Hundreds of opposition supporters took to the street on Friday afternoon as the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) resumed anti-government protests after a three-month hiatus.
The main opposition party halted street protests in mid-June amid negotiations with the government to secure the release of former President Mohamed Nasheed and other jailed politicians. The MDP withdrew from the talks in late August following Nasheed’s transfer back to Maafushi prison after two months under house arrest.
Protesters today called for the release of Nasheed, Adhaalath Party president Sheikh Imran Abdulla, and former defence minister Mohamed Nazim. Protesters also called on the police to arrest the perpetrators of a life-threatening attack against a member of Nasheed’s legal team, Mahfooz Saeed, last Friday.
Nasheed and Nazim were found guilty of terrorism and weapons smuggling charges, respectively, following rushed trials that drew widespread international condemnation over apparent lack of due process. Sheikh Imran has meanwhile been under police custody for 130 days while his trial on terrorism charges remains stalled.
The protest march started around 4:30pm at the artificial beach in Malé and moved west on the capital’s main thoroughfare Majeedhee Magu.
Police blocked the march with barricades on Ameenee Magu as a symposium was ongoing at the Dharubaaruge convention centre to train campaigners for President Abdulla Yameen’s re-election bid in 2018.
The protest march ended around 6:10pm with a prayer for the release of the imprisoned politicians near the prosecutor general’s office on Majeedhee Magu.
MDP MPs and leadership figures on the front line led chants for the release of the jailed opposition leaders and made speeches condemning the alleged authoritarianism of the government.
MDP vice president Mohamed Shifaz said the party will stage weekly demonstrations and nationwide protests until all ‘political prisoners’ are released.
Loudspeakers were placed on a hand-drawn cart after the police banned the use of four-wheeled vehicles in protests without prior permission in May.
The arrest and imprisonment of Nasheed and Nazim had triggered daily street protests and mass anti-government rallies in Malé on February 27 and May 1. The pair were sentenced to 13 years and 11 years in prison, respectively, in March.
Nearly 200 people were arrested in a heavy-handed police crackdown on the 20,000-strong May Day rally after protesters attempted to enter Malé’s restricted Republic Square. Scores of protesters and two police officers were injured in violent clashes.
The government invited the allied opposition parties for official talks two weeks after the May Day protest.
A moratorium on street protests was part of a deal made with the government in exchange for the release of political prisoners, withdrawal of charges against 1,700 opposition supporters, and reforms to the judiciary and independent institutions.
The MDP withdrew from the talks after Nasheed was taken back to Maafushi jail on August 23, citing the government’s refusal to honour its commitment to release the former president and other jailed opposition politicians.
Nasheed was transferred back to jail amid a dispute over a document commuting his sentence to house arrest. The government denied commuting the sentence to permanent house arrest and dismissed the Maldives Correctional Services document handed to Nasheed as a “forgery.”
A police investigation is currently underway to determine the authenticity of the document, which bore the state seal, a reference number, and the signature of a prisons official.
Nasheed’s transfer back to jail drew fresh criticism from the international community as UK Prime Minister David Cameron, the US government, and the UN human rights chief renewed calls for his release.
Two days after Nasheed’s re-imprisonment, the MDP’s national council voted unanimously to withdraw from talks and resume its anti-government campaign.
Meanwhile, the High Court last night rejected the prosecutor general’s appeal of Nasheed’s conviction, whilst the opposition leader’s high-profile international lawyer Amal Clooney warned that a ruling by the UN working group on arbitrary detention declaring his imprisonment unlawful would pave the way for imposing targeted sanctions on the Maldives.
Asset freezes and travel bans could also be imposed on government officials if Nasheed is not released after the UN ruling, the lawyers said. Nasheed’s international lawyers filed a petition with the specialised UN agency on April 30. A judgment will be made public in mid-October.