Maldives police in violent crackdown against opposition

Several opposition officials hospitalised in rally calling for the release of jailed former President Mohamed Nasheed.

Police on Twitter confirmed their use of pepper spray to disperse protesters, adding that no arrests had been made [AP]

A number of opposition figures in the Maldives have been hospitalised after police used pepper spray to suppress a demonstration calling for the release of jailed former President Mohamed Nasheed.

Police stepped in after thousands of opposition protesters assembled at the Artificial Beach in the capital Male on Friday for the start of a three-day protest by the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

Several former ministers, the deputy chair of the MDP, and the party’s vice president were among the wounded, sources told Al Jazeera.

The demonstrators were calling for the release of Nasheed and 1,700 political detainees by the administration of President Yameen Abdul Gayoom, which took control of the Indian Ocean nation in 2012 after a disputed election.

After formally rejecting the protesters’ demands, Minister of Home Affairs Umar Naseer issued demonstrators with an ultimatum on Twitter to disperse by midnight or police would be called to clear the area.

However, opposition MP Eva Abdulla said police moved in at around 11pm and that several protesters, including the opposition party officials, had been wounded and hospitalised.

“We have already been attacked. The entire leadership has been pepper sprayed,” Abdulla said in a series of text messages to a correspondent reporting for Al Jazeera from the Maldives at 11:35pm.

“Party Deputy Chair [Shifaz Mohamed] and party VP, former housing minister [Mohamed Aslam are] in hospital. Parliamentary group leader [MP Ibrahim ‘Ibu’ Mohamed Solih] heavily pepper sprayed. Chilli spray I think,” Abdulla wrote.

“[They] barged into our party rally centre [and] disconnected electricity. They needed a court order to enter our centre but barged in without one,” she said in another text.

“No one has been killed. We are walking the streets,” Abdulla said in a final text at midnight, after which she ceased communication.

Police on Twitter confirmed their use of pepper spray to disperse protesters, adding that no arrests were made.

Difficult transition

Other people the MDP are demanding the release of former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim and opposition leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla.

The party says the prosecutions resulted from a political vendetta by Gayoom’s government. It is also calling for judicial reforms and an end to alleged corruption.

Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in prison for ordering the arrest of a senior judge when he was president in 2012.

Nazim is serving a 10-year sentence for keeping a gun, a crime in the Maldives. Abdulla was detained over accusations of inciting violence during an anti-government protest in May.

Maldives held its first multiparty election in 2008, after decades of autocratic rule, but its transition to democracy has been difficult.

Nasheed, who became the country’s first democratically-elected president, resigned four years into a five-year term amid public protests over his role in the judge’s arrest.

In 2013, Gayoom defeated Nasheed in a disputed election. Since then, the Gayoom family has regained control of the Maldives.

The country has been in upheaval in recent months following a blast on Gayoom’s speedboat, which authorities say was an assassination attempt.

Gayoom’s former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb has been arrested and detained on suspicion of being behind the blast.

Source: Al Jazeera, AP