Maldives: Press freedom protest dispersed by police

Image source, AP
Image caption, Sunday's demonstration took place outside the office of President Abdulla Yameen

Maldives police have used pepper spray to break up a protest about freedom of speech, officials say.

At least 16 of the protesters, who were mostly journalists, were arrested.

The demonstration was against government moves to introduce a new law to criminalise defamation.

Observers says it is the latest sign of tension in the Maldives between those calling for greater democratic freedoms and a government increasingly unwilling to allow critics.

A week ago, senior journalists in the Indian Ocean archipelago said in a joint statement the bill would "prevent journalists and citizens from speaking out over serious accusations of corruption and the integrity of state officials".

Demonstrators had gathered outside the office of President Abdulla Yameen in the capital Male on Sunday.

They fear that if enacted, the bill would be used against private media and political opponents of the government.

Protesters were also angry about:

  • a recent decision to suspend the local daily Haveeru newspaper
  • the disappearance of a reporter, Ahmed Rilwan, two years ago

Officials said the protest was broken up by police because demonstrators had gathered in a protected area.

Those detained were reported to be from Haveeru, The Maldives Independent and private TV stations.

The Maldives Independent said its editor Zaheena Rasheed and Sangu TV Managing Director Ibrahim Waheed were among those arrested.

It said some journalists were injured and taken to hospital.

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