The new Maldives’ cabinet has announced its decision to hand over the Usfasgandu area to the Ministry of Housing and Environment.
The area is currently being used for protests by the ousted Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), after the party’s site near the tsunami monument was forcibly dismantled by police and military on March 19.
In a statement, the President’s Office said that during discussions concerning “the breach of agreement by the Male’ City Council (MCC) in utilising the land plots and other properties handed over to the City Council by the Ministry of Housing and Environment,” the cabinet had decided “to entrust the Minister of Housing and Environment with the authority to reclaim the properties from the City Council when required.”
Speaking with Mayor Ali Manik at the protest site, Minivan News was told that the government forces would arrive on May 14. Manik said he had received a letter from the Housing Ministry informing them of this plan at 1:30pm today.
Asked about the decision, Minister for Housing and Environment Dr Mohamed Muiz said that he was “not in a position to talk about that.”
The Housing Ministry informed the MCC one month ago that it intended to take control of the Usfasgandu area if the MDP activities did not cease.
During the same week in April the Housing Ministry was involved in a further dispute with the MCC after the re-allocation Dharubaaruge staff members from the MCC to the Housing Ministry.
This action prompted the council to lock the doors to the centre and send staff home. This action was subsequently described by Muiz as “unlawful” before policemen arrived to reopen the facility.
Deputy Mayor of the Council Ahmed Falah maintains that MCC will refuse to accept these decisions and these disputes must be settled in the courts.
When asked about the current situation in the Huravee building, Falah said things were continuing “as normal. Still we are in there.”
The MDP’s international spokesman and Secretary General of the party’s parliamentary group Hamid Abdul Ghafoor, interpreted these actions as an attack on both freedom of expression and the decentralisation policies of the previous government.
“The coup administration is breaking up the decentralisation concept. The President’s Office is controlling everything – even down to the playgrounds on the islands. They are bringing back Gayoom’s policies of centralisation” said Ghafoor.
Ghafoor questioned the wisdom of the acquiescence of government-aligned parties in the face of such policies.
“They are also curtailing freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. The Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) and the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) perhaps do not have a good concept of their basic human rights. Do their members consider what will happen to their freedom of expression? Their grassroots supporters may realise this too late,” Ghafoor continued.
The area behind the Dharubaaruge convention centre has been utilised by the now-opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) since security forces ejected them from their camp at the nearby tsunami monument on March 19.
Dubbed ‘justice square’, the camp in the Lonuziyaaraih Kolhu area, had become the hub for opposition demonstrations since the contentious transfer of presidential power on February 7.
The government’s allegations that these activities were of questionable legality prompted its dismantling of the camp and the subsequent court case brought by the MDP leadership.
The dismantling of the camp came at the end of a day on which MDP led protests at the reopening of the People’s Majlis had turned violent.
Multiple casualties were reported from both protesters and security forces. The headquarters of Villa Television (VTV), owned by leader of the government aligned Jumhoree Party (JP) Ibrahim Gasim, sustained significant damage.
The court case, the first incarnation of which was dismissed on a technicality, continues with the issue of land usage forming the backbone of the state’s defense.
The government has argued that the leasing of such public spaces for political activities violates the terms which govern the MCC’s stewardship of such areas.
Hassan Latheef, a member of the MDP’s legal team working on this court case, scheduled to resume on May 13, said that the government had “no grounds” to take the land from the MCC in either the case of Usfasgandu, nor that concerning Rahlugandu.
When asked about the government’s position on the use of council land for political purposes, Latheef argued that there was nothing in the decentralisation act that prohibits this.
“I do understand that anything is acceptable and expected in a police state. The country is being taken from the people by a few coup leaders. The Maldives is now a police state,” Latheef contended.
Blocking the steps leading to the raised area used for the MDP’s gatherings at Usfasgandu, a sign read: “No court order, don’t take this place.”
The original ‘justice square’ camp was leased to the MDP by Male City Council (MCC), itself established through the 2010 decentralisation act under the governance of former President Mohamed Nasheed.
In a clear refutation of this argument, the MCC made the decision to lease the Usfasgandu area to the MDP for a three month period within days of the party’s ejection from the tsunami monument area.
The MDP was widely supported by urban populations of the Maldives in last year’s local council elections, securing 100 percent of the council seats in Addu City in the south and Kulhudhufushi in the north, and nine of the 11 seats in the capital Male’.