High Court concludes city council’s appeal into ownership of MDP protest site

The High Court on February 13 concluded an appeal by Male’ City Council (MCC) over the ownership of the ‘Usfasgandu’ land plot in the capital, leased to the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

The court is expected to rule on the appeal during the next hearing of the trial, which has yet to be scheduled.

The council’s High Court appeal followed a case filed by the Housing Ministry at the Civil Court ordering the MCC to hand over the land in seven days. The plot of land has been used by the MDP as a base for protests in Male’ for much of last year.

Lawyers from the Attorney General’s told the court that the MCC had given the land to a political party that was supposed to be used for social and leisure purposes.

The MCC claimed that had not been given adequate opportunity by the lower court to present its defense before the ruling to hand over the land was made.

According to local media present at the court, the AG’s lawyers claimed it was the duty of the council to prove their innocence in the matter.

The presiding judges said a verdict would be delivered at the next hearing unless the court needed to further clarify the matter.

The Male’ City Council gave the land to the MDP after its protest site near the tsunami monument area was dismantled by military and police on March 19, 2012.  The camp was dismantled the same day President Dr Mohamed Waheed delivered his presidential speech to the parliament, amid protests inside and outside the parliament chamber.

In May 2012, the Maldives’ cabinet ordered the Usfasgandu site be handed over from the MDP-dominated council to the jurisdiction of the government’s Ministry of Housing.

Following what it called the “non-compliance” of the MCC in handing over the area, police were asked to intervene and “take over”.

A chain of appeals eventually led to the MDP being evicted from the site and cordoned off by police on the orders of the High Court.

Police has previously raided the site on the morning of May 29, 2012, after obtaining a search warrant from the Criminal Court.

The reasons for the search as stated on the warrant included: “suspected criminal activity”, “damage to public property”, and “suspected black magic performed in the area”.

Under ‘evidence’, the warrant alleged that people in the Usfasgandu area verbally abused police officers and damaged a police vehicle on April 20, obstructed a Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) exercise of May 9, and on May 25 “MDP protesters threw a cursed rooster at MNDF officers.”