Some seven civil society groups filed a complaint with the watchdog National Integrity Commission requesting an inquiry into the police’s blocking of a protest march on May Day.
The NGOs claim the police’s actions infringed on the constitutional right to assembly. The complaint was lodged against Chief Superintendent Hamdhoon Rasheed, who had refused to let the march go ahead, citing obstructions to traffic and pedestrians.
Human rights activist Ahmed ‘Forme’ Mohamed said: “Freedom of assembly is a right guaranteed by the Constitution. The police’s actions on May Day were unlawful.”
The Tourism Employees Association of the Maldives filed the complaint today on behalf of the seven civil society groups that organised the march. These include the Maldivian Democracy Network, Transparency Maldives, and Dhi Youth movement.
“We are filing this case against Hamdhoon Rasheed because he issued an unlawful order to obstruct a constitutional right. Even President Abdulla Yameen cannot violate rights afforded by the Constitution,” Forme said.
On May Day, scores of police in riot gear had encircled the protesters, preventing them from marching on Majeedhee Magu, Male city’s main thoroughfare. The police had defied an appeal by the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives to let protesters exercise their rights.
The police, who outnumbered some 50-odd protesters, dispersed the gathering within minutes. MDN’s Shahindha Ismail and Transparency’s Shifu Omar were manhandled when they staged a sit-in and refused to leave the area.
Street protests were first banned last November, when police refused to let the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party stage a three-day protest over Nasheed’s jailing.
President Abdulla Yameen’s administration is facing international pressure over rights abuses, with the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, a watchdog committee, warning the government to address authoritarian reversals by September.
The CMAG had laid out a six-point agenda, which included affording space for civil society groups and releasing jailed opposition leaders, including Nasheed.
“The May Day melee clearly demonstrates the continuing crackdown on the freedom of expression, association and assembly, in a marked effort to intimidate and silence any dissent in the Maldives,” the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, a Delhi-based human rights group, said in a blog post.
Yameen said Monday that the rally did not benefit the people: “When it was over, a lot of opinions had been expressed. But when the opinions were expressed, we heard nothing that would benefit the people. Maybe it is because we didn’t hear anything, that it ended so quickly.
“In the expressing of those opinions, we didn’t hear anything about housing for those who lost their homes during the Tsunami. In their expressions, when they talk of the lack of democracy, we talk of the lack of income; Let’s not go to the Maldivian citizens today. As the people here in Kudahuvadhoo today. On the one hand there is democracy. On the other, there is money. We are here to fulfil our basic needs. Every father of every family would want those needs fulfilled first and foremost. Even as we operate under the label of democracy, we must work for income. Just circling around the fortress of democracy is not going to fulfil our needs.”