Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) supporters protested for the third consecutive day on Sunday (September 29), resulting in confrontations between the police and protesters with multiple arrests – including that of party parliament members.
Protests began at around 2:00pm near the FDI Station on Fareedhee Magu – the closest protesters can go to the Supreme Court building, as the area remains cordoned off by police and military forces.
Crowds grew and thinned alternatively throughout a period of 12 hours, with the main confrontations occurring after 10:00pm.
Minivan News observed that earlier in the night the MNDF was in charge of security operations in the area. About 400 protesters, while playing campaign songs and chanting slogans – “Forward, forward, swiftly forward”, “Give us our right to vote”, “We don’t want to selectively follow parts of the constitution” – were peaceful.
Police, including Special Operations (SO) officers, took over security operations later in the night, around which time the atmosphere became more heated.
Leading the protest were MDP Vice Presidential Candidate Dr Mustafa Lutfi, MP Ali Azim, former foreign minister Ahmed Naseem, and former Attorney General Dhiyana Saeed.
MDP MP Ali Azim was addressing the protesters from a campaign truck close to the police barricades when SO officers took him under arrest. A video on social media shows SO officers run up to the parliament member, pull him off the truck and onto the ground before dragging him away through the crowd and past the line of barricades.
Eye witnesses say that police kicked him and hit him with batons prior to dragging him to their vehicle.
The MDP has today released a press statement saying that the party “harshly condemns the brutal arrest of Ali Azim”.
“This is an act to intimidate the people and a violation of freedoms provided in the constitution.”
Protesters threw stones and empty plastic bottles over the barricades into the police lines, while police used batons, pepper spray and a substance with a strong chemical smell which caused wheezing and difficulty in breathing.
“I don’t know what this is, but having felt the pain of being pepper-sprayed and teargassed, I can tell you this is a different substance. An irritant of some sort. It smarts so very bad and feels like I have sand in my eyes. My skin feels like it is peeling away and burned,” said a 34 year-old male protester affected by the substance during last night’s protests.
“Do I deserve this in return for asking for justice? For demanding an elected government?” he asked, while pouring Coca Cola over his face in an attempt to regain sight and take away some of the pain.
According to police media a total of eight arrests were made last night. Police denied that any substance or chemical besides pepper spray was used to control the protests.
“Nothing except pepper spray. No new chemicals were used,” the spokesperson stated.
Minivan News observed at least 13 male protesters being taken into police custody after snatch teams of SO officers went into crowds and chased them.
Many of the protesters were frisked in the presence of media behind police lines prior to being taken into the police vehicles – a practice which has not previously been observed at the protests following the February 7 controversial transfer of power.
After consecutive and frequent SO officer charges into the crowd, protesters thinned out around 1.45am, leaving a few dozen people standing by in small crowds, defiantly chanting “justice now”. Police left the area at approximately 2:00am when protests died down for the night.
The MDP has said that it will continue the protests and has called on the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) and the prosecutor general to investigate the arrests of the DRP MP and other protesters.
MP Ali Azim was brought to court at 2.30pm this afternoon and his detention has been extended for seven days.
Meanwhile, police have said they are investigating four MDP MPs for contempt of court and threatening police, judges and their families. These are Feydhoo MP Alhan Fahmy, Malé MPs Imthiyaz Fahmy, Mohamed Rasheed (Bonda) and Reeko Moosa Manik.
Furthermore police arrested Malé MP Hamid Abdul Gafoor today to ensure his presence at a Criminal Court trial tomorrow on alleged possession of alcohol.
MDP MP Ali Waheed’s car was vandalised in the evening, and a motorcycle and car were torched at 3:00 am. The police also said wife of a policeman was hit by a motorcycle at noon. She is eight months pregnant.
MP Ali Azim arrested during Sunday night’s protests