Police arrested six people during the Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) demonstration held on Tuesday evening to protest against ongoing court cases against its supporters.
According to the party, the Prosecutor General (PG) has filed charges against 60 MDP members for obstruction of police duty during the party’s three-month series of protests. If charges are proved, the accused may be jailed for six months or fined up to Rf 12,000 (US$800) each.
The Criminal Court on Tuesday held hearings against 10 people charged with obstruction of police duty during an MDP rally on March 1.
The six arrested on Tuesday were also detained for obstruction of police duty.
The MDP has been campaigning for fresh elections in 2012 after former President Mohamed Nasheed alleged he was deposed in a coup d’état, carried out by mutinous elements of the police and military on February 7.
Speaking to MDP members on Tuesday night, Nasheed said he was “concerned about the arrest and prosecution of protesters exercising their right to freedom of expression and assembly.”
The MDP continues to rally against prosecution of its supporters with a peaceful demonstration held outside the Supreme Court building at 2:00 pm on Wednesday. At time of press MDP supporters were also gathering outside the Justice Building where the country’s lower courts are housed.
Police Spokesperson Hassan Haneef said the six people arrested on Tuesday were detained for obstructing police duty after they broke through police barricades in front of the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) building. Five of the six arrested continue to remain in custody.
Haneef also said two police officers had suffered head injuries after protesters threw glass bottles at the officers.
Minivan News observed over a thousand protesters at the MDP rally.
In a statement on Wednesday, the MDP claimed its supporters were pepper-sprayed at close range and beaten with batons on Tuesday night.
Video footage of the protest shows a woman fall to the ground as police officers in riot gear attempt to arrest her.
The ten people who appeared in court on Tuesday were arrested during an MDP protest on March 1 which had sought to obstruct new President Mohamed Waheed Hassan from delivering a presidential address at parliament’s opening session on March 1.
According to local media, two policemen gave differing statements on Tuesday’s hearing. One police officer said he had witnessed eight of the 10 men who appeared in court beating police shields, while another policeman said he had only seen five of the ten men beat on police shields during the protest.
The Prosecutor General’s (PG) Office was unable to confirm the exact number of cases filed at court for obstruction of police duty.
However, Deputy PG Hussein Shameem has previously told Minivan News that 116 cases had been filed against demonstrators regarding unrest on February 8. Riots broke out throughout the Maldives following a brutal police crackdown on MDP supporters in Malé. Court buildings and police stations were set on fire and vandalised during the riots.
“We have submitted 116 cases to the criminal court. The charges we have filed regard obstruction of police duty, assault on police officers on duty, and attempt to assault police officers on duty,” Shameem said.
Freedom of assembly
Speaking to MDP supporters, Nasheed said he condemned the charges against “peaceful” protesters while police and military officers who carried out the “coup” continued to remain free.
“Maldivian citizens cannot accept the prosecution of protesters who raised their voices against treasonous police and military, when we continue to see these officers in front of us,” Nasheed said.
“It is essential that we come out in support of those who are being tried. We gain success only when we find courage in each other to overcome fear. It will be difficult to carry out civil disobedience if we neglect those who are arrested from amongst us,” Nasheed added.
Police have also forwarded two different cases against Nasheed over the discovery of alcohol bottles at his former residence Muleeage on February 7 and the controversial arrest of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed in January.
Video footage of MDP rally on May 8: