Thousands of opposition supporters gathered at the Artificial Beach in Malé tonight for the first Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) rally since May, calming fears the opposition has lost support and is in disarray following former President Mohamed Nasheed’s return to jail on Sunday.
MPs and MDP leaders addressed the crowd from a raised podium in front of the Artificial Beach, as the housing ministry had cordoned off the central stage at the area just hours before the rally.
They pledged to free Nasheed, who was re-imprisoned eight weeks after his 13-year jail term was commuted to house arrest.
Former Speaker of parliament and MP Abdulla Shahid, MPs Rozaina Adam and Ahmed Mahloof, deputy Malé City Mayor Shifa Mohamed and a member of Nasheed’s legal team, Mahfooz Saeed, spoke at the brief rally.
Nasheed’s return to jail would not weaken MDP’s spirit, all speakers said, and pledged to renew a suspended antigovernment campaign, stalled since the former president was transferred to house arrest.
“Our black magic is the people’s will and courage,” MP Shahid said, referring to President Abdulla Yameen’s alleged fear of sorcery.
“MDP will stand up even in the most fearful of situations. President Yameen’s threats will not make us step back,” deputy Mayor Shifa said.
Nasheed’s transfer to house arrest came amid reconciliation talks between the MDP and the government. The period was extended, and the sentence later commuted, according to documents publicized by Nasheed’s lawyers.
The government, however, now denies having commuted Nasheed’s sentence, and claims the document on his permanent transfer to house arrest was forged.
Nasheed’s house was raided in the early hours of Thursday, and his wife, Laila Ali, has been summoned to the police, as part of a police investigation into the authenticity of the document.
The speakers pledged to support Laila and accompany her to the police headquarters on Friday.
Mahfooz, a junior member of Nasheed’s legal team, said lawyers had met with him at Maafushi Jail today. He expressed concern over the conditions at the jail.
“In Maafushi we were allowed to meet president Nasheed in a locked room without ventilation, the room smelled of sewage and it was air conditioned, this is the respect they show for a former president.”
Mahloof, a former ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) MP, called on the public to stand up against President Yameen’s regime.
“I criticized you, the MDP, for eight years. But now I know this ideology cannot be wiped out. This is a strong party. You are strong. You are clever. We must mobilize with a new hope.”
He urged supporters to help free other jailed politicians, including former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim and Adhaalath Party President Sheikh Imran Abdulla. The former minister was convicted of weapons smuggling charges, while Imran is being held until a terrorism trial concludes.
Throughout the rally, when police vehicles drove by on the street between the podium and the gathered crowd, supporters booed and jeered at officers.
The rally comes after a prolonged period of inactivity. The MDP said it had been complying with a government request to end street protests.
The MDP withdrew from talks on Monday after Nasheed’s re-imprisonment.
“We must consider why President Nasheed was returned to jail. Democracy has been taken back to jail in the hopes this party will fall behind Yameen. That will never happen. We will free democracy from jail,” said Shifaz, the MDP vice president.
He also warned the government against “harassing” Nasheed’s family.
“What are you trying to achieve, stooping this low by harassing Laila and president Nasheed’s daughters? We will not allow the government to threaten president Nasheed’s family.”
Shifaz’s speech was interrupted by the noise of fireworks, reportedly fired at the nearby Usfasgandu area at a separate government celebration.
“Even fireworks can never be loud as MDP,” Shifaz said.
The rally ended with a prayer.
The MDP has previously said it is reorganizing its activities and will inform the public of next steps as soon as possible.