Paradise quashed: violent repression of opposition in the Maldives

When most people in the UK think of the Maldives, they think of white sand, palm trees and tropical tranquillity. When they google it, they are met with holiday offers from hotels and airlines. But after today, they will also see news pieces on Amnesty’s report: The Other Side of Paradise, which documents the violent suppression of opposition supporters by police and the military.

The recent history of the chain of islands in the Indian Ocean is an interesting one. The Maldives held its first democratic elections in 2008, following  a period of autocratic rule. The first democratically elected president, Mohamed Nasheed, was once an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience who was imprisoned more than twenty times for his opposition to long-time President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. On 7 February, Mohamed Nasheed read out his own resignation letter to the nation. The event was broadcast live on state television networks. His resignation threw the country into political turmoil.

Nasheed later claimed he was forced to resign, in an alleged coup, but his successor President Mohamed Waheed, refutes that accusation. There were protests leading up to Nasheed’s resignation, but it was the controversy surrounding the power transfer that sparked the most recent clashes.

The streets of the capital island Malé became the scene of almost daily protests rallies by Nasheed supporters, which were quelled using unnecessary, excessive force by the police and military.  

Amnesty’s new report documents the brutal force deployed against peaceful demonstrators – including police striking people over the head with batons, aiming pepper spray at demonstrators’ eyes and kicking and dragging protesters in the streets. Hundreds of people have been arrested, and there are allegations of the use of torture by police. Methods used include beatings, denying drinking water to people in prison and holding them in dog cages. Police also tracked down injured protesters in hospitals, to beat them again.  

It is a bleak picture, which is at odds with the utopian image of the islands. Amnesty is calling on the Maldivian authorities to ensure prompt, independent and impartial investigations into allegations of violence by officials and reparations to survivors. All security forces must be instructed not to attack demonstrators and be given adequate training to ensure they comply with international law enforcement and human rights standards. Amnesty has also said that the criminal justice system must be reformed to guarantee its independence and impartiality.

You can read more about the report’s findings and recommendations, here.

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