Hours after the dismissal of the MDP’s civil court case challenging last month’s dismantling of its protest camp at the tsunami monument by the police and military, the Housing Ministry had informed Male’ City Council (MCC) of its intention to remove the party from its new base at Usfangandu.
After more than two weeks of hearings, the Civil Court dismissed the case of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) against the state.
The case was dismissed after court said that the party’s interim chairperson Moosa ‘Reeko’ Manik did not have the authority to file the case on behalf of the MDP.
Judge Aisha Shujon argued that the court could not verify whether an interim chairperson had been elected and so did not see sufficient grounds to continue with the case.
The initial legal arguments supporting the closure of the camp ranged from charges of illegal activities to claims that the land actually belonged to the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF). The claim that the MCC did not have the right to lease the land for political purposes has resurfaced in the new challenge against the MDPs latest camp.
After a short media blackout following the security forces entering the camp at Lonuziaaraiy Kolhu, illicit items including alcohol and condoms were displayed to the media as evidence of nefarious activities.
A member of the MDP’s legal team Hissan Hussian said that the court had gone “beyond its jurisdiction” in questioning the internal processes used within the MDP to elect an interim chairperson.
“We argued that the MDP had passed a decree that allowed a person to act as interim chairman and submitted the minutes of the meeting to show that Moosa was nominated,” said Hissan.
“The [court’s] ruling said that these minutes needed certain formalities and so would not recognise them although the court did recognise that the voting took place,” she continued.
Hissan also pointed out the a previous higher court ruling stated that a case, once started, cannot be dismissed on a procedural issue that has no substantive bearing on the case.
The next hearing, scheduled for April 10, was expected to see both sides present their concluding statement.
The case has been re-submitted to the court with the signature of the MDP’s President, Dr Ibrahim Didi.
Shortly after the dismantling of the original camp, the MDP began assembling only a few metres away at Usfasgandu. Crowds attempting to gather in the area behind Dharubaaruge were initially dispersed by police but a permanent stage has now been erected.
Protest marches and demonstrations have once again begun to emerged from the area. Two such marches last weekend, targeting the home of the President and a business belonging to the Vice President, started and finished at Usfangandu.
The MCC has today acknowledged the receipt of a letter from the Housing Ministry informing them that they have until Thursday to remove this new demonstration area. The letter informs the MCC that if this does not happen, the land will be confiscated by the government.
The Council intends to challenge the government’s assertions that it has breached its regulations in leasing the land to the MDP for political activities. The current lease for the area was due to expire at the end of June.
Former advisor to President Mohamed Nasheed Ibrahim ‘Ibra’ Ismail described the dismissal of the court case “highly questionable”, and the threat to remove the MDP from another demonstration site as part of a wider move to stifle all political activity within the country.
“We are concerned about government institutions not working within the law… the courts don’t seem overly concerned,” said Ibra.
Freedom of Assembly
Independent MP Mohamed Nasheed last week submitted a Freedom of Assembly bill to the Parliament in an attempt to provide greater clarifications of the rights and responsibilities of both protesters and those policing them.
The most prominent instances of recent confrontations with the security forces have occurred when anti-government groups have attempted to breach the cordoned off area radiating from Republican square.
Breaches and attempted breaches of this zone have resulted in clashes with security forces, ranging from sit-down protests to the deployment of tear-gas, rubber bullets and high powered hoses.
Nasheed says the bill he is introducing is needed to replace the current regulations concerning freedom of assembly which pre-date the current constitution. These regulations are, he understands, currently the subject of a challenge via public petition in the High Court.
“Several parts [of the current regulations] can be challenged for their constitutionality. I am confident that the larger part of these rules will be null and void. They are obsolete.”
The proposed bill is based largely on the guidelines published in 2010 by the European advisory group on constitutional law, the Venice Commission (officially called the European Commission for Democracy Through Law). The guidelines argue that any restrictions to freedom of assembly must consider legality, necessity and proportionality.
The unusual nature of the country, he argued, requires that “absolute” restrictions on static protests remain around the state’s vital institutions, in particular those areas on Republican Square which affect the security forces’ ability to operationalise. These require an area of 200ft to the front and 50ft to the side of police and military headquarters to be prohibited from static protests, such as sit-downs. Other military barracks require a protective zone of 50ft; other police facilities, 25ft.
The police protest on February 7 that led to the downfall of Nasheed’s government took place outside the MNDF’s headquarters.
Additionally, the bill suggests that a minimum distance of 25ft be kept from mosques, schools, hospitals, court buildings, the President’s Office, the President’s house, and from the Parliament. The proposed bill places no restrictions on moving protests.
The only time-based restritions are those that proscribing protests outside of an individual’s home after 10pm, and those that use loudspeakers after 8pm.
Nasheed was also keen to point out that this bill, and the timing of its submission, was unrelated to the current political situation. He stated that he had been working on the bill since 2010 and had completed a first draft last year.
He was realistic, however, about the difficulties the bill would face.
“People who are protesting will be unhappy with any restrictions… but they should respect the rights of others,” said Nasheed.
Due to the current pace of legislative activity, he said that the bill could take up to a year to be passed.
When asked about the likely success of the bill, he said: “I don’t anticipate anything. All I have done is taken the first step.”