The ruling-party dominated parliament passed today a controversial bill restricting protests and gatherings to areas designated by the home ministry in the capital Malé City.
Some 37 MPs voted in favour and 21 voted No.
MP Abdulla ‘Bochey’ Rifau proposed the amendment to the Freedom of Assembly Act, claiming protests were a “public nuisance” and put pedestrians at danger. The new bill would help security forces protect protesters as well, he claimed.
Protesters will require written permission from the police to gather in other areas.
The bill, introduced Monday, comes amid an opposition campaign to oust President Abdulla Yameen, and follows the passage of a law restricting speech and press freedoms.
Two MPs of the ruling coalition voted against the bill; Faris Maumoon of the Progressive Party of the Maldives and Hussain Areef of the Maldives Development Alliance. MP Gasim Ibrahim, leader of the Jumhooree Party, also voted against the bill.
PPM MP Mohamed Mustafa abstained from the vote, and Hussain Manik Dhon Manik, also of the PPM, did not participate in the vote.
Opposition lawmakers say they will not obey the law, describing it as unlawful as the constitution guarantees the right to assemble without prior notice.
MPs of the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives said the bill was aimed at facilitating peaceful assembly. MP Jameel Usman said the right to assembly was written in the constitution after the right to life, employment, education and the “right to walk on the street.”
Tourists had left the capital because of protests, he said. But with the new bill, the opposition “can protest day and night in the locations designated by the home ministry. They can have their voices heard as much as they want. There must be a proper guideline on this,” he said.
In an impassioned plea to ruling party lawmakers, MP Imthiyaz Fahmy, of the man opposition Maldivian Democratic Party, said: “We wonder if this can even be called a state? Honorable Speaker, you and the others here are robbing the people of their constitutional rights using the ruling party majority.
“This is what happens when the government fears its people, when it has no other means. I wonder, why do so many MPs of the ruling party fear Yameen Abdul Gayoom?”
He added: “Did you not use these rights when you were in opposition? Did you not fill the streets? Shattering the glass doors at the MMA at midnight, firebombs, and uprooting areca palms.”
In response, PPM MP Ali Shah said Yameen neither feared the people nor brutalized them, but wanted development and progress. The bill was necessary to restore peace and order, he added.
Meanwhile MP Mohamed Musthafa, a ruling party lawmaker who has spoken out against Yameen, said: “We must not sit here wearing ties when the people are being robbed of their rights.” His microphone was switched off mid-way through his speech.
Speaking to reporters afterwards, minority leader Ibrahim ‘Ibu’ Mohamed Solih said the opposition refuses to obey the new law. A simple majority of the parliament cannot curtail rights, he said.
Additional reporting by Hassan Moosa