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(Washington, D.C.) — Maldives police and military forces responded with violence against a peaceful rally backing the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), violating international standards against the use of excessive force, Amnesty International documented in the Maldives today.
At least six protesters were injured, some seriously, when combined police and military officers attacked around 300 MDP protesters in the Lonuziyaarai Kolhu area of the city. The attacks are part of a wider pattern of violence, documented by Amnesty International, toward supporters of the political party of the ousted former President Mohamed Nasheed.
The protesters were part of an ongoing nightly rally in the capital, Malé in support of Nasheed, who was forced from office on February 7, and replaced by Vice President Dr. Mohamed Waheed.
"People who were peacefully exercising their right to protest were beaten on the head with batons, kicked and sprayed with pepper spray. This use of excessive force violates human rights standards," said Amnesty International's researcher Abbas Faiz, who is documenting the human rights situation in Maldives.
One of the injured is a 16-year-old boy, who is currently in custody of the police's Child Protection Unit. Amnesty International's delegate in Malé was not allowed to visit him.
The security forces' attack on demonstrators in Lonuziyaarai Kolhu was apparently in retaliation to earlier clashes in the city, when the windows in a police station were smashed by stones. The police accuse MDP protesters of this attack, while the MDP denies the charges.
"The Maldives authorities must clearly announce, and demonstrate, that they do not tolerate retaliatory raids by the police against protesters. The police and military must not act outside the law," said Faiz.
Amnesty International has asked the police authorities to make public the number of people they have arrested, as well as the number of people who had to receive medical treatment following their arrest. Police have so far not released these details.
Credible sources have told Amnesty International that the police and military arrested more than a dozen people during their raid on the MDP rally today. Security forces arrested additional people in the hospital after they had gone to receive medical treatment for their injuries. The detainees were then taken to police detention centers in Malé, and were later transferred to Dhoonidhoo, an island close to Malé which serves as the main detention center.
Victims told Amnesty International that the military and police personnel shouted abusive words against the MDP when they raided their rally. "They grabbed hold of my hair and pulled me up, shouting that they would teach me a lesson for demonstrating against the new president," said one of the victims.
"When police officers act like political opponents towards demonstrators, they erode respect for the rule of law and cast doubt on their impartiality as officers of justice," said Faiz.
A day after his resignation, Nasheed said that he had been forced to resign by elements in the police and military. His supporters took to the streets on February 8, in the cities of Malé and Addu, and were met with violence by the police and military who had sided with the new government.
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom and dignity are denied.