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Police warn of crackdown on ‘unlawful’ opposition protest

The police have warned that the opposition alliance will not be allowed to stage an anti-government demonstration in Malé as planned on Monday.



The police have warned that the opposition alliance will not be allowed to stage an anti-government demonstration in Malé as planned on Monday.

Briefing the press late Sunday afternoon, Superintendent Ahmed Shifan said opposition leaders from the four-party coalition would have to bear responsibility for any unlawful gathering.

“As the area chosen and announced by the joint political parties for tomorrow’s gathering is a traffic-heavy zone in Malé and close to important state institutions, schools, and hospitals, this service will not allow any gathering that could disrupt traffic in the area and affect the private lives of people living in the neighbourhood,” he said.

“Moreover, the police appeal to all citizens at this opportunity not to participate in any illegal activities or join activities carried out by politicians for their political benefit.”

The constitution guarantees the right to protest without prior permission from the state. However, the 2013 Freedom of Assembly Act was changed 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.

The opposition alliance has been urging supporters from across the country to converge on the capital and gather outside the Maldivian Democratic Party office at 9 am.

“Everyone come to Malé on July 24 to assure a system of government with separation of powers,” tweeted former President Mohamed Nasheed, who has been living in exile in the United Kingdom since he was authorised medical leave from prison in January last year.

The protest was called after four lawmakers were contentiously stripped of their seats, throwing into doubt the opposition’s bid to wrest control of the parliament with defections from the ruling party.

A no-confidence vote against Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed was due to take place on July 24, but the motion was thrown out after the disqualification of four ex-ruling party lawmakers deemed to have fallen foul of a new anti-defection rule imposed by the Supreme Court.

The speaker has meanwhile decided that the next Majlis sitting will take place on July 31, citing security arrangements ahead of activities planned to mark Independence Day on July 26. Committee meetings have also been cancelled for the rest of the week.

Parliament sittings have been suspended since the opposition submitted the no-confidence motion with 45 signatures, shifting the balance of power in the 85-member house in the opposition’s favour for the time since the March 2014 parliamentary elections.

The Maldives Broadcasting Commission, which has imposed hefty fines on the opposition-aligned Raajje TV, has meanwhile threatened to take action against TV stations that cover unlawful gatherings.

Broadcasters must bear full responsibility for any legal issues arising from promoting or telecasting such gatherings, the commission warned in a circular issued on Sunday.

The commission has been receiving complaints about content alleged to incite unrest and encourage the illegal overthrow of the government, it added.

“This includes spreading misleading news, presenting speeches from various people that bring state powers and institutions into disrepute, and broadcasting content that creates hatred among the public towards those institutions,” reads the circular.

Last month, the broadcasting regulator fined the country’s main cable television provider MVR500,000 (US$32,425) for rebroadcasting an Al Jazeera corruption exposé in September.

The ‘Stealing Paradise’ documentary, which exposed systemic corruption, abuse of power and criminal activity at the highest level of government, was deemed to pose a threat to national security.

The police have meanwhile cracked down on most opposition activities in Malé during the past two years, including weekly prayer congregations and gatherings in the opposition’s meeting hall.

The last major gathering was a three-day protest by the MDP in November 2015.

On Friday, MP Ali Azim, Adhaalath Party spokesman Ali Zahir and two others were arrested after the police used pepper spray to disperse opposition supporters outside the MDP meeting hall.

Voting was taking place inside the premises for the MDP’s youth wing leadership posts when police officers forced several people out. The riot police officers also cordoned off the area and blocked some voters from entering the polling station.

The police later told local media that it was unaware of the internal election.