The increasingly authoritarian regime of President Abdulla Yameen responded to a massive demonstration calling for political change in Male’ on Friday with tear gas, baton charges,stun grenades and mass arrests.Over 25,000 protesters poured onto the streets on Male’ on Friday afternoon, in the Maldives’ biggest ever demonstration, calling for the release of political prisoners, including former president Mohamed Nasheed and former Defense Minister Mohamed Nazim.
Thousands of protesters traveled days by boat from far-flung corners of the Maldives archipelago to attend.
The protest started at 3 pm local time. By 5 pm, the length of the column of protesters stretched across the city.
However, after three hours without incident, at around 6 pm, as protesters paused for a special prayer, then headed for a mass prayer at the mosque whe the ‘Special Operations’ police — renowned for their previous brutality — moved in, indiscriminately beating protesters with batons, firing tear gas at the crowd, and spraying pepper spray into people’s faces. Some protesters were sprayed with pepper spray multiple times. By 8 pm local time, over 40 people have been arrested.
In a move likely to cause local outrage, SO police officers even stormed a mosque, dragging out worshipers and detaining them.
With the protest still ongoing at the time of press, dozens of peaceful demonstrators had been arrested.
Commenting on the crackdown, Maldivian Democratic Party spokesperson Hamid Abdul Gafoor said:
“The Yameen regime has responded to the country’s biggest ever protest in the only way it knows how: with violence and thuggery.
“This increasingly authoritarian regime — which came to power through a stolen election — has lost all legitimacy among the Maldivian people.”
The protest brought together, under the banner “Maldivians Against Brutality”, members of the Maldivian Democratic Party, the Jumhooree Party and the Adhaalath Party, as well as members of the public and civil society.
The three political parties put aside their differences and joined forces earlier this year, in response to a wave of anti-democratic actions by the Yameen regime, including the firing of the country’s Chief Justice, harassment of the Elections Commission, and jailing of opposition politicians.