Mass arrests in Maldives as activists defy emergency

COLOMBO • The Maldivian authorities arrested more than 140 activists who defied a ban on rallies and demonstrated against a state of emergency imposed by President Abdulla Yameen, the opposition said yesterday.

Thousands of supporters poured onto the streets of the capital island Male on Friday night and continued their protest rally till early yesterday, the joint opposition said in a statement issued in Colombo.

"Ignoring President Yameen's edicts banning protests, and braving police and army pepper spray and tear gas, the protests swelled to thousands strong by the early hours of Saturday morning," the statement said.

It said 141 pro-democracy supporters were arrested after what it called the biggest anti-Yameen protest to rock the Maldives since May Day 2015, when similar mass arrests were carried out.

Maldivian police confirmed the latest arrests and said 139 people, including 26 women, remained in custody yesterday

Police also confirmed using pepper spray and tear gas to disperse the crowds who marched through the streets despite the state of emergency imposed by Mr Yameen last month.

The opposition said three Members of Parliament were among those arrested on Friday.

Mr Yameen is facing increasing opposition both within and outside his tiny Indian Ocean archipelago since coming to power in November 2013 following a controversial run-off election against former president Mohamed Nasheed.

Last month, Mr Yameen extended a draconian state of emergency by another month, ignoring a growing chorus of global concern and calls for democracy to be restored in the resort islands.

Mr Yameen declared the emergency earlier in February, curtailing the powers of the judiciary and the legislature, after the country's Supreme Court ruled to quash criminal convictions against high-profile opposition politicians.

The Maldives' highest court has since revoked its order after two top judges were arrested, seemingly giving Mr Yameen the upper hand in a bitter power struggle.

United Nations human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein has described the state of emergency as "an all-out assault on democracy", and urged Mr Yameen to return the country to democracy and rule of law.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 18, 2018, with the headline 'Mass arrests in Maldives as activists defy emergency'. Print Edition | Subscribe