By Amnesty International staff
A group of peaceful women protesters who wanted to mark their opposition to the Maldives’ new president found themselves on the receiving end of a violent assault.
Charged with batons and doused with pepper spray by the Maldivian army (MNDF), they fell foul of the authorities as they attempted to approach a rally in Addu City addressed by President Waheed on 26 February.
The 20 women were ahead of a crowd of about 70 when the police stopped them, saying they had been ordered not to allow Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) supporters in. The women wore the yellow headbands usually donned by MDP members.
The demonstrators halted their march and began to chant slogans against President Waheed, who was making his speech a couple of hundred metres away.
They were then attacked by an army contingent which has been deployed alongside police in recent weeks.
Army personnel arrived from a side alley behind the women, who were then caught between them and the police line.
Separated from the rest of the demonstrators, the 20 were charged by soldiers who wielded batons and used pepper spray, pushed them around, and kicked them on their legs and ribs.
Amnesty International learned that one woman had her arm twisted and sprained when MNDF soldiers grabbed her.
They then took her glasses off, forced her to open her eye and sprayed it with pepper spray. She said they pressed her against the wall and kicked her with their boots.
Another woman said that they began to beat her on her breast, repeatedly shouting they would see to it that she does not breast feed again.
A third woman showed her badly bruised arm where she said that soldiers had severely and repeatedly beaten her.
Amnesty International condemns the Maldivian army’s use of excessive force against these women. Detailed testimonies from the victims revealed no evidence of the protesters being involved in any act of violence.
As the rest of the protesters ran away, army and police personnel chased them, allegedly beating anyone they caught. During the chase, clashes occurred between security forces and demonstrators. At one point, a policeman was reportedly injured by a stone thrown at the security forces.
Security personnel reportedly then entered the MDP office in Hitadhoo, where more than a dozen other women protesters had run for shelter. They chased the women into the storage room of the building and began to beat them.
Since the ouster of former President Mohamed Nasheed on 7 February, the Maldives have seen demonstrations by the opposition MDP and counter demonstrations by President Waheed’s supporters.
Human rights have become heavily politicized in the protests, with each side blaming their opponents for promoting violence.
During clashes between the MDP supporters and security forces on 8 February, up to 10 buildings, including police headquarters and a court building, were burnt down in Addu city, an MDP stronghold.
The government has blamed MDP supporters for the destruction. Scores of people were detained in Addu following the 8 February clashes and were tortured or otherwise ill-treated in custody.
Police have continued to deny torturing the detainees or using excessive force against MDP protesters.
Maldives: End use of excessive force against protesters (News story, 8 February 2012)
Maldives must avoid persecution of ousted government (News story, 7 February 2012)