of a government critic.
Vice President Mohammed Waheed Hassan has also joined calls for the release of the judge, saying that he is ashamed by his government's action.
The government has accused Mohamed of corruption and political bias.
On Sunday, hundreds of protesters gathered in Male to demand the resignation of Nasheed and the release of the judge. Police used tear gas to break up the gathering, but protesters through the capital and demonstrated outside the homes of the president, home minister and police commissioner.
Naseem in his letter explained that the dispute with the criminal court judge was not an isolated incident but "represents a systemic failure of the judicial checks and balances foreseen in the constitution."
"This system failure led directly to the president's decision, as the ultimate guarantor of the constitution and of rule of law in the Maldives, to detain Justice Abdulla Mohamed," the statement said.
The Judicial Service Commission mandated by the constitution to examine the conduct of judges has failed in its responsibilities by not taking action on any of the 143 complaints it received in 2010 alone, the statement said.
Judge Mohamed remains in custody on an island the military uses for training in the Indian Ocean archipelago despite calls for his release by the country's Supreme Court and the prosecutor general. The Maldives human rights commission has also called the arrest unlawful.
Nasheed's critics say that his government is using the military and police to crack down on dissidents and intimidates the media from reporting on the dispute.
Both Nasheed and his deputy Waheed were leading pro-democracy campaigners before being elected to office in the country's first multiparty election in 2008.
Maldives is known for its idyllic resorts for upmarket tourists.