Opposition coalition gears up for first rally

Opposition coalition gears up for first rally
July 21 12:31 2016

The Maldives United Opposition is gearing up for its first rally tonight despite the government’s refusal to grant permission to use a public venue in Malé.

The coalition announced Wednesday that the rally will begin at 9pm outside the Maldivian Democratic Party haruge (meeting hall) near the artificial beach in Malé.

MDP Secretary General Anas Abdul Sattar told the press that the housing ministry has not responded to a letter sent a week ago requesting one of three venues in the capital.

Speaking at the press conference, Adhaalath Party Spokesman Ali Zahir urged the police to respect the constitutional right to freedom of assembly.

The police have blocked all opposition activities on the streets of the capital since the government banned protests in Malé last November.

“We aren’t able to do anything to advertise or announce any political activity,” Zahir noted.

“It becomes an offence when we drive pickups with loudspeakers. The pickup is taken, its driver is taken, the sound system is taken. Even if we got out on foot, roads are blocked and people are arrested.”

On Saturday, MUO Spokesman Ahmed Mahloof and three others were briefly detained for driving around Malé on a pickup and using loudspeakers to announce the rally.

The police said they were detained for using loudspeakers without permission.

However, an attempt to promote the rally without using loudspeakers was also blocked the following day.

A pickup draped with banners was stopped Sunday afternoon. The police detained its driver and impounded the vehicle.

Since then, opposition supporters have been driving around Malé on motorbikes to invite the public to the rally.

“The government does not have the authority to deny our legal rights. We’re calling on everyone to come out with courage to bring an end to this,” Zahir said.

The MUO, launched in London last month by opposition leaders in exile, had planned to hold its first rally last Thursday night despite the last-minute withdrawal of a permit granted by the housing ministry.

But the rally was called off due to bad weather.

Housing Minister Dr Mohamed Muiz said the permit was granted to the MDP and not the coalition, which he branded “an unlawful organisation” bent on toppling the government.

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.

Along with Jameel, former President Mohamed Nasheed and MDP Chairperson Ali Waheed are expected to deliver speeches via teleconference at tonight’s rally.

Nasheed, whose imprisonment triggered the ongoing political crisis, was granted asylum in the UK last May after he was authorised to travel for medical treatment.