MALDIVES police arrested 25 people, including two journalists, after protests in the capital Male on Friday as the government-imposed state of emergency continues in the island nation.
Opposition legislators said protesters had been arrested after calling for the detention of President Abdulla Yameen and demanding the release of key opposition leaders.
The 15-day state of emergency was implemented by Yameen on Feb 5 to annul a Supreme Court ruling ordering the release of the nine leading opposition figures. Swiftly after the measure was imposed, two Supreme Court judges were arrested along with former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom on allegations that he solicited bribes to topple the government.
Thousands gathered in locations across the islands in protest on Friday to demand the arrest of the president and the enforcement of the court ruling to free the opposition leaders.
Ahmed Mahloof, a legislator from the main opposition Maldives Democratic Party (MDP), told Reuters 25 people, including two journalists, had been detained, based on numbers gathered via the party’s telephone hotline.
“Police have so far refused to tell us how many were arrested. We don’t have any access to them,” he said. “We don’t know where they are being held.”
“Police have said they are arrested under state of emergency and that they don’t have to give the information.”
Raajee TV, an independent media outlet, said police had attacked journalists covering the Friday’s protests and said one had been treated for injuries.
Police declined to comment on any arrests or other incidents related to the protest, which was the latest in a series of demonstrations against Yameen’s government.
Leader of MDP Mohamed Nasheed, who is currently in exile in Sri Lanka, said in a Facebook post the journalists were “heavily pepper sprayed, manhandled and beaten up by riot police.”
Yameen, who is expected to run for re-election this year, had the judges arrested on suspicion of taking bribes and “hijacking” the Supreme Court to drag the island nation into political crisis, a senior Maldives diplomat told Reuters.
“That was a direct attempt by the Supreme Court to halt the whole country and go into a deadlock,” said Ahmed Shiaan, Maldives ambassador to the European Union. He also showed reporters a police statement which said a bag containing US$215,000 and 150,000 rufiyaa (US$9,700) belonging to one Supreme Court judge had been found, and that US$2.4 million had been separately wired to the judge by a private firm.
Opposition legislators in the past have complained of authorities targeting them with false allegations. Yameen has denied such accusations. Most of the opposition leaders likely to challenge Yameen in a presidential vote later this year are facing jail sentences. Some have urged India to intervene.
The United Nations, United States, Britain and India have called for the judges to be freed, while independent experts reporting to the UN Human Rights Council have said the rule of law in the Maldives is “under siege.”
Despite protests being prohibited in the capital, crowds continued to gather near the Artificial Beach area in Male before police dispersed the rally using pepper spray and detained several protesters, a witness said.
Additional reporting by Reuters