Government in u-turn cancels permit for opposition rally

Government in u-turn cancels permit for opposition rally
July 14 14:49 2016

The housing ministry has cancelled a permit granted to the Maldivian Democratic Party on Wednesday to hold a rally in Malé tonight, citing alleged plans to “encourage unlawful activities”.

The main opposition party sought permission to use the carnival area for the first rally of the Maldives United Opposition, the new coalition launched in London last month by opposition leaders in exile.

At a hastily arranged press briefing this morning, Housing Minister Dr Mohamed Muiz said the permit was granted to the MDP and not to “some group called the united coalition”.

“The government will not give one inch of Maldivian land to hold unlawful gatherings to an organisation or group formed unlawfully,” he declared.

Muiz insisted, however, that the government will support the peaceful exercise of the constitutional rights to freedom of assembly and expression.

He also claimed that the MDP used its official Twitter account and a press conference at the party’s office yesterday to invite the public to a rally organised for “overthrowing the government or for other unlawful purposes.”

The permit was withdrawn as such calls pose a threat to national security, he added.

Muiz refused to take questions at the press briefing.

Despite the withdrawal of permission, both the MUO and the MDP have announced that the rally will go ahead as planned at 9pm.

MUO Spokesman Ahmed Mahloof told The Maldives Independent that the rally will take place if the weather improves. It has been raining in Malé since this morning.

The MDP meanwhile replied to the housing ministry’s notification today, insisting that it has not breached the terms of the permit by allowing a third party to use the venue.

The party urged the government not to obstruct tonight’s rally.

In a letter shared with the media, the party also noted that the ministry has previously authorised MDP rallies with the participation of allies Jumhooree Party and Adhaalath Party.

The ruling coalition, comprised of the Progressive Party of Maldives and the Maldives Development Alliance, has also held joint rallies advertised as such, the MDP noted.

The housing ministry in early 2015 had taken over management of the capital’s public spaces from the MDP-dominated Malé city council, stripping it of authority to approve the use of public venues for political rallies and gatherings.

The ministry had granted the permit for tonight’s rally more than a month after the MDP submitted a request.

The approval came Wednesday evening after MDP officials met with the Elections Commission and made numerous efforts to seek a response from the housing ministry.

Muiz said today that the EC had urged the ministry to grant the permit. But the commission’s chair informed him this morning that the MUO is not a registered party or organisation and recommended cancelling the permit, he added.

“So we’ve withdrawn the permit based on their counsel as well. We want the public to know that the government will not allow efforts to disrupt the peace of Malé,” he said.

The MUO, led by former Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed and comprised of the MDP, Adhaalath Party, and supporters of jailed former government officials, is working towards establishing an interim government before the 2018 presidential election.

To that end, opposition leaders in exile have been lobbying for international support and calling for targeted sanctions against top government officials.

Tonight’s rally was advertised under the slogan, ‘Towards a transitional path.’ Preparations are ongoing at the MDP meeting hall in Malé.

A march planned by the MDP to celebrate its 11th anniversary was meanwhile blocked by riot police on Monday night.

In a statement condemning the “unlawful obstruction”, the MDP said it has been “systematically denied any public space in which to hold political rallies or meetings.”

It added: “The party’s attempts to advertise and announce its rallies and meetings are also obstructed, with the police arresting whoever makes the announcements on the streets.”

A pickup announcing tonight’s rally was reportedly stopped yesterday. The police briefly detained two people, impounded the vehicle, and confiscated the sound system.

A ban on street protests in Malé has been in force since a police crackdown on a three-day protest staged by the MDP last November.