The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party’s haruge (meeting hall) in Malé was raided by the police Wednesday night over alleged plans to stage protests during the Saudi monarch’s much-anticipated visit.
The two-hour raid came hours after the police warned that “legal action” will be taken against any attempts to carry out “demeaning” activities during upcoming official visits.
“In the coming days, rulers and dignitaries of various countries are planned to arrive in the Maldives on official visits,” the police said in a statement.
“The Maldives Police Service has received information that certain people are planning to carry out activities that could be demeaning to the sovereignty of those nations as well as the dignity, honour and respect of visiting dignitaries.”
The search warrant issued by the criminal court also cited the alleged plans to demean the unnamed dignitaries and authorised the police to confiscate “banners and all related items”.
A police report was cited as evidence. Police officers left the meeting hall with rolls of fabric and some tins of paint.
A German tourist who photographed the raid was later reportedly arrested from a guesthouse in the capital.
A police spokeswoman said a tourist was arrested and handed over to the immigration department for breaching the terms of the tourist visa. Two tourists were also arrested and deported in July last year for photographing an opposition rally in front of the MDP meeting hall near the artificial beach in Malé.
At a press conference Thursday morning, MP Abdul Raheem Abdulla of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives meanwhile revealed that President Abdulla Yameen met with senior police officers hours before the haruge raid.
Contrary to rumours suggesting that the purpose of the visit was to assess support for the PPM within the police force, Raheem said Yameen was fulfilling his responsibility to “to make sure things run smoothly.”
The MDP meanwhile condemned the police for “effectively threatening legal action against Maldivians who oppose Saudi Arabia and the Saudi king.”
King Salman bin Abdul Aziz is expected to visit the Maldives in mid-March on the last leg of his ongoing Asian tour. A foreign ministry official was unable to confirm the date of arrival.
The upcoming visit has revived rumours of an alleged plan to sell Faafu atoll to the Saudi royal family.
Addressing the growing clamour to disclose information about the Saudi-funded project for the first time on Wednesday, Yameen dismissed concerns over corruption and threats to sovereignty, revealing that negotiations are ongoing for the “unprecedented” US$10 billion project.
Yameen said details of the forthcoming “mega project” will be revealed when the negotiations are complete and the deal is signed.
Controversial constitutional amendments approved in July 2015 authorises foreign freeholds in the Maldives if the investment exceeds US$1 billion and 70 percent of the project site is reclaimed land.
The MDP has vowed to submit a bill to repeal the amendments, protest against the alleged sale and reclaim land sold to foreigners through “deals made in the dark”.
“President Yameen has renewed attacks on the opposition in a cowardly attempt to hide public sentiment against the sale of Faafu Atoll during the King’s visit,” the MDP said in a statement last night, accusing the government of “facilitating a land grab by a foreign power, and trying to close down all debate and scrutiny over the issue.”
Opposition supporters in Faafu atoll are meanwhile gearing up for a “protest at sea” on Friday.
Eyewitnesses have told the Maldives Independent that police officers have been searching boats coming to the atoll from Malé.
A ferry called Endheri from Bilehdhoo was searched in the early hours of Thursday morning and police officers have also been cutting open boxes of goods being brought in by local businesses.
According to witnesses, the police appear to be searching for banners.
Police officers are also active on the islands of Bilehdhoo and Feeali in the atoll, which previously lacked a police presence.
An additional 12 police officers recently arrived on the island of Magoodhoo. Only four officers were previously stationed on the island.
Faafu atoll, located to the south-west of the capital, has the second smallest population of atolls in the Maldives with just over 4,000 inhabitants. It has 19 islands, of which five are inhabited and one is a tourist resort.
MP Raheem meanwhile told the press today that the opposition is “trying to create discord and spread rumours” about King Salman’s visit.
“There is no need to be concerned over the visit of a Saudi Arabian King. We have to be happy about it,” the PPM’s deputy leader said.
“The opposition must also cooperate with us and try to embrace the visit with a warm welcome. That is because we are a 100 percent Muslim country and Saudi Arabia is also a 100 percent Muslim country. Saudi Arabia is the leading country of the Islamic community.
“A Saudi King has never paid a visit to the Maldives in the history of our country. It is the duty of all Maldivian people to warmly and genuinely welcome the King on his first visit. But they are trying to stand in the way of this.”
Additional reporting by Saya Ahmed in Malé and Hassan Mohamed from Faafu Magoodhoo.