The housing ministry is removing posters and banners from Malé’s public spaces, in a bid to “ensure public safety and well-being, and keeping parks, streets and public squares, places frequented by the public and children clean and free from litter.”
People who wish to hang up any banners must ask for permission, according to new rules published by the ministry last month.
The “Regulation on putting up advertisements and announcements in streets and public spaces in Malé” band leafleting and says that posters or announcements cannot be put up on electricity boxes, trees or lamp posts.
It sets fines between MVR1000 (US$65) and MVR2000 (US$130) for offenders and a three-month ban for repeat offenders.
Food advertisers need clearance from the food and drug authority, while advertisements and announcements on religious events require permission from the Islamic ministry, the regulation states.
Mushfique Mohamed, a lawyer at human rights group, the Maldivian Democracy Network, said the new rules would restrict activities by civil society groups.
“This is another legislative measure to curtail freedom of expression. Early this year MDN requested a permit to hold a public sermon by an Egyptian-American Islamic scholar for a project called protect human dignity. We did not receive any written responses.
“If an NGO were to hold a similar event now, it would have to seek permission to advertise the event, in addition to seeking existing mandatory permits.”
Malé City Mayor Mohamed Shihab said the council had undertaken similar measures before its municipal powers were stripped by the ruling party-dominated parliament. But such measures must reflect the will of the people, he said.
“Municipal services should be carried out by the councils, the elected officials. But such duties of the Malé City Council have been transferred to ministries, at the discretionary powers of the president.”
The home ministry is meanwhile removing all political party hangouts or jagahas in public spaces on the islands.
Police were sent in to dismantle two opposition hangouts on the island of Dhidhoo in northern Haa Alif Atoll on Wednesday. Ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives reportedly dismantled the structures themselves.
The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party said the move was aimed at “abolishing the multi-party system, restricting free thinking, and establishing an authoritarian rule.”
Home Minister Umar Naseer is overstepping his mandate by removing community spaces “built by the people, from their money for peaceful political association,” the party said.
Naseer had banned street protests last year, while the housing ministry now requires its permission to hold political gatherings in public spaces.