A much-anticipated opposition demonstration on Friday night was suppressed with mass arrests and tear gas fired to keep protesters out of the capital’s Republic Square.
Three Raajje TV journalists, several Maldivian Democratic Party activists and opposition parliamentary group leader Ibrahim Mohamed Solih were among scores taken into custody.
A police spokesman told local media that 141 people were arrested, including 115 men and 26 women, of whom 139 remain in custody after two men were released. The number of detainees is the highest since the 2015 May Day rally.
The heavy-handed crackdown came after the authorities warned last week that the ‘Huttuva’ (Stop) protest would not be allowed, branding it an attempt to violently overthrow the government and threatening fishermen with license cancellation if they ferried protesters to the capital.
Opposition supporters who gathered as planned around 8:30 pm were greeted with rows of police officers at the Chandhanee Magu-Majeedhee Magu junction, a busy intersection of Malé’s main thoroughfare.
Balaclava-clad Special Ops officers quickly began snatching protesters. A commander warned on loudspeakers that the gathering will be forcibly dispersed and advised that police would not bear responsibility for injuries.
More than 20 people were arrested in the first half hour, after which SO police charged with shields and indiscriminately pepper-sprayed protesters until the main road was cleared.
Around 11:00 pm, protesters regrouped near the central bank building on Malé’s outer ring road as exiled leaders Gasim Ibrahim and former president Mohamed Nasheed claimed on social media that the police and military were “with the people.”
But soldiers in riot gear blocked the path to the Republic Square – a “green zone” where gatherings are prohibited – and police lobbed tear gas canisters to push the crowd back.
Opposition MPs Ali Azim and Hussain Mohamed were among at least eight individuals arrested amid clashes.
Raajje TV reporters Mohamed Fazeen and Mohamed Wisam along with the station’s head of programming Amir Saleem were meanwhile arrested with court warrants.
According to the pro-opposition station, the arrests came after a ruling party lawmaker alleged that Raajje TV uploaded to YouTube a video in which three masked men in police uniforms said they planned to join the anti-government rally.
The arrests prompted calls for their immediate release from the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.
Daily demonstrations and arrests have been taking place since President Abdulla Yameen declared a state of emergency last month in reaction to a shock Supreme Court ruling for the release of nine prisoners, citing a “judicial coup” to remove him from office.
The Huttuva demonstration ended around 2:30 am and the opposition has vowed to resume protests on Saturday.
This is a false message. Acting CP, DCP Abdullah Nawaz’s account has been hacked. Please stop spreading misleading information. Thank You pic.twitter.com/p7tL3CNsFa
— Maldives Police (@PoliceMv) March 16, 2018