The police yesterday ordered the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) to stop its nightly protests in front of Seagull café and blocked opposition supporters from gathering at the central junction in Malé last night.
Invoking article 41 of the Freedom of Assembly Act – which authorises police to order protest organisers to limit gatherings to a specific area – the police said in a letter to the MDP that its protests have posed “numerous difficulties” for pedestrians, businesses, and restaurants as well as for tourists staying at guesthouses and hotels in the area.
Parents of students preparing for the ongoing O’ Level examinations have filed complaints over noise levels, the police said in a statement. Protesters have also refused to cooperate and stay on the pavement to avoid disrupting traffic flows, it added.
Hundreds of MDP supporters have been gathering at the Chandhanee Magu-Fareedhee Magu junction over the past week, calling on government to abide by a UN rights panel ruling and release jailed president Mohamed Nasheed.
Despite the police order, MDP supporters gathered at the junction around 10:30pm last night, but Specialist Operations officers quickly moved to confiscate sound equipment and pushed protesters back on Fareedhee Magu.
A police media official told The Maldives Independent that four people were arrested. Riot police also used pepper spray to disperse the crowd, the official added.
Some 200 protesters then regrouped and set off chanting for Nasheed’s release through the streets of Malé. The protest ended around 12:00am near the party’s meeting hall in front of the artificial beach.
The MDP also released a statement yesterday condemning the obstruction of its protests.
The party has raised concerns with the state human rights watchdog and requested an inquiry into police breaking up “peaceful political activities.”
MP Imthiyaz Fahmy, the MDP’s spokesman, told the The Maldives Independent that the nightly gatherings will continue “despite the police’s obstructions to the constitutional right to freedom of assembly.”
After a three-month hiatus during which negotiations with the government failed to secure Nasheed’s release, the main opposition party resumed its anti-government campaign last month with rallies, street gatherings and protest marches.
The party is also gearing up for a nationwide mass demonstration on November 6.
Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in jail on a terrorism charge relating to the military detention of a judge during his tenure. The arrest of the opposition leader along with former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim in February triggered a political crisis in the Maldives.
The MDP is scaling up its activities amid heightened tension, uncertainty, and infighting within the government in the wake of an explosion on President Abdulla Yameen’s speedboat. The government says the blast was an assassination attempt.