Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) supporters marched through Male’ on Tuesday (January 22) for the first time in several months to protest against the current coalition government.
The protest was the first large-scale march through the city since the Freedom of Assembly Bill was ratified by President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik earlier this month. The party claimed over three thousand attended.
MDP Spokesman Hamid Abdul Ghafoor told Minivan News that the party plans to hold more assemblies and protests in next coming months around Male’.
“The MDP have been off the streets some time, we had taken a break. Now we are back. We have too many options and ideas opening up and people need to know what’s going on,” Ghafoor added.
The demonstration took place the same day former President Mohamed Nasheed called on parliament to create an interim, caretaker administration following a week in which senior members of the defence and military gave evidence alleging the transfer of power on February 7 “had all the hallmarks of a coup d’etat.”
Minivan News observed the protest as it moved down through Majeedhee Magu at around 5:00pm on Tuesday evening.
Despite the large turnout of protesters and disruption caused to traffic, Minivan News witnessed only four police officers observing the march from down a side street off Majeedhee Magu.
Asked as to why police presence had been limited during the protest, Maldives Police Service (MPS) Spokesman Hassan Haneef said police had been “observing the protest”.
Minivan News witnessed only one incident of confrontation when a protester threw a handful of Maldivian rufiya notes at the face of a police officer – who did not react.
As protesters walked passed two police stations on Ameene Magu they began to chant “Baghee” to officers watching from outside.
“When you compare to how the police have reacted to us in the past, it was very different today. I still do not believe that the whole of police and Maldivian National Defence Force were involved in the coup,” Ghafoor said yesterday.
“In the past there is only trouble from police when we move into areas where they get nervous. They do not confront us as long as we keep away from those areas,” he added.
President’s Office Spokesperson Masood Imad and Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz were not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press.
The protest took place a day after Male’ City Council (MCC) Mayor ‘Maizan’ Ali Manik appealed to High Court to suspend a Civil Court ruling ordering it to hand over the MDP protest site – Usfasgandu – to the Ministry of Housing and Infrastructure.
“The government want the MDP to go onto the streets, that way they can say there is no stability in the country and preventearlyelections from being held,” Manik alleged to Minivan News on Monday.
Responding to the Mayor’s allegations, President’s Office Spokesperson Masood Imad claimed the mayor needs to be more “Male’ mayor” than “MDP mayor”.
“Who is to say the MDP will start protesting on the streets if Usfasgandu is handed over? Why do some people think the [MDP] always protest?
“Contrary to what Mayor Manik thinks, I don’t think they go around making protests, I think the MDP are good guys,” Imad said.
Freedom of Assembly
The recently ratified Freedom of Assembly Bill imposes a number of restrictions on protesting from both protesters and police alike.
Among the key features of the Freedom of Assembly bill is the outlawing of demonstrations outside private residences and government buildings, limitations on media covering protests not accredited with the state and defining “gatherings” as a group of more than a single person.
Under the legislation, demonstrations will be outlawed within a certain distance of the residences of the president and vice president, tourist resorts, harbours utilized for economic purposes, airports, the President’s Office, the courts of law, the Parliament, mosques, schools, hospitals and buildings housing diplomatic missions.
Earlier this month Ghafoor told Minivan News that the MDP stood against the principles of the Freedom of Assembly Bill, alleging its ratification is a response to the ‘Ingilaab’ proposed by former President Mohamed Nasheed last month.
Speaking at yesterday’s protest, Ghafoor said that the MDP had obtained permission from Male’ City Council to protest. MCC Mayor ‘Maizan’ Ali Manik also took part in the protest.