The police cracked down Tuesday afternoon on a march led by the family of abducted journalist Ahmed Rilwan, snatching banners and placards and arresting nine people.
Friends and family planned to walk in the streets of Malé to mark three years since Rilwan’s abduction at knifepoint outside his apartment building.
The march began near the Hulhumalé ferry terminal – where Rilwan was last seen entering around 12:45 am on August 8, 2014 – but riot police officers blocked the path near the Prosecutor General’s office on Majeedhee Magu, the capital’s main thoroughfare.
Chants of “Where is Rilwan?” were met with pepper spray.
Specialist Operations officers pushed back the small crowd and arrested nine people, including opposition MPs Ahmed Mahloof and Ali Azim and several staff members of NGO Transparency Maldives. Police officers then moved in to seize banners and placards before forcing the protesters into a small alley.
The gathering was dispersed because it contravened the freedom of assembly law, the police said in a tweet.
The constitution guarantees the right to protest without prior permission, but the 2013 Freedom of Assembly Act was revised 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.
All nine people who were arrested from the march were released after about three hours in police custody.
The police crackdown was reminiscent of the obstruction of a march held in August 2015 to mark one year after Rilwan’s disappearance.
In February this year, Rilwan’s family filed a lawsuit against the police seeking “the available facts of the events” that followed his abduction because the police refused to disclose any information.
The police initially denied any link between Rilwan’s disappearance and an abduction reported by his neighbours, who saw a man being forced into a red car at knifepoint.
In a stark reversal in April last year, Chief Inspector Abdulla Satheeh said Rilwan was taken into a car that belonged to a notorious gangster. The admission came just weeks before the UN launched an inquiry and more than 600 days after the abduction.
Satheeh said several young men with the Kuda Henveiru gang tailed Rilwan for over two hours. The chief suspect, Mohamed Suaid, was detained for a few weeks in September 2014.
But Suaid left the country in January 2015 with Aalif’s brother Azlif Rauf, a former soldier arrested for the brutal murder of MP Afrasheem Ali in 2012.
Their families say the pair died fighting in a battle in Syria last year.
Shortly after confirming Rilwan’s abduction, the police meanwhile arrested Aalif Rauf, 29, and Mohamed Nooradeen, 31, both of whom were alleged to have tailed Rilwan before he was abducted.
However, after two months in police custody, both suspects were freed.
At the time, Aalif’s brother, Ibrahim Aleef Rauf, was also detained briefly on charges of threatening Rilwan’s brother, Moosa Rilwan.
— Mohamed Hamdhoon (@MohamedHamdhoon) August 8, 2017
— Humay (@HumayAG) August 8, 2017
— 𝐌𝐏 𝐑𝐨𝐳𝐚𝐢𝐧𝐚 𝐀𝐝𝐚𝐦 🎈 (@Roxeyna) August 8, 2017
— hussain 🎈 (@tenUNTIT) August 8, 2017
— 𝙞𝙗𝙧𝙖𝙝𝙞𝙢🎈 (@waddey) August 8, 2017
— Shauna Aminath 🎈❓ (@anuahsa) August 8, 2017
Police have taken hostage of the protesters in a lane. They cannot go anywhere pic.twitter.com/h6iRgOS1vb
— WeAreYaamyn (@WeAreYaamyn) August 8, 2017
Cover photo from Avas.mv