Police deployed stun guns, tear gas, and pepper spray against large numbers of people demonstrated in the Maldives capital of Male on Friday to demand the release of ousted president Mohamed Nasheed and other political prisoners.
The demonstration was timed to coincide with International Workers’ Day and reportedly numbered over 20,000 people, in the biggest such gathering since Nasheed was overthrown in a military coup in 2012. Located in the Indian Ocean, the nation has a population of approximately 400,000.
“People have come on boatloads from across the 1200 island archipelago. ‘We have travelled on different ships, but we are now all on the same boat’, observed one such protester on social media,” wrote Azra Naseem in an op-ed about the day of protests.
“The regime’s unprecedented efforts to intimidate (the opposition) have failed,” 27-year-old protester Yameen Rasheed told Reuters. “People have poured out in record numbers to demand President Nasheed’s release.”
Nasheed, who attracted international acclaim as a human rights and climate defender, was handed a 13-year prison sentence in March following a trial that was internationally denounced as unlawful and politicized.
Since then, residents say that the human rights situation has deteriorated as the government of the new President Abdulla Yameen has grown increasingly authoritarian.
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