Amnesty International has condemned attacks on a group of women in Addu Atoll by the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF), after obtaining testimonies from victims of a crackdown on demonstrators at a rally during the recent visit to the MDP stronghold by new President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan.
“The 20 women were ahead of a crowd of about 70 when the police stopped them, saying they had been ordered not to allow Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) supporters in. The women wore the yellow headbands usually donned by MDP members,” Amnesty reported, in a statement published on Tuesday.
“The demonstrators halted their march and began to chant slogans against President Waheed, who was making his speech a couple of hundred metres away.
“They were then attacked by an army contingent which has been deployed alongside police in recent weeks.
“Army personnel arrived from a side alley behind the women, who were then caught between them and the police line.
“Separated from the rest of the demonstrators, the 20 were charged by soldiers who wielded batons and used pepper spray, pushed them around, and kicked them on their legs and ribs.
“Detailed testimonies from the [group of 20 women] revealed no evidence of the [female] protesters being involved in any act of violence.”
“As the rest of the protesters ran away, army and police personnel chased them, allegedly beating anyone they caught.”
Security forces clashed with other demonstrators during the chase and a policeman was reportedly injured by a thrown stone, Amnesty noted.
Security personnel reportedly then entered the MDP office in Hitadhoo, where more than a dozen other women protesters had run for shelter.
“They chased the women into the storage room of the building and began to beat them,” Amnesty reported.
“Amnesty International learned that one woman had her arm twisted and sprained when MNDF soldiers grabbed her. They then took her glasses off, forced her to open her eye and sprayed it with pepper spray. She said they pressed her against the wall and kicked her with their boots.
“Another woman said that they began to beat her on her breast, repeatedly shouting they would see to it that she does not breast feed again.
“A third woman showed her badly bruised arm where she said that soldiers had severely and repeatedly beaten her.”
Amnesty noted that both sides had blamed each other for promoting violence, and that human rights in the Maldives “have become heavily politicised.”
“During clashes between the MDP supporters and security forces on 8 February, up to 10 buildings, including police headquarters and a court building, were burnt down in Addu city, an MDP stronghold,” Amnesty observed.
“The government has blamed MDP supporters for the destruction. Scores of people were detained in Addu following the 8 February clashes and were tortured or otherwise ill-treated in custody.”
“Police have continued to deny torturing the detainees or using excessive force against MDP protesters.”
In a press statement following the attacks, police dismissed the allegations as “lies” and said that the police only stopped the demonstrators who attempted to break into the area blocked by the security forces.