A senior Maldives opposition party leader said on Tuesday that police assaulted him and then detained him for 11 hours after he protested the alleged beating death of a prisoner.
"When people heard that the man had died in prison and police was going to bury him, they rushed there (to the prison) to protest," said Mohamed Nasheed, a senior leader of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party, by phone from the Maldivian capital, Male. The protest and alleged assault on Nasheed took place on Sunday.
"When I went there, police was trying to bury the body quickly and then hundreds of our supporters came and the process (burial) was stopped," he added.
The MDP says Hussain Salah was beaten to death while in prison, a charge the government has denied.
It is unclear when exactly Salah died but the government says his body was found floating in the sea on Sunday morning.
"The police were extremely on edge when they saw me. They charged at me and one of them hit me on my face," he said. "The others punched me all over and then I fell," he added. Nasheed said he was taken to a police station, kept there for 11 hours, and released without charge.
He added that 35 members of the party were still in prison. Maldives' chief government spokesman Mohamed Hussain Shareef told the agency that the government was not aware if Nasheed was beaten by police and said the alleged incident could be investigated if a formal complaint was made.
He also denied allegations that Salah died in police custody and said his body was found floating in the sea 36 hours after being released from police detention over a narcotics charge.
"We don't think there is any basis whatsoever (to the allegations over Salah's death)," Shareef said, claiming that it was an attempt by the MDP to create public unrest over the death of one of its members.
The government in a statement identified Salah as a drug addict who had previous convictions on narcotics and burglary charges.
President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has governed the Maldives since 1978 with a firm grip. He promised political reforms in 2004 in response to international pressure sparked by anti-government riots and allegations of torture of political prisoners, but the reforms have been slow.
The first multiparty elections are due in 2008. The Maldives is a Muslim nation of about 300,000 people on 1,192 coral islands.