The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party has condemned the police obstruction of an anti-corruption walk in Malé on Friday afternoon.
Shortly before the march was due to begin near the Nalahiya Hotel, riot police officers “without any warning” seized a pickup with sound systems as well as flags and cases of water bottles.
The police had banned the use of four-wheeled vehicles in protests without prior permission in May.
Specialist Operations police officers then blocked the walk and pepper sprayed several people at close range, including the MDP’s deputy chairperson Ali Niyaz – who was rushed to hospital with difficulty breathing – as well as the party’s MPs and national council members.
Independent MP Ahmed Mahloof and two MDP activists were meanwhile arrested near Chandhaneemagu. But all three were released around 7:00pm.
The MDP said the police blocked the anti-corruption walk on orders from President Abdulla Yameen to divert focus from the “Maldivian government’s theft of MVR1.2 billion” from the state-owned tourism promotion company.
The MDP went on to say that the government’s infringement of the constitutional right to freedom of assembly shows its “lack of sincerity” in inviting political parties for talks.
The party’s national council has yet to make a decision on accepting the invitation. But the party’s vice president and MPs have said that “political prisoners” including former President Mohamed Nasheed, former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim, and Adhaalath Party leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla must be released as a precondition for the talks.
The Adhaalath Party meanwhile said that the talks should take place with an international mediator as recommended by a visiting delegation from the European parliament last week.
The MEPs had said that the EU will consider imposing targeting sanctions against government officials if the government does not engage in “genuine all-party talks” after releasing jailed politicians.
Adhaalath Party spokesperson Ali Zahir said in a tweet that the talks should be focused on “political instability, corruption and reforming the judiciary”.
MDP international spokesman Hamid Abdul Ghafoor meanwhile told Reuters that it is “unclear what Yameen wants.”
“It could well be political support and to absolve himself of the grave accusations levied against him. We have to wait and see,” he said.
The MDP has been scaling up its activities in the wake of a damning audit report on the embezzlement of nearly US$80 million from the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation.
The party resumed nightly street gatherings outside its office in Malé last week, calling for an investigation of Yameen’s finances.
The MDP says it has proof of Yameen and First Lady Fathmath Ibrahim’s involvement in the Maldives’ biggest corruption scandal, but the president has denied wrongdoing and vowed to take action against the culprits and recover the stolen funds.
The party also claims it has evidence of government involvement in terrorism financing, money laundering and bribery. The government has dismissed the allegations.
Home Minister Umar Naseer said at the time that police will block the MDP’s walk to protect the rights of “all those who use the streets.”
Three individuals were meanwhile arrested from a gathering on Monday night after riot police attempted to disperse the crowd.
A police media official said the protesters were “taken into custody for public interest” and released shortly afterwards.
Additional reporting by Mohamed Saif Mohamed and Shafaa Hameed.