Colombo, June 21

An angry mob on Tuesday stormed the Maldives national football stadium and attacked participants at the ‘Yoga Day’ event organised by the Indian High Commission and the Maldivian government. 

The country’s police force soon arrived and tackled the mob, allowing the event to resume, Male-based officials said. Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih termed it a matter of “serious concern”. Soon after the incident, he said in a tweet: “An investigation has been launched by @PoliceMv into the incident that happened this morning at Galolhu stadium. This is being treated as a matter of serious concern and those responsible will be swiftly brought before the law.” 

The Government of Maldives “strongly condemned” the incident. “Such malicious acts of violence aimed at disrupting public safety and undermining security of individuals and the diplomatic corps will not be tolerated,” the Indian Ocean island nation’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.  

Video footage of the incident captured by Maldivian media showed angry men, carrying poles and flags, raging towards participants seated on the ground on yoga mats, and trying to attack them. The Maldives Police Service said it traced the items used by the attackers to the office of the opposition Progressive Party of the Maldives, led by former President Abdulla Yameen who is currently spearheading an ‘India Out’ campaign. “As of now, the evidence indicates that the demonstrators were using items taken from the office of the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM),” the police said in a statement.  

The perpetrators had “sought to incite fear by forcefully entering, destroying property, and attempting to assault participants of the event,” said the police, after taking six men into custody in connection with the incident. 

In a tweet Tuesday, the Maldives Police also sought citizens’ assistance, by way of any evidence or information pertaining to the incident.  Prior to the event, authorities noticed messages on social media deriding the ‘Yoga Day’ event. The messages claimed yoga was a Hindu mode of worship and urged people of the Islamic country to stay away from the practice. 

Around 150 people, including many Maldivian citizens, diplomats, senior government officials were present at the venue Tuesday morning, according to sources in Male. No one was seriously hurt in the attacks by the mobs, they said. 

The ruling The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) “unequivocally condemned” the “violent attack”. “These types of egregious and violent acts have no place in a peaceful democratic society such as ours,” the Party said in a statement, which noted that the Maldives has been marking ‘World Yoga Day’ since 2015. The Maldives was among the 177 countries that co-sponsored a resolution at the United Nations in 2014, declaring June 21 as the ‘International Day of Yoga’. 

Meera Srinivasan is The Hindu’s correspondent in Colombo