MALE, Maldives – Police in the Maldives used tear gas and pepper spray Sunday to break up a protest by journalists and activists accusing the government of stifling press freedom, arresting 11 of the demonstrators.
The Maldives, a South Asian archipelago nation known mainly for its luxury resorts, became a multiparty democracy in 2008 after decades of autocratic rule. However, democratic gains have been rapidly declining in recent years.
The protesters were rallying near the president's office against the government's move to criminalize defamation, as well as other measures allegedly taken against the media. President Yameen Abdul Gayoom's ruling party has presented a bill in parliament that proposes heavy fines and jail terms for defamation.
The demonstrators also accused the government of having a part in a court order that suspended publication of the Maldives' oldest newspaper. Other issues raised during the protest included delays in investigating the disappearance of a journalist two years ago and some media organizations being barred from court reporting.
Government spokesman Ibrahim Hussain Shihab said the protest was broken up because the journalists had gathered in a protected zone near the president's office and scaled the barricades. He said 11 demonstrators were arrested.
Meanwhile, police on Saturday confirmed for the first time that Ahmed Rilwan, the journalist who went missing in 2014, had been abducted. Rilwan worked for a pro-opposition website at the time of his disappearance.
Police said security camera video showed a man identified as a member of a criminal gang following Rilwan as he was returning home from work.
The motive for the abduction is not clear.
Associated Press writer Krishan Francis in Colombo, Sri Lanka, contributed to this report.