Maldives police arrested 16 independent journalists while breaking up their demonstration against an alleged crackdown on freedom of speech in the politically troubled nation, private media outlets reported.
Police on Sunday used pepper spray and roughed up reporters who were staging a sit-in protest outside President Abdulla Yameen’s office in the capital Male, according to several outlets including the Maldives Independent website. The protest was aimed at forcing the government to withdraw its draft criminal defamation bill, which protesters fear will be used against private media as well as political opponents of the government.
Government spokesmen Ibrahim Hussain Shihab said the protest was broken up because the journalists had gathered in a protected zone near the president’s office and scaled the barricades. He said only 11 demonstrators were arrested. Photos shared on social media showed journalists dousing themselves with milk to ease the effects of having been pepper-sprayed.
Ongoing political unrest in the Maldives, a nation of 1,192 tiny coral islands, has dented its image as a peaceful paradise for well-heeled honeymooners and upmarket tourists. “The latest protest follows a series of moves by the government and the judiciary to restrict free speech and media freedom in the archipelago,” a journalist from the Haveeru newspaper told AFP on condition of anonymity, adding that six of his colleagues had been detained.