Three arrested from opposition prayer gathering

Three arrested from opposition prayer gathering
July 23 15:16 2016

Riot police forcibly dispersed the opposition’s weekly prayer gathering Friday afternoon, arresting three men and using pepper spray to push back the crowd outside the Islamic centre in Malé.

Police officers moved in and started pushing and shoving opposition supporters shortly after they gathered for the prayer.

Opposition supporters tried to regroup several times, but each attempt was thwarted by the Specialist Operations officers.

Three men, including former national football team captain, Ahmed Assad, also a council member of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party, were taken into custody.

A police spokesperson confirmed that three men were arrested “from an MDP political activity outside a mosque.” All three were released Friday evening.

MDP MP Ali Nizar meanwhile had to seek treatment at the ADK hospital after he was pepper sprayed at close range.

Nizar told Raajje TV that the doctor attached an eye patch and told him to come back for tests after 48 hours.

MP Ali Nizar with eye patch

The police had declared earlier this month that “political activities will not be allowed inside or near mosques”.

Opposition supporters have been gathering outside Malé’s main mosque every week after Friday prayers since the arrest of former President Mohamed Nasheed in February 2015. They have been praying both for the freedom of jailed politicians and an end to “tyranny and injustice.”

Riot police began dispersing the gathering in mid-April.

In November, the Islamic ministry claimed the weekly prayer contained “ill-wishes towards particular people” and incited “strife, hatred and anger” among Maldivians.

The prayer violated the Religious Unity Act, the ministry insisted, warning that action would be taken against “repeat offenders.”

Soon thereafter, Ahmed Hassan, an MDP council member who had been leading the prayer, was arrested and detained for ten days.

However, the Prosecutor General’s office decided there were no legal grounds to prosecute Hassan.

Citing the PG’s decision, the MDP contends that riot police are now enforcing an unlawful order by dispersing the gathering.

The constitution guarantees freedom from restraint and states, “A citizen is free to engage in any conduct or activity that is not expressly prohibited by Islamic Shari’ah or by law. No control or restraint may be exercised against any person unless it is expressly authorised by law.”

Last week, the Maldives United Opposition, a new coalition launched in London on June 3 by opposition leaders in exile, warned that individual police officers will be held accountable under future governments.

The MDP has also filed several complaints with the National Integrity Commission, the watchdog body for law enforcement agencies.

The cases were filed along with video footage and photos of police officers who have dispersed gatherings with the use of force, MDP Secretary General Anas Abdul Sattar told the press last Tuesday.