Maldives police arrested an opposition leader and 192 other people Friday after clashes erupted between police and protesters demanding the resignation of the country’s president and the release of a jailed ex-leader.
The Maldives government accused Sheik Imran, leader of the Islamic conservative Adhaalath, or Justice Party, of inciting violence among the protesters with the aim of overthrowing the government.
Imran had been a key organizer of the protest by three opposition parties and his arrest could exacerbate an acrimonious political climate in the Indian Ocean archipelago nation.
Thousands of people marched in the capital, accusing President Yameen Abdul Gayoom of jailing former President Mohamed Nasheed and others who he sees as political threats.
The opposition activists ran through a cordon of shield-carrying police protecting the military headquarters in Male and clashed with police officers.
Police fired tear gas and arrested 193 protesters. They later declared that the demonstration was not peaceful, saying they will break up any gathering without warning.
Maldives police told reporters that Imran “incited violence amongst protesters with the aim of toppling the government and called for clashes with the police if necessary.”
However, Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party said the police charged the protesters without provocation.
The protesters also beat up two policemen who were flown to neighboring Sri Lanka for treatment.
Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in prison in March for ordering the arrest of a senior judge when he was president three years ago. He was sentenced under the country’s terrorism laws after the court declared that the arrest was akin to kidnapping.
Nasheed’s imprisonment after a rushed trial sparked widespread international condemnation.
In a statement after a fact-finding mission to the Maldives, the United Nations human rights office said Nasheed’s trial was “vastly unfair and his conviction was arbitrary and disproportionate.”
The statement, which noted that the delegation met with Nasheed in addition to government officials and members of civil society, also said the country’s legal system is “perceived as politicized, inadequate and subject to external influence.”
The statement added, “In the absence of an adequate criminal code, evidence law, and criminal procedures, the prosecutor general and the judges have excessive discretionary powers that worked in this case against Mr. Nasheed.”
Gayoom’s former defense minister, Mohamed Nazim, has been jailed for 10 years for importing and possessing a firearm, which is forbidden for private individuals.
Known for its luxury island resorts, Maldives became a multiparty democracy in 2008 when Nasheed was elected president, ending the autocratic, 30-year rule of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
Nasheed resigned in 2012 after weeks of public protests against the arrest of the judge, whom Nasheed’s government had accused of being corrupt and politically biased.
In 2013, he lost a presidential election to the former leader’s half-brother.
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