The police have warned opposition supporters to confine tomorrow’s mass protest to the Artificial Beach grounds in Malé, and threatened to disperse protesters by midnight.
The warning is a reversal of an initial agreement to let the ‘Emancipation’ protest, aimed at pressuring President Abdulla Yameen to release political prisoners, to run for three days and 13 minutes.
Home Minister Umar Naseer this morning said he had ordered the police to end the Maldivian Democratic Party’s protest by midnight. “Others have a right to sleep and move freely,” he said.
Chief Superintendent of Police Hamdhoon Rasheed subsequently held a press conference to announce the restrictions, and said they were imposed to protect the rights of other citizens.
“We have decided the protest can only run till midnight. So we do not believe it will proceed beyond midnight,” he said.
Hamdhoon went on to warn the media against news that “creates uncertainty and insecurity among citizens and breeds mistrust towards the security forces.”
The oversight body Maldives Broadcasting Commission has been asked to monitor coverage, he said, adding that “harsh action” will be taken against any outlet that violates the police’s terms.
In response, the MDP said it would proceed with the three-day protest as planned.
“We met with police last night and we were guaranteed that the protest would be allowed to go on as proposed. Police had even offered to help with the lighting of the area and ensuring the safety of the protesters,” said Secretary General Anas Abdul Sattar.
Today’s warning was “completely against the agreements made earlier,” he said, adding that he was concerned about the home minister’s influence over the security forces.
The November 27 gathering is the MDP’s fourth mass protest since the arrest of former President Mohamed Nasheed in February. He was subsequently sentenced to 13 years in jail on a terrorism charge. A UN human rights panel has since ruled his imprisonment illegal.
The Adhaalath Party, whose leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla remains under house arrest pending the outcome of a terrorism trial, is taking part too.
Former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim’s family, former Vice Presidents Ahmed Adeeb and Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed’s supporters are also taking part. Nazim was jailed on a weapons smuggling charge and Adeeb is detained on suspicion of links to the September 28 explosion on Yameen’s speedboat. Jameel is meanwhile in London in self-imposed exile following his impeachment in July.
MP Imthiyaz Fahmy meanwhile said the protest was a “golden opportunity for police to regain the trust of the people.”
“MDP together with Adhaalath Party and supporters of Colonel Nazim and Sheikh Imran represent a majority of the people of Maldives. To gain public trust, police need to gain our trust.”
He dismissed the government’s reasons for imposing restrictions, saying: “The people are protesting to fight for their rights. It’s not the people of the area who would be disturbed. Only the home ministry is disturbed about it.”
The protest was initially scheduled to take place on November 6, but MDP called it off after Yameen declared a nationwide state of emergency, which lasted for six days.
The blast on Yameen’s speedboat and Adeeb’s arrest appeared to weaken his grip on power. But after a purge of the security forces, he appears to have regained control.