The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party is preparing to mark its 11th anniversary Monday night with a parade in Malé despite a warning by the police that the march will be obstructed.
At a meeting last Thursday, senior police officers informed MDP officials that political activity will not be allowed in the streets of the capital, citing complaints about traffic jams and inconvenience to pedestrians.
We reminded them in the meeting that the law requires a court order to prevent freedom of assembly! https://t.co/UrsTdA5YqB
— Anas Abdul Sattar (@anasabdulsattar) July 8, 2016
MP Imthiyaz Fahmy, the party’s spokesman, told The Maldives Independent today that the MDP will go ahead with the march “because such orders from the police are unconstitutional.”
The constitution guarantees freedom of assembly without prior permission from the state. However, restrictions were imposed by a controversial law enacted in 2013.
A ban on street protests in Malé has been in force since a police crackdown on a three-day protest staged by the MDP last November. The police have since blocked the opposition’s anti-corruption walks as well as marches by the media and civil society.
The police meanwhile reiterated its stance at a second meeting with MDP officials this afternoon.
Briefing the press on the meeting, MP Rozaina Adam said police officers repeatedly insisted that article 33 of the Freedom of Assembly Act allows restrictions for “protecting the rights and freedom of others.”
However, she argued that the police cannot ban a gathering in advance.
The 2013 law authorises the police to order organisers to curtail the duration of a gathering, to maintain a specific noise level, to end the gathering before a specific time, to refrain from using loudspeakers, to refrain from using foul language, and to hold the gathering at a specific time.
“The police are only empowered to do any of this when a gathering is held repeatedly in the same place for many days,” she said. “But this is an annual march to celebrate the MDP’s anniversary.”
Rozaina stressed that the MDP is not planning a protest or an anti-government demonstration, noting that the ruling party, NGOs, and private corporations have held public gatherings in Malé.
She went on to accuse the police leadership of issuing unlawful orders.
Mohamed Azmeel, the MDP’s youth wing leader, said the march will begin at 9pm near the party’s meeting hall in front of the artificial beach.
The march will stop at four locations, he said, where rice pudding will be handed out to supporters.
Azmeel said the party notified the police two weeks ago in order to proceed in accordance with the law.
“We’ve done this for the past 10 years. This is the first time we’ve been told we can’t do this,” he said.
MPs Imthiyaz Fahmy and Ahmed Mahloof, along with Adam Azim, brother of jailed former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim, meanwhile filed complaints with watchdog bodies today over the denial of political space.
Following separate meetings with members of the Human Rights Commission of Maldives and the National Integrity Commission, the MPs called a press conference outside a government office building this afternoon.
However, riot police officers quickly pushed them back out of the restricted ‘green zone’ area. The MPs noted that the police officers did not have name tags or serial numbers as required by police regulations.
Speaking to reporters later, Mahloof warned that the opposition will file complaints against individual police officers who obstruct political activities on the orders of superiors.
“Even if our complaints aren’t investigated today, God willing, when these commissions become independent institutions through our work, we are planning our efforts to ensure that these cases will be investigated some day,” he said.
Mahloof said complaints were also filed over the use of pepper spray to disperse the opposition’s weekly prayer gathering.
Meanwhile, after a hiatus during Ramadan, the Maldives United Opposition, launched in London on June 3 by opposition leaders in exile, is preparing to hold its first rally on July 14.
Additional reporting by Shafaa Hameed.