The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) held a large protest on Saturday night calling for immediate elections, with thousands of participants in several locations in the capital city Male’.
The rally – which started from the party’s rally grounds near the Tsunami monument – split up into three different groups while walking down the main road of Majeedhee Magu.
The leading group, with several MPs in attendance, was stopped near the parliament building by police and Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) lines. The second group, consisting of mainly female protesters, was blocked near the National Library by SO police officers, while the third group went to the Chandhanee Magu-Fareedhee Magu junction where the MDP has been holding protests for over a week.
Protest one – near the parliament
The protest near the parliament – with over a thousand in attendance – was headed by MDP Vice Presidential candidate Dr Mustafa Lutfi, Chairperson ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik and MPs Imthiyaz Fahmy, Ahmed Rasheed, Ahmed Sameer, Mohamed Shifaz, Mohamed Gasam and Ahmed Easa among others. Several MPs addressed the crowd via sound systems on one of the many campaign lorries that accompanied protesters, constantly playing party-themed campaign songs.
While a line of regular police officers, referred to as ‘Blues’, in riot gear formed the first security line behind the barricades, about 12 Special Operations (SO) officers in full riot gear and holding shields lined up about 10 feet behind them, with yet another security line behind them formed by over a dozen MNDF soldiers, also in riot gear.
The protest continued at the area until just after midnight, though numbers at the location decreased to a few hundred by then. The protesters then marched to join the main cell of protesters who were by then at the Majeedhee Magu-Chandhanee Magu junction. Police barricaded off Majeedhee Magu near the Agora Superstore, which led to the loudly chanting protesters taking a detour through side roads to join the main group, reaching the junction despite police hurrying to block off side roads.
Protest two: Chandhanee Magu-Fareedhee Magu junction
The second group of protesters marched down Chandhanee Magu to the party’s protest site of previous nights, which have followed the Supreme Court’s indefinite delay of the presidential election run-off.
Minivan News observed a number of protesters wearing helmets and dive masks, with one protester saying “this gear is protection against the police’s random attacks with batons and pepper-spray every night”.
SO officers worked to disperse crowds and bring back order after alleged violence incidents took place, including a CCTV camera at the junction smashed to pieces by a man with a large piece of wood. MNDF officers formed a security line between media and the police and protesters.
Police have since announced a manhunt for the person allegedly responsible for smashing the camera, identifying him as Kamil Ibrahim of Beach House from the island of Ukulhas in Alif Alif Atoll.
Police ordered media to remain on the pavement behind police and MNDF lines while the SO officers took possession of the alleged “weapons of violence”, arresting offenders and dispersing crowds, warning media that “if you get off the pavement, you will be removed”. Asked what they meant by “removed”, one officer stated that media “will find out if you step off that pavement”.
Media were however allowed to take photos once police had finished gathering up the ‘weapons’ that were allegedly gathered from the protest site.
One protester claimed to have seen a police vehicle unload bits of wood on Fareedhee Magu, which police allege were collected from the crowd. Minivan News could not confirm these reports as media was ordered to stay behind security lines during the time.
Protesters were pushed off the site, which caused the crowd to split into groups in three different locations: near Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) offices, near Fantasy Store on Fareedhee Magu and near the National Museum on Chandhanee Magu.
After police pushed backed the crowd, the SO loudly chanted their oath, after which Minivan News heard the commander on duty ask the officers to “without much ado, just arrest anyone in any area in Male’ who you think has consumed alcohol”.
Police then went into the crowds and searched a number of protesters and smelled their breath, allegedly checking for the smell of alcohol.
Protest three: near National Library
The final group consisted of over a thousand protesters, mainly female. They marched through the first set of barricades, with protesters voicing intentions to reach Republican Square.
The protest was brought to a halt just in front of Medhuziyaaraiy Magu on the street around the corner from the National Museum by scores of SO officers in full riot gear, wielding batons.
Protesters remained in the location for approximately an hour before police attempted to disperse the crowd, leading them to regroup and join protests on Chandhanee Magu, where police lined up barricades a few feet away from the National Museum.
Sitdown at Chandhanee Junction
At around midnight, protesters in different locations started joining the majority of protesters who were at the Majeedhee Magu-Chandhanee Magu junction.
With a few thousand protesters at the site at around 1:00am, still chanting and asking for immediate elections, a police truck with several SO officers rode through the crowd, taking photos and videos of the protesters.
Protesters initiated a sit down in the middle of the junction at around 2:00 am, with MDP Vice Presidential candidate Dr Mustafa Lutfi and a number of MPs still active in the site.
At 2:40 am, two trucks with over 20 SO officers arrived at the protest site. Minivan News observed at least two people being taken into custody.
An hour later, the SO dispersed the hundreds of protesters still left at the site, arresting additional protesters after frisking many.
“The October 5 protest was an unconstitutional gathering,” a police media official told Minivan News on Sunday.
“Twelve people were brought under police custody at last night’s protests, all of whom were arrested on charges of assaulting police officers, disobeying police orders and obstructing police duties. We are currently working to find the man who is accused of breaking the security camera on the Chandhanee Magu – Fareedhee Magu junction,” he said.
Police said eight out of the 12 arrestees have had their detentions extended by a week by the court today, with one person detained for an 15 days.
Police also confirmed that two persons have been arrested this afternoon on a fishing vessel from Ukulhas – the island of origin of the man police are looking for in relation to the smashing of the security camera – which was docked in Male’ harbour.
Meanwhile, the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) has released a statement noting that during its protest monitoring “some people gathered at the Chandhanee Magu – Fareedhee Magu junction at last night’s protests used wooden bats in a manner which was not peaceful and has conducted unlawful activities. We condemn this act and call on all to exercise the right to freedom of expression in a peaceful manner.”
The statement also said that the commission is receiving a number of complaints about the ongoing protests disturbing the studies of students preparing for their GCE O’Level exams, and called on protesters to not obstruct the students’ right to learn.
The Maldives Police Services has said it will file complaints against the MDP with the relevant authorities for conducting “violent” and “illegal” protests.
Police footage of a protester smashing a CCTV camera and threatening officers