Police have cordoned off the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)’s protest site at ‘Usfasgandu’ in Male’ ahead of a rally led by former President Mohamed Nasheed this evening.
The police action came after the High Court ordered police to repossess the area until it delivered a verdict concerning an ownership dispute between Male’ City Council (MCC) and the Housing Ministry.
The MCC , which leased the land to the MDP following the party’s eviction from their site near the tsunami monument, took the matter to court after the Housing Ministry ordered the Usfasgandu site be transferred to the government.
The Civil Court has previously ruled that the Usfasgandu belonged to Housing Ministry, and ordered the MCC to hand over the plot to the government.
However, the ruling was appealed by the MCC in the High Court, which today issued both an injunction on the Civil Court decision and an order that police should reclaim the land pending its decision on the rightful ownership.
The High Court writ issued today stated that the ‘Usfasgandu’ area shall be kept under police charge until the court reached a verdict on the case. The court stressed that no one should use the land plot for any purpose until it had concluded the case.
The High Court warrant stated that its order was issued in compliance with the Supreme Court writ or prohibition number 2011/SC-SJ/04, which says that delaying implementation of a lower court’s ruling is a civil procedure to protect rights in appeal cases.
Speaking to Minivan News following the High Court’s ruling, Police Spokesperson Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef said yesterday’s request by the Housing Ministry to evict the MDP had been superseded by the new order.
‘’We are now beginning work to do everything we have to do in order to implement the High Court order that was issued today,’’ Haneef said.
The MDP released a statement labelling the repossession of the land as a “blatant prevention of the right to assemble and the right to freedom of expression.”
The eviction of the party from its second protest site would “escalate tensions amongst party grass roots and supporters as the court order coincides with a rally planned weeks ago to be held at the venue tonight,” the party stated.
“The move is also seen as an attempt to create unrest amongst peaceful gatherings to create a pretext to unleash brutal police action to intimidate dissenters of the usurper government,” the statement added.
“The MDP appeals for participation by all concerned in the party’s efforts in instituting urgent action to prevail upon alleged usurper President Dr Mohamed Waheed, to desist from continuing to violate and undermine the country’s constitution and in taking imperative steps to reconstitute democracy in the Maldives,” it concluded.
Male’ City Council (MCC) initially leased ‘Usfasgandu’ to the MDP for three months back in March 2012, prompting repeated attempts by the government to reclaim the area on the grounds it was being used for criminal activity, including the practice of black magic.
The MDP moved a few dozen metres down the road to the site after a previous protest camp at the tsunami monument was dismantled and completely repainted by the police and military on March 19, 2012.
On May 29 last year, police raided the Usfasgandu site after obtaining a search warrant from the Criminal Court, ordering the MDP to vacate the area before 10:00pm that day. The Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) then began dismantling the protest camp.
The Civil Court however issued an injunction ordering security forces to halt the operation after the MDP challenged its legality. The injunction was to stand until the court reached a verdict and was later upheld by the High Court.
In August 2012, the Civil Court ruled that the police did not have the legal authority to order the opposition MDP to vacate the area. The government has since tried to transfer the land from the council – dominated by MDP councillors – to the government-controlled Ministry of Housing and Environment.
Male’ City Council refused to hand over the land and insisted that the area was “temporarily leased” to the former ruling party in accordance with the Decentralisation Act, and contended that the ministry does not have the legal authority to reclaim council property.