The Maldives Police Services arrested 26 protesters from opposition Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) “last warning” rally in Malé last night.
MDP MP Fayyaz Ismail, Vice President Mohamed Shifaz, former MP Ilyas Labeeb and three minors were among those arrested between 10:30pm and 1am. Police claimed the protest was not peaceful.
Fayyaz and two others have since been remanded for 15 days. The rest have been released on the condition they do not participate in protests again.
Protesters had called for the release of former President Mohamed Nasheed, who remains imprisoned amidst a terrorism trial over the military detention of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012.
Two journalists from Villa TV and CNM were briefly detained last night for allegedly “obstructing police duties.”
Specialist Operations (SO) officers charged into the crowd of protesters several times throughout the night, using pepper spray indiscriminately.
Meanwhile, approximately 200 MDP supporters took to the seas at 4pm, traveling near Dhoonidhoo Island Detention Center where Nasheed is imprisoned. Hundreds more staged a motor cycle rally in Malé simultaneously.
The MDP claims terrorism charges against Nasheed are politically motivated and have pointed to several irregularities in the trial, including two of the three judges overseeing the trial having provided witness statements during a 2012 investigation into Judge Abdulla’s arrest.
The largest opposition party last week scaled up protests, with letter campaigns, daily protests and motorcycle rallies under the banner “Warning!”
Hundreds set out from Usfasgandu at 9pm, and split at the Majeedhee Magu and Sosun Magu junction. Those on foot headed down Medhuziyarai Magu, while hundreds on motorbikes headed down Majeedhee Magu.
When protesters reached the former presidential palace at Muleeage, SO officers in riot gear charged into the crowd and arrested Shifaz, Fayyaz, and Ilyas. The MDP in a statement immediately condemned the police’s alleged targeting of its leadership.
Police pushed some protesters back to Sosun Magu, and chased others into the narrow lanes behind the People’s Majlis.
Protesters quickly regrouped near the Seagull café on Chaandhanee Magu, but riot police once again pushed them back to Majeedhee Magu.
On a live blog at 11pm, the police claimed masked individuals had threatened to kill police officers. Journalists on the scene observed police made no move to arrest the masked individuals.
The MDP in a statement this morning claimed: “The police have allowed armed gangs, loyal to the government, to attack pro democracy protesters. There have also been reports of masked police in plainclothes attacking members of the public during these protests. No action has been taken against these individuals.”
“Also of concern is the intimidating and confrontational nature of the Police who dismantle these protests. Police arbitrarily announce areas where the public cannot assemble, closing down main roads at random. Protesters have been heavily pepper sprayed, and masses of riot Police have charged at peaceful protesters on the capital city’s busiest roads,” the statement added.
The police have also banned protests near the Malé City Hall until March 15, claiming businesses in the area had been complaining over protesters allegedly disrupting business.
As the confrontation with police and protesters went on, pictures started circulating on social media depicting Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) officers carrying firearms. The MNDF immediately dismissed the pictures as false.
Confrontation at sea
Prior to the rally, approximately 200 protesters took to the sea on six vessels. The boats departed from the T-Jetty at 4pm, calling for the immediate release of Nasheed, former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim and all activists arrested at recent protests.
Nazim, charged with importing and possessing illegal weapons, is in police custody until his trial concludes.
After circling Malé City, the boats headed for Dhoonidhoo Island, where several coastguard and police vessels had set up a barricade. Police speedboats circled around the protesters, creating waves that rocked the boats wildly.
In a statement afterwards, police warned it would check the boats used for the protest to ensure they met all safety standards and take legal action against any boat that had carried more passengers than its carrying capacity.
On Thursday, 14 MDP women were arrested from a protest at the airport. They were released the next day.
The MDP along with opposition Jumhooree Party staged a 10,000 strong rally in Malé on February 27, and issued 13 demands on President Abdulla Yameen, including Nasheed and Nazim’s release. The government has refused to initiate talks, claiming the demands were not beneficial to the public.
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