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Maldives: Peaceful protesters must be released immediately

The Maldivian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release all people who have been detained under the state of emergency solely for exercising their human rights and halt attacks on peaceful protesters, Amnesty International said today.

Amnesty has documented several arbitrary detentions under state of emergency laws, mainly of peaceful protesters and journalists. Members of the judiciary and political opponents have also been held arbitrarily since the state of emergency was imposed on February 5.

Amnesty is calling for their immediate release unless promptly charged with a recognisable criminal offence.

Dinushika Dissanayake, Amnesty’s South Asia Deputy Director, said:

“Those who were peacefully protesting against the state of emergency should never have been detained in the first place and must be released immediately and unconditionally.

“The Maldivian government is using the state of emergency as a licence for repression, targeting members of civil society, judges and political opponents.”

The state of emergency was extended on 20 February for a further 30 days, a move that was deemed “unconstitutional” by the Maldives prosecutor-general. The vote to extend the state of emergency was later forced through parliament.

Hundreds have been gathering every night on the streets of the capital Malé calling for the release of those detained and for the lifting of the state of emergency. Amnesty has also documented the use of unnecessary and excessive force by the police against journalists and peaceful protesters.

One protester, Abdulla Saleem, slipped into a coma after the police used pepper spray to disperse a protest. He remains in an intensive care unit in a hospital in Malé.

On 16 February, the police attacked several journalists covering the protests. Some were hospitalised due to the serious nature of their injuries. On 25 February, the Maldivian authorities imposed a curfew after 10:30pm, prohibiting protesters from meeting after that time.

Dinushika Dissanayake added:

“People have a right to protest peacefully and journalists have a right to document and report on these protests freely and without fear.

“The state of emergency cannot be used to justify such a crackdown on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

“The authorities must immediately halt the attacks on peaceful protesters and effectively investigate those suspected to be responsible and hold them to account.”

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