An anti-India protest in Malé was not allowed to go ahead on Friday night after the city council revoked a permit to use the artificial beach and requested police assistance.
Protesters were speaking against Indian military presence in the Maldives when police officers ordered former home minister Umar Naseer to discontinue the gathering over alleged violations of the terms of the permit.
The city council complained about Naseer leading the protest when the artificial beach was leased to the opposition People’s National Congress. The former home minister is not a member of the PNC.
Police demanded the event should be cancelled if Naseer was addressing the crowd, according to media reports.
No one from the ruling party-dominated city council was available for comment about the legal justification for the move.
The refusal to allow the protest was “unconstitutional,” Naseer told the Maldives Independent.
“The president has no right to use police to obstruct a protest against Indian military presence though it may create the so-called fitna [discord]. Freedom of speech and freedom of assembly is guaranteed in the constitution. There is no exemption for anything called fitna,” he said.
“This proves my point. This government’s policy comes from Delhi.”
He vowed to continue the campaign.
Naseer was referring to remarks by President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih during a campaign rally on Saturday.
“Under this government, everyone will have the opportunity to freely raise their voices and express their views. But we will not give space to any effort to harm national interest, disrupt peace and harmony, create fitna between neighbourly countries, and create fitna towards countries that have close ties with us,” Solih said.
– Choppers –
During Friday night’s protest, some pro-government supporters also gathered in the area and taunted the participants, who in turn chanted slogans about protecting Maldivian sovereignty and the country’s 100 percent Muslim status.
Anti-Indian sentiment has been rising among opposition supporters with allegations on social media ranging from interference in elections to a hidden agenda to “enslave” the Maldives.
Naseer’s ‘Indian Soldiers Leave!’ campaign was launched last month in protest against military personnel who are stationed in the Maldives to help operate two helicopters gifted to the Maldivian military.
Announcing plans for Friday night’s protest last week, Naseer said he would share information about “how Indian soldiers entered the Maldives through the back door, how they violated the agreement [on the use of the helicopters], the soldiers and military hardware being added to the Maldives, how Sikkim a small country like the Maldives was invaded and the schemes that were used for that.”
The first helicopter was gifted during former president Mohamed Nasheed’s administration in 2010. The second arrived in 2016. A “letter of exchange” on keeping the military personnel in Laamu atoll and Addu City has since been renewed every two years.
On Saturday, Brigadier General Ali Zuhair told the press that the helicopters have been used for 36 operations so far this year, of which 90 percent were medical evacuations.
Lieutenant Colonel Mohamed Saleem said the number of Indian military personnel does not exceed 50. All of them were not uniformed soldiers, he stressed, as they include civil staff and employees of the helicopter manufacturer.
Specialised training is needed to operate the helicopters, he noted.
An announcement will be made in the near future to train Maldivian pilots, he said, assuring that the Indian soldiers would not stay on a permanent basis.
Meanwhile, summoned for questioning at parliament earlier this month, Defence Minister Mariya Ahmed Didi accused the opposition of manufacturing a “baseless” issue to create discord and incite fear and hatred among the public.
She condemned the anti-India campaign as a cynical attempt to appeal to nationalist sentiment for “short-term political gain.”
“Some of these comments are about sending away ‘foreign military’ parties within out country. This is said to imply that our country is under foreign occupation. There is no need to talk about sending anyone away,” said the defence minister, who is also facing a no-confidence motion.
Photo of Friday night’s gathering by Layaal