Taunting state of emergency measures currently in force, supporters of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) gathered at the party’s meeting hall in Malé last night for an “emergency pizza” party.
The main opposition party had also organised an “emergency tea” party on Friday afternoon in lieu of a planned mass protest. The MDP was forced to call off the protest in the wake of President Abdulla Yameen suspending the right to freedom of assembly during the 30-day nationwide state of emergency.
On Friday, police officers crashed the tea party, dispersed hundreds of supporters, and briefly detained five people.
Police officers also arrived at the MDP’s haruge shortly after last night’s gathering began at 10:00pm and blocked its entrance.
Several supporters were already inside the meeting hall in front of the artificial beach while police officers with their arms linked stood at the entrance.
Despite the police presence last night, the MDP supporters began the pizza party about half an hour later, playing songs about freeing imprisoned former President Mohamed Nasheed.
The police officers prevented supporters from going inside haruge for about 10 minutes, but later stepped back and stood on the opposite pavement.
A police spokesman told The Maldives Independent on Friday that officers had not obstructed the tea party, but prevented a gathering in the area.
“We told the MDP that it cannot organise gatherings on the street. They can hold their activities inside, but they cannot use speaker systems outside,” he said.
International human rights groups, the US, the UK, the EU, and the Commonwealth have meanwhile called on the Maldives to lift the state of emergency and restore fundamental rights and freedoms.
The governments of the US and UK also called for the release of former President Nasheed, who was found guilty of terrorism in March and sentenced to 13 years in prison.
A UN human rights panel has ruled that the opposition leader’s imprisonment was illegal and politically motivated.
The MDP’s national council had decided to postpone the mass rally after members raised fears that the government might label the party a terrorist organisation and dissolve it.
Meanwhile, in an interview with The New York Times, Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon acknowledged that one aim of the emergency decree was to stop the MDP’s mass protest.
“If there was scope for mass demonstrations, this might lead to violence and possible use of explosive devices or weapons that we know are out there, which could injure not just government officials or citizens but also the opposition party members themselves who would be out there in the demonstrations,” Dunya said.
President Yameen declared the unprecedented state of emergency raising fear of imminent attacks.
The government says the security forces believe that weapons are missing from a large arms cache seized from an uninhabited island leased to a businessman linked to impeached Vice President Ahmed Adeeb.
Adeeb appears to be the main suspect in an alleged attempt to assassinate the president with a bomb on his speedboat.
Dunya told The New York Times that Adeeb was very close to Yameen, “[B]ut people can change, and power changes people as well.”
Asked about Adeeb’s motives, Dunya referred to “widespread speculation” about Adeeb’s ties to drug gangs.
Gang bosses in Malé have amassed huge wealth, which she said was feeding government corruption.
“It is a very scary thing that needs to be addressed because that could lead to further violence and instability in the country,” she said.
Dunya, the daughter of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and niece of the current president, meanwhile told The Independent that the state of emergency was necessary and conceded that the country’s vital tourism industry could be affected.
“We have no figures yet, but colleagues have heard about a level of concern and a reduction in numbers. There will inevitably be some cancellations,” she said.
Dunya also denied threatening press freedom following a police raid on the privately-owned Sangu TV in the early hours of Friday. The current administration is committed to consolidating democracy, she said.
“My father is labelled as a dictator, but he modernised the country,” she said.
“The current president is also committed to democracy and the constitution. We’re hopeful that we will reach there, but we have challenges with image and perception.”