PPM still asking for Chief Judge’s release as violent protests continue

Police and Maldives National Defence Forces (MNDF) last night arrested 19 people during a violent protest outside the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) building near Republic Square, in which four police officers received minor injuries.

“The protest became violent when people started throwing bricks and other things,” said police Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef. “We tried to disperse them, and the protest spread throughout Male’ city.” Haneef said the protests continued until 1:25 am on Monday morning.

‘Sandhaanu’ Ahmed Ibrahim Didi, a council member of minority opposition Dhivehi Quamee Party (DQP), has been released. The other 18 individuals remain in custody.

However, Mulaku MP Abdulla Yameen was summoned to police headquarters this morning for questioning in regards in to an ongoing investigation. Local media reports that Yameen was due to leave for Sri Lanka this evening to meet foreign diplomats.

Police officials estimated that between 300 and 400 individuals associated with political opposition parties participated in last night’s protest, part of a trend which began when several opposition figures were detained for “hate speech” against the government nine days ago. Opposition-led protests demanding freedom of expression escalated when Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed was arrested by military forces seven days ago, shortly after he declared the arrest of the politicians unlawful.

Sub-Inspector Haneef said the protests were “of a high concern to the Male’ police service”, observing that last night’s protest was part of a developing trend of increasingly violent demonstrations.

Stating that military forces are prepared to assist police upon request, MNDF spokesperson Major Abdul Raheem added that “anytime there is violence it is a big concern of ours. We are always on alert and want to make sure Male’ is safe for residents.”

Meanwhile, the Security Services Committee (241 Committee) questioned MNDF Chief Major General Moosa Ali Jaleel and Police Commissioner Ahmed Faseeh  regarding the detention of the chief judge and the string of protests.

Local media reported that further hearings will be held. However, Minivan was unable to confirm the report with members of the 241 Committee at time of press.

Concerns about the protests were raised at Parliament’s National Security Committee last week by PPM MP Ahmed Mahlouf.

According to Committee Chair and MDP MP Ali Waheed, Mahlouf subsequently withdrew the case “because he didn’t want (MDP MP) ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik to be involved, and he didn’t like the way the investigation was going.”

“We offered dialogue, because we don’t want to stop work, we want to be democratic. In a committee we should be able to have dialogue and make a solution. But the opposition is trying to disrupt the process and make trouble everywhere in the country so the government can’t focus,” Waheed claimed.

Stating that the protests “are an issue of national security”, Waheed warned that disrupting committee procedures were “a means to an end.”

“Right now there are many ways to terrorise a country. Some use guns and bombs, some use language, and even now the way [former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s Progressive Party of the Maldives] is acting is a type of terrorism – they are trying to stop the whole system”, he said, observing that as the protests carry on with blocked roads and vandalised homes, “Male’s roads should not be used only by PPM.”

PPM MP Mahlouf had not responded to phone calls at time of press. However, party member Abdul Rasheed Nafiz said he understood that Mahlouf’s case was voted down during a committee session when MP Yameen was absent, and did not believe that the National Security Committee had the mandate to address the protests.

Nafiz said the protests were important for public expression however he believed the response was overblown.

“Police and military forces are both involved, which is a concern. Force is not required, when these people are gathering they keep silent until the police decide to disperse the crowd,” he claimed.

Acknowledging that a regulation prohibits demonstrations after midnight and at certain locations – such as Republic Square, located next to the MMA building – Nafiz pointed out that “neither side has obeyed that regulation, and even a small regulation can’t limit the freedoms granted in the Constitution.”

During his time as a Parliament member, Nafiz said, he suggested regulations on public protests “because Male’ is a small place and people are saying things that are hard for families and small children to hear. We have a culture and a religion to respect as well. But at the time the proposal was attacked and now people can hold protests when and where they like.”

Nafiz said he believed restoring peace “depends on the chief judge’s release.”

“Opposition parties are willing to bring an end to the protests through negotiation, but the government should release the judge first,” he said, noting that a group of lawyers had today forwarded the case to the International Criminal Court (ICC), of which the Maldives recently became a member.

“This is really a legal issue, and a mediator is needed. The question is ‘who’. Now is the time for the international community to get involved”, he said.

Yesterday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that it had requested an international legal delegation from the United Nations’ Human Rights Commission to assist the Maldives.