A ruling party lawmaker introduced today a bill requiring written permission from the police force for street protests in the Maldives’ congested capital, Malé.
Abdulla ‘Bochey’ Rifau, an MP with the Progressive Party of the Maldives, said the proposed changes to the Freedom of Assembly Act, was aimed at “ensuring everyone can safely exercise their right to assembly.”
Rallies, protests and demonstrations have become a “public nuisance and pose dangers to public safety,” he argued.
MP Imthiyaz Fahmy, an opposition MP, condemned the bill as unconstitutional, noting Article 32 of the constitution guarantees the right to assemble without prior notice.
“I do not see why the government should bother to bring any legislative changes, when peaceful political activity of any sort is being stopped by the police,” Imthiyaz said.
The police, citing a home ministry imposed ban on street protests, have blocked nearly all gatherings by opposition parties, civil society groups and journalists in Malé in recent months.
The ban was announced in November after the opposition called a three-day protest in Malé against the jailing of senior opposition figures, including former President Mohamed Nasheed.
Rifau’s bill comes at a time of renewed tensions in Malé.
A new coalition of former senior government officials and opposition parties, the Maldives United Opposition, is trying to rally supporters in a campaign to oust President Abdulla Yameen.
The MUO wants to arrest Yameen on charges of corruption and human rights abuses.
The amendments proposed by Rifau says any activity in a public space in Malé require written permission from the police. It exempts activities held in areas approved by the home ministry.
If the amendments are approved and ratified, the ministry is required to publish a list of selected areas within 30 days.
The changes are likely to pass as the PPM and its ally, the Maldives Development Alliance, hold some 53 seats in the 85-member house.
They come on the same day that ruling party lawmakers passed a draconian bill imposing severe restrictions on free speech and press freedom.
The Anti Defamation Act, dubbed by journalists as the bill to restrict free speech, recriminalizes defamation, imposing hefty fines and a jail term of up to six months for those who are unable to pay the fine, and allows regulators to shut down media houses for slander.
It was put to the vote despite a groundswell of opposition from journalists, human rights groups and international actors.