Protest in Maldives over demands to free ex-President

Rajat Kain

nasheed1The confrontation in Maldives between government authorities and the jailed former President Nasheed’s supporters escalated on Friday evening after a massive protest demanding his release.

The Maldivian government responded to the protest by a big crackdown resulting in the mass arrest of several protesters, including the leaders of the opposition party – Maldivian Democratic Party, which is headed by a popular opposition leader Mohammed Nasheed.

The Maldivian government, which is facing allegations ranging from muzzling the free speech and the rights of opposition leaders to protest against the government, claimed the crackdown was required as the overnight demonstration turned violent and several police were wounded in clashes with those loyal to Nasheed, who was jailed for 13 years last month.

“The organisers of the protest addressed the protesters and called on all gathered to topple the government and confront the police,” the government said in a statement.The government has also confirmed about the large number of people taken under arrest but has given no figures on it.

However on the other hand, Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) claimed that over 170 people had been detained by police. It has also claimed that an estimated 25,000 people took part in the protest march, the biggest since the jailing of Nasheed.

“The increasingly authoritarian regime of President Abdulla Yameen responded with tear gas, baton charges, stun grenades and mass arrests,” the MDP said in a statement.

Popular leader and Maldives first democratically elected president, Mohammed Nasheed was jailed earlier this year on the charges of ordering an arrest of a sitting judge after the judge was found guilty of corruption. This happened under Nasheed’s rule in 2012. Soon after the arrest of a judge, Nasheed was forced to resign in highly controversial circumstances after a series of protest by the parties in opposition then. His successor Mohammed Waheed Hassan had then ordered trial against Nasheed for the arrest of judge.

In March 2015, Nasheed was convicted under the Anti-Terrorism Act of Maldives and was sentenced to 13 years in prison.

His trial and subsequent punishment has been a subject of immense criticism from the UN to various human rights group. The latest UN censure came as international experts, including London-based human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, petitioned the world body over the controversial jailing of Nasheed. The UN Human Rights Office delegation in its report prepared after their visit to Maldives claimed that Nasheed has been subjected to a “rushed trial” under a highly politicized system.

“The trial of Mr Nasheed was vastly unfair and his conviction was arbitrary and disproportionate,” the UN rights body said in a statement issued from Geneva.

Another prominent Human Rights organisation Amnesty International had highlighted the deteriorating law and order situation in Maldives.

The Indian Ocean nation’s image as an upmarket tourist destination has been dented due to an on-going stalemate between the government and Nasheed’s loyalists. The capital city Male has been witnessing a protest almost on a daily basis.