The EU has slammed an “escalation of political tension and violent protests” in the Maldives as police confirmed that 50 people – including a former cabinet minister – were arrested during the last two days during anti-government demonstrations.
However, with the arrest of 32 demonstrators in the last 24 hours, as well as a government decision to clear the MDP’s Usfasgandu protest site by July 30, some opposition figures have claimed the tension will likely intensify further.
Spokesperson for Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, has said there remained “deep concern” in Europe over the political unrest in the Maldives.
“The High Representative is convinced that continued political unrest, heavy-handed responses by security forces, and charges filed against political leaders will only lead to further deterioration of the political climate in the country and will adversely affect the lives of all Maldivian citizens,” stated the EU.
“The High Representative acknowledges the efforts of the Commonwealth Special Envoy, Sir Don McKinnon, to strengthen the Maldives Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) whose purpose it is to establish an objective account of the events which led to the resignation of President Nasheed and the transfer of power to the present Government on 7 February 2012. She appeals to all parties to refrain from any actions that could jeopardise completion of the Commission of National Inquiry’s work, including legal action against political leaders”.
The calls followed a statement released by the Commonwealth this week urging all parties to show “restraint and restore calm” as initiatives like the reconstituted Commission of National Inquiry (CNI). The CNI, expected to be completed by next month, was established to ascertain the truth between February’s controversial transfer of power.
In a statement released Tuesday (July 17), Commonwealth Secretary General’s Special Envoy to the Maldives, Sir Donald McKinnon called for dialogue among political leaders, urging all parties to show “restraint and restore calm.”
During the last two weeks, the MDP has been carrying out what it has called “direct action” protests.
While the opposition party has continued to contend that its protests have been “largely peaceful”, the ongoing demonstrations have at times broken out into violent clashes. This violence has led to allegations of police brutality against demonstrators, and counter claims of protesters attacking reporters and security forces.
The MDP today said it expected its protests, stated to continue until the present government of Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan “topples” would continue indefinitely. The MDP alleges that the Waheed administration came to power in February through a “coup d’etat” and therefore had no legitimacy.
Party MP and Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor claimed that the MDP was committed to managing “peaceful, disciplined” protests, though he accepted that violent confrontations appeared to be increasing between police and protesters. He alleged that this violence was a result of law enforcement officials increasingly showing a “lack of discipline” on their part.
The Maldives Police Service has contended that to continues to use “minimum force” to protect its officers during the demonstrations.
Conversely, while police have said that none of its officers were hurt in the last 24 hours – there have been serious and minor injuries sustained by police during attacks by individuals suspected of being affiliated with anti-government demonstrators.
On July 12, an attack around Dhilbahaaru Magu in Male’ saw one officer having to fly to Sri Lanka for treatment for head injuries received from an assault with a pavement brick.
Minivan News has observed protests in recent weeks switching from heckling and mocking of officers at police barricades to violent confrontations as police have charged through protests lines, and demonstrators themselves broke through barricades to confront police.
Police have come under particular criticism by the MDP for using pepper spray directly in the faces of protesters – an accusation denied by law enforcement authorities.
“Maldives Police did not use any excessive force nor was pepper spray directed to anyone’s face,” police said in a statement at the time.
However a video released of the incident showed a riot police officer reaching over a crowd of people surrounding Nasheed and spraying him in the face. Nasheed turns away as the spray hits him, and is taken away by his supporters, but later returned to the protest.
In this environment, the government has itself called for “calm”, urging all political leaders to abandon the street protests, which have attracted international attention over the last few weeks, and sit down for “sincere dialogue”.
President’s Office Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza was not responding at time of press.
Amid the calls for an end to protests and fresh talks, the Ministry of Housing has issued an ultimatum for the MDP to vacate the Usfasgandu protest area in the next nine days.
Housing Minister Dr Mohamed Muiz claimed the decision to evict the MD from the site was not linked to the current anti-government protests, but rather a reaction to how the opposition had used their land for partisan purposes.
Muiz told Minivan News that the land, which had controversially been leased to the MDP Male’ City Council, an elected body with a majority representation for the opposition party, belonged to the government.
“As far as I’m concerned there is no doubt of the legality [of clearing the site],” he said.
Amidst the current political tension in the capital, Dr Muiz said that the timing of the decision had “nothing to do” with continued protests being carried out by the party.
“We have already handed in our development plans for the area,” he said. “There is a clear mandate of what should have been developed on [Usfasgandu]. The MDP have ignored these rules and have developed it into their own party property.”
MDP MP Ghafoor responded that “there was no doubt” that the Housing Ministry’s decision was in retaliation for continuing its protests in the capital.
“Judging from the current mood of the people, the [housing] minister’s threats will be taken as irrelevant now. People just aren’t listening any more to what they see as a coup government,” he claimed.
Ghafoor also alleged that all ministers aligned with the present government were viewed as having no legitimacy among MDP members, from the State Islamic minister up to President Waheed himself.
However, with international organisations including the UN, the EU and the Commonwealth all calling on politicians to adhere to a peaceful resolution to the nation’s political upheaval, Ghafoor said that protests would continue as previously pledged by the party.
“I do not think the issue here is whether our protests are sustainable, it is more about the fact the whole political situation in this country unsustainable,” he claimed.
Despite the alleged incidence of violence linked to police and protesters alike, Ghafoor contended that the MDP remained committed to “disciplined, peaceful” protests.
“As long as the party keeps the foresight to try and manage protests, we are trying to channel the energy and dissatisfaction of people into something more positive,” he claimed.
Ghafoor conceded that it was apparent that protests were becoming more violent as peoples’ frustrations grew, a sign he claimed that was reflected in the amount of footage and photos of protests that were being found on social media sites like Facebook depicting alleged acts of violence by authorities.
“I think that protests show a direct correlation between the level of oppression and the resultant uprisings,” he added. “If you look at Bahrain , they have lived with repression all their lives, so have we. But we are seeing the kids coming out on the streets to show their anger,” he said.
Ghafoor alleged that police were failing to keep control of the present situation and may be turning to young inexperienced officers to try and control it.
More than 50 people are believed to have been arrested during two nights of protests in the capital – 22 were said to have been arrested in the early hours of Friday (July 20) morning, the first day of Ramazan.
Among those arrested were former Transport Minister Adil Saleem, who was detained on Thursday evening but later released under house arrest, according to the MDP.
The MDP also alleged that Saleem had sustained “abdominal injuries” during his arrest as a result of “excessive force” used to detain him by police. Ghafoor claimed that Saleem was eventually taken to Hulhumale’ hospital for treatment, though was advised that he should be transferred to Indira Gandhi Memorial Hosptial (IGMH) in Male’. Police were then reported to have opted against returning the former minister to the capital.
The MDP has also claimed that the protesters who had been arrested were not given food during breakfast whilst being held.
In response to the 32 people confirmed to have been arrested following this morning’s protests, police claimed that detentions were made after repeated warnings to not to cross the police lines and to not to obstruct police duty.
“The protesters who came into the ‘no protesting zone’ claimed that they were there to call for early elections and voice against the government. But the protesters that came into this zone had resorted to using foul language and harassment to the police officers” read the statement.
Following the confrontations, those that were arrested were given the opportunity to breakfast and all other legal necessities were provided to them, according to police.
Among the legal necessities provided to the arrestees were, having a medical check up to see if there is any sort of physical harm caused to the arrestee and providing the opportunity to seek assistance of a legal counsel. The families of the arrested were also contacted.
Police have claimed that among 32 arrested, four were tested positive for drugs. Those tested positive were Ismail Abdulla, Mohamed Sabah, Aishath Laisha Abdullah and Hussain Mufeedh, police said.
Police claimed that Aishath Laisha was the only female arrested in today’s protests.