Reporters Without Borders expressed outrage today at Maldivian President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom's action in cutting the entire country off from the Internet in the wake of demonstrations against his regime over the past two days.
"This grave and irresponsible step is unprecedented anywhere in the world and President Gayoom has embarked on a spiral of repression that is extremely worrying," it said, calling on the international community to urgently press for a halt to the crackdown and for the release of three detained journalists of the e-mailed newsletter Sandhaanu who have vanished since the protests.
The British-owned telecommunications firm Cable & Wireless, which handles local Internet access, confirmed the government had cut off all Internet connections. About 90 people, including members of parliament, are thought to have been arrested after the demonstration.
13.08.2004 - Police attack protesters calling for release of jailed cyber-dissidents
Reporters Without Borders expressed disgust at today's violent break-up by Maldives police of a demonstration by several thousand people calling for the release of political prisoners, including three cyber-dissidents of the e-mailed newsletter Sandhaanu.
"Crushing this demonstration contravenes all the promises made by President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom since June to set up a democratic and transparent political system," it said. "We demand that the government ends such repression at once, does not prosecute any of the protesters and frees opposition figure Naushad Waheed and the Sandhaanu cyber-dissidents."
Police attacked the protesters with truncheons and iron bars after President Gayoom announced that the organisers had been identified and would be punished. Many demonstrators were arrested, a state of emergency declared and a curfew imposed. Waheed and the cyber-dissidents then disappeared.
The protest had begun late on 12 August in the capital, Male, in response to the arrest in the previous days of five political dissidents, the best-known of whom, Mohamed "Fulu" Yusuf , was released soon after the demonstration started.
Some of the protesters went to the homes of Waheed (detained in December 2001) and the three cyber-dissidents - Mohamed Zaki, Ahmad Didi and Fathimath Nisreen - who were picked up in January 2002. All four, who were released into house arrest several months ago, went to the demonstration, which was staged in front of the National Security Service headquarters, and addressed the crowd.
A leaflet was handed out criticising the lack of press freedom in the country and quoting Reporters Without Borders, which has put President Gayoom on its worldwide list of "predators of press freedom." The protesters also called on Gayoom to resign.
The British-based human rights group Friends of Maldives said state security agents had gone to the offices of the state-owned TV Maldives and the radio station Voice of Maldives to supervise reporting of the events.