MDP celebrates anniversary behind police barricades

MDP celebrates anniversary behind police barricades
July 12 13:47 2016

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party celebrated its 11th anniversary behind police barricades last night after its annual parade in Malé was thwarted by riot police.

The police had warned the MDP that political activity will not be allowed on the streets of the capital, citing complaints about traffic jams and inconvenience to pedestrians.

Supporters, leadership figures, and MPs gathered near the party’s meeting hall on the eastern end of Malé around 9pm.

Shortly thereafter, a small group of police officers walked into the crowd, formed a human shield, and tried to push people back onto pavements. After failing in their attempt, the police officers quickly withdrew.

The march then began with the crowd cheering and waving yellow flags. The party had planned to march west on Majeedhee Magu, the capital’s main thoroughfare, stop at three locations, and circle back to the starting point.

However, about 40 police officers blocked Majeedhee Magu with barricades and shields. Roadblocks were also set up on other lanes in the area.

The police obstruction prompted chants for the resignation of President Abdulla Yameen.

MDP MPs and senior figures meanwhile began addressing the crowd near the artificial beach stage, highlighting the party’s achievements over the past 11 years and criticising the curtailment of civil and political rights.

Yameen also came under fire over the theft of nearly US$80 million from state coffers under his watch – a corruption scandal of unprecedented scale in Maldivian history.

The president has denied any wrongdoing, pinning the blame solely on his jailed former deputy.

MDP

The police meanwhile said in a statement that it “gave the opportunity” for the MDP to stage a peaceful gathering. The police also provided security and closed the area to traffic, it added.

The planned march was not allowed to proceed in order to “prevent disruptions to traffic and to solve difficulties faced by pedestrians and vehicles”.

“No disturbances occurred in the gathering. And the police did not use force or arrest anyone,” it added.

The MDP, however, put out a statement today condemning the “unlawful obstruction” of its anniversary parade as well as the “unnecessary harassment and intimidation of the participants.”

The MDP also referred to a ruling party MP declaring on Twitter that “unlawful and violent political activity could not be allowed,” which it said clearly indicated “the government’s intentions well ahead of the planned event.”

The party reiterated that the police actions are unconstitutional as freedom of assembly without prior permission from the state is a fundamental right.

While the 2013 Freedom of Assembly Act specifies restrictions under certain circumstances, the law does not authorise the police to ban gatherings in advance.

“All attempts at conducting peaceful political activity by the opposition have been systematically impeded by the government,” the statement continued.

“Police are employed to obstruct demonstrations regardless of when and where, sound systems are confiscated before the rallies, local government authorities are employed to obstruct political activity in the islands, and the MDP have been systematically denied any public space in which to hold political rallies or meetings.”

MDP Spokesman Hamid Abdul Ghafoor said: “The government’s clampdown on freedom of assembly, along with its muzzling of freedom of expression and censoring of all media, has ensured that basic freedoms and rights are more at peril than ever before.

“We appeal to the international community to impress upon the Yameen regime that stifling of the people’s wills and voices would lead to an unsustainable and uncontrollable situation.”

The statement also noted that MDP Vice President Mohamed Shifaz was “taken in a police vehicle from outside his home, and kept for ‘questioning’ until after the event.”

The police later said Shifaz was questioned over allegations he made on the opposition-aligned Raajje TV.

He was asked to “clarify who the corrupt officers in the [Maldives Police Service] are, who issues unlawful orders, and who among this service obeys those orders,” the police said.

Following his release, Shifaz said in a tweet that he hopes the police would also question Yameen for accusing police of accepting bribes from the former vice president.

Last night’s gathering meanwhile ended around 11:30pm with a rice pudding feast, a feature of MDP’s celebratory gatherings since its early days in 2005.

Despite the police presence, the atmosphere was somewhat festive with some supporters dancing to music blaring out of the nearby meeting hall.

Compared to the MDP’s marches and rallies in the past, however, the turnout was relatively low at about 400.

The party celebrated its tenth anniversary last year with a parade in Malé featuring a DJ, a mirror ball and a band of drummers.

The MDP became the first political party in the Maldives with its registration on June 26, 2005. This year’s anniversary celebration was delayed as it fell during the last days of Ramadan.

With 46,608 members as of February 2015 – the latest figures available from the Elections Commission – the MDP is also the largest political party in the country.