Police keep tight control on opposition gatherings

Police keep tight control on opposition gatherings
August 14 20:23 2016

Riot police kept up a tight control on opposition activities this weekend after newly appointed Home Minister Ahmed Azleen issued a stern warning against unrest.

At Malé’s main mosque on Friday, dozens of riot police once again attempted to disperse opposition supporters as they gathered for a weekly prayer for freedom from tyranny, and briefly detained cameramen with three different media outlets, Raajje TV, Sangu TV and the newspaper Mihaaru.

The three cameramen were told to erase footage of the gathering.

That night, a thousand people who had gathered for the Maldives United Opposition’s nightly rally were told to vacate their seats and leave the area. The police threatened to use force, but the rally ended without clashes.

Azleen, in his first public statement since his surprise appointment last week, said he was ready to take all necessary action to uphold “the prevailing peace and harmony.”

“Our most important objective is to ensure full compliance to the Maldivian constitution, laws and regulations,” the former deputy education minister, said. “I advice everyone to refrain from creating discord, robbing the Maldives of harmony and peace, and actions that incite fear and discontent in our people’s hearts.

“The government will never permit such actions. Should any group commit such an act and endanger the people’s safety, we will act immediately to stop such action and take all necessary action to restore the prevailing peace and harmony.”

The warning comes amid renewed tensions in Malé as the MUO attempts to rally supporters in a campaign to oust President Abdulla Yameen.

The president is facing mounting international pressure over human rights violations, including the jailing and exile of opposition leaders, and is locked in a battle with his half-brother and former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom for the control of the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives.

Dozens of key opposition activists have been arrested and several of their leaders have been placed under investigation in recent weeks. Soldiers have been banned from meeting politicians and foreigners, and at least six soldiers have been detained at the military barracks.

Anwar Ibrahim, a key organizer of the nightly rallies, was meanwhile arrested under a court warrant on Thursday night, on charges of obstructing law enforcement. He was accused of calling for a protest at the police headquarters. A court ordered his release the next day.

The police also issued a summons for former Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem, who resides in Colombo, for an inquiry over unspecified charges.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed, who was recently granted political refugee status in London, responded in a tweet: “President Yameen, Kerafaa Naseeem will return to Malé when we want. You cannot force him to return.”

Naseem is the latest opposition figure to be placed under investigation.

The police had previously confiscated the mobile phones of two opposition MPs and three shadow cabinet ministers of the MOU. The MPs’ phones were seized over a series of tweets while the shadow ministers’ phones were seized over a fund for detainees. All have since been returned.

Ahmed Areef, the police chief, meanwhile assured the police force that no senior officers would issue “unlawful orders,” according to a statement published on the police website last week. He asked senior officers to prevent discord among the rank and file officers.

Shafaa Hameed and Xiena Saeed contributed reporting to this article.