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Home minister opposes lifting restrictions on freedom of assembly

The freedom of assembly law presently requires written permission from the police.



Restrictions imposed on street protests by the previous administration should not be completely reversed, Home Minister Imran Abdulla told a parliament committee on Wednesday.

The 2013 Freedom of Peaceful Assembly Act was amended in 2016 to restrict planned gatherings and marches in the capital to areas designated by the home ministry, which later picked the carnival area in Malé’s eastern waterfront. The law was changed to require written permission from the police to gather in other areas.

Accompanied by police chief Mohamed Hameed, the home minister appeared at the national security and foreign relations committee, which is reviewing legislation proposed to abolish the 2016 amendments.

Sheikh Imran told lawmakers that the government was committed to ensuring the right to peaceful assembly as widely as possible but contended that it could be done without reversing the restrictions.

“Even without annulling this amendment, depending on the government’s policy, the areas where people can protest without prior notice can be expanded. However, if the amendment is completely annulled, we might face problems that can disrupt the system,” he said.

Asked to clarify, Imran suggested that the right to freedom of assembly could be protected without abolishing the amendments.

When the law was revised in August 2016, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, who was the opposition parliamentary group leader at the time, called the proposed changes unconstitutional and contended that a public referendum should be held to approve any restriction of fundamental rights. 

“[The constitutional article requiring a referendum] is there to say that the parliament, even with a majority, cannot do it. It is there to protect fundamental rights,” Solih said at the time.

Amendments to the freedom of assembly law were among a raft of bills submitted by the government last August to reverse draconian laws enacted during former president Abdulla Yameen’s administration.

“These restrictions had previously given the government inordinate discretion in limiting public spaces for any political gathering, rally or march through a cumbersome process involving seeking permissions from the police and home ministry, and was a power often abused to limit any activity by the then opposition,” the president’s office said at the time.