Maldives / AFP
Maldives police have released 16 journalists arrested during a protest against a perceived government crackdown on press freedom on the politically troubled holiday islands, officials said on Monday. The journalists, which the government said were released late Sunday, have been ordered to report to police for questioning over the demonstration held outside President Abdulla Yameen’s office in the capital Male. “We were told that we disobeyed police orders and they want to question us further,” ZaheenaRasheed, an editor of the private Maldives Independent website, said.
Police used pepper spray to break up Sunday’s protest against the government’s move to criminalise defamation, which media fear will be used to stifle freedom of speech. A draft bill proposes heavy fines and jail terms for offenders.
The government said in a statement the demonstration was broken up because journalists were gathered in “a high security zone, where protesting is prohibited”, adding that the group was detained for 10 hours in total.
Political turmoil in the Maldives has dented its image as a peaceful paradise for well-heeled honeymooners. The Indian Ocean nation adopted multiparty democracy in 2008 after decades of autocratic rule, but has faced international criticism over a recent erosion of rights. Rasheed said the released media met on Monday with US ambassador AtulKeshap, who was visiting from Sri Lanka where he is based.