The Elections Commission has slapped a fine of MVR60,000 (US$3,890) on the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party over alleged calls for supporters to gather outside the police headquarters.
A tweet urging supporters to come to the police station in solidarity with an elderly female activist summoned for questioning “violates section seven and 48 of the Political Parties Act as well as the Freedom of Peaceful Assembly Act,” the electoral body informed the MDP on Thursday.
The MDP was previously warned and advised in April to stop encouraging supporters to gather outside the police headquarters, which is located in the capital’s restricted green zone, after complaints were filed with the commission, the EC’s letter stated.
The MDP’s tweet was sent out after Naeema Mohamed ‘Naeematha’, an iconic protester, was summoned for questioning last Tuesday following her arrest from the opposition’s nightly protests in Malé.
In recent weeks, small groups of opposition supporters have gathered outside the police station in support of lawmakers and activists who were summoned for questioning. They are usually pushed back to barricades near the central bank building.
The Maldivian constitution guarantees the right to protest without prior permission, but the 2013 Freedom of Assembly Act was revised in August last year to restrict protests and gatherings in the capital to areas designated by the home ministry, which later picked the carnival area in Malé’s eastern waterfront.
The amended law requires written permission from the police to gather in other areas.
“We [MDP] did not tweet calling on supporters to gather in front of the headquarters. We told supporters to gather near the building. Such errors are made because of hasty improper investigations to obstruct political parties,” Anas Abdul Sattar, the MDP’s secretary general, told the Maldives Independent.
“These measures show the eagerness of the government and the influenced state institutions in impeding the work of political parties and politicians. They have continued withholding the budget for political parties and now they have slammed a fine on us. Then they continue to restrict our right for freedom of assembly”.
Political parties with 10,000 registered members are eligible for state funding in the first quarter of the year But the EC is yet to disburse the funds for 2017 despite announcing amounts due to each party last May.
The five-member commission has been at loggerheads with opposition parties since new members were approved by the ruling party-dominated parliament in 2014.
The opposition contends that the EC is stacked with President Abdulla Yameen’s loyalists, including its president, Ahmed Sulaiman, who was formerly a senior member of the People’s Alliance, a party led by Yameen until 2011.
In October last year, the EC struck off nearly half of the MDP’s members from its registry after the parliament approved a law requiring all political party members to submit their fingerprint records.
Pro-government lawmaker insisted the legal changes were necessary to prevent fraud, but MDP MPs said it was aimed at reducing the party’s membership and cutting off its state funding
The MDP’s membership fell from 46,608 to 27,805, making the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives the largest party in the country.
More recently, the EC filed a defamation complaint with the police against the MDP’s vice president over insinuations of politicisation and undue influence by the executive.
The EC also faced criticism over multiple delays to the 2017 local council elections, which was delayed for the third time with the commission claiming that the situation in the Maldives was not conducive for campaigning due to a flu outbreak.
But a week after the commission’s announcement, the education ministry announced that public schools will reopen as the seasonal outbreak of the flu and viral fever was under control.