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Opposition MPs arrested and meeting hall shuttered in police crackdown

The police have arrested two lawmakers and blocked gatherings in Malé in a crackdown on the opposition after Monday’s protests and lockdown of parliament.



The police arrested two lawmakers, blocked gatherings and shut down the opposition’s main meeting hall in a crackdown in the wake of Monday’s protests and lockdown of parliament.

On Monday night, riot police set up barricades and blocked entrance to the Jumhooree Party headquarters ahead of a planned opposition rally. The four-party opposition alliance changed the venue to the Maldivian Democratic Party office but police officers quickly arrived and cordoned off a four-block area in the Henveiru ward of the capital.

Several people were treated at the nearby ADK hospital after being pepper sprayed at close range.

Superintendent Ahmed Shifan told the Maldives Independent that the police acted to thwart “unlawful gatherings” in Malé.

Asked about the constitutional right to freedom of assembly without prior permission from the state, the police spokesman said: “Laws and regulations have been made so that everyone has equal opportunity to the rights and freedoms given in the constitution. Right to respect for privacy is also a freedom given in the constitution.”

He added: “This country also has a traffic law. This country also has an Anti-social Behavior Act. These are all laws, isn’t it? The constitution and all the laws have been made for the stability of the society. Ensuring that is the foremost responsibility of police. We will do that work without hesitation.”

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.

Around 11:30 pm on Monday night, the police meanwhile arrested MP Mohamed Waheed Ibrahim near the JP headquarters in Maafanu Kunooz. The MP for Thulusdhoo was accused of breaking through police lines and entering the parliament building after the Majlis had declared that he was no longer a member of parliament.

On Tuesday, the criminal court remanded Waheed to police custody for 15 days.

Later that night, MP Saud Hussain was also arrested on the same charges. However, he was released shortly afterwards due to an error on the arrest warrant.

The warrant named MP Mohamed Ameeth in the section detailing the reason for the arrest.

MPs Waheed, Saud and Ameeth were among six former ruling party lawmakers who were contentiously stripped of their seats after the Supreme Court ruled that MPs who were elected on political party tickets will be disqualified once the electoral body notifies parliament that they have either left their party, been expelled, or switched parties.

The Elections Commission decided that the six MPs have lost their seats after informing the parliament secretariat of their expulsion from the Progressive Party of Maldives.

The Supreme Court has since decided to hear appeals from four of the disqualified lawmakers, three of whom were expelled from the PPM long before the Attorney General sought the anti-defection ruling.

The police meanwhile raided the JP headquarters later on Tuesday night with a search warrant, cordoning off the area and pushing back both opposition supporters and journalists.

According to the warrant, the suspected offences include rioting, influencing official conduct, obstructing administration of law, and the forceful overthrow of the government.

The police were authorised to seize security camera footage and “documents, banners and cloth with writings that defame the government”. The warrant was granted after the police submitted “secret information gathered by police intelligence”.

Police officers searched Kunooz for about five hours and left after handing a document to JP officials that said “nothing related to the case [was] found”.

However, the police returned Wednesday afternoon to continue the search, noting in a statement that the warrant authorised the operation to continue for 72 hours.

It is unclear how many opposition supporters have been taken into custody since Monday morning. The police spokesman was unable to confirm the number despite repeated calls.

According to field observations from the human rights watchdog, 17 people were treated for minor injuries at the ADK hospital on Monday, including MDP MP Abdul Bari Abdulla, who was treated for an allergic reaction from pepper spray.