Scores of riot police have blocked a Labour Day march organized by Maldivian civil society groups, despite an appeal by the human rights watchdog to let protesters exercise their right to peaceful assembly.
Some 100 people, including representatives of prominent NGOs and members of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party, gathered at the western end of Malé at 4:15pm.
Protesters, who were outnumbered by police, were dispersed within minutes. Most were pushed back behind barricades on side streets.
The Maldives Independent‘s reporters on the scene said protesters were encircled by barricades and police in riot gear, effectively preventing them from marching as a group.
— MDP Youth Wing (@MDPYouth) May 1, 2016
— sChIxU (@ShixnaH) May 1, 2016
— Noor (@solarixenoor) May 1, 2016
Despite repeated requests to stop obstructions, Police continue pic.twitter.com/73dupgaQt2
— Shaff Hameed (@shoffot) May 1, 2016
— Mohamed Junayd (@mjunayd) May 1, 2016
— Shifaan (@MvShifaan) May 1, 2016
The march was organized by eight NGOs including Maldivian Democracy Network, Transparency Maldives, Tourism Employees Association of the Maldives, and Dhi Youth movement.
MDN’s Shahindha Ismail and Transparency Maldives’ Shifu Omar were manhandled by the police when they refused to move behind barricades.
Protesters carried boards urging the government to establish a living wage, stop human trafficking and set policies to increase Maldivian staff in the tourism sector.
The protest ended at 6pm without arrests.
The police had banned the march on Saturday claiming it would obstruct traffic and pedestrians. The NGOs defied the ban arguing that the Constitution guarantees the right to protest without notice.
“Article 32 of the Constitution states that everyone has the freedom of peaceful assembly without prior approval of the State. The Police Act 2008, under Article 7, states that when fulfilling police duty and using police powers, law enforcement personnel must act with equality and fairness without any bias.
“We believe illegally banning this rally prematurely demonstrates a bias, as Maldives Police Service allowed previous May Day rallies. Furthermore, according to the Peaceful Assembly Act 2013, law enforcement authorities are obligated to ensure expression of free speech in a peaceful environment,” the NGOs said in a joint statement this morning.
The police ban on the Labour Day March has sparked outrage on social media.
Former President Mohamed Nasheed said that freedoms enshrined in the constitution cannot be arbitrarily suspended.
Individual and political freedoms enshrined in the Constitution cannot be arbitrarily suppressed. #mayday2016 walk must be allowed.
— Mohamed Nasheed (@MohamedNasheed) April 30, 2016
Canadian High Commissioner Shelley Whiting also urged the government to allow peaceful protests.
May 1 celebrates important human rights including freedoms of association, expression & assembly. Urge #Maldives to allow peaceful protests
— Shelley Whiting (@shelley_whiting) May 1, 2016
Dr Ahmed Shaheed, former foreign minister and United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Iran, said the police ban is a clear indication that President Abdulla Yameen has no intention to honour the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group’s demands to respect civil and political rights.
— ahmed shaheed (@ahmedshaheed) April 30, 2016
The police arrested some 18 journalists from a protest outside the president’s office on April 3. Riot police also blocked a silent march for press freedom the following week.
Home Minister Umar Naseer banned protests last November. The housing ministry has meanwhile declared that public spaces in Malé cannot be used for political activities.