Verdict in ‘airport protest’ delayed to August 6

The criminal court has postponed the sentencing of 15 opposition supporters accused of protesting at the main international airport to August 6.

A sentence was expected on June 14, but the court delayed the hearing after presiding judge Sujau Usman was promoted to the High Court last week.

If the sitting judge in a case leaves the court, the case is immediately referred to the Chief Judge, who then has to allocate another judge to oversee the case.

“We still don’t know if a new judge has been allocated to the case. Even then, the new judge cannot immediately issue the sentence. He has to hear the case again,” said lawyer Nazim Sattar.

Some 14 women and one man are being charged with disobedience to order, after they were arrested carrying posters of imprisoned ex-president Mohamed Nasheed at the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport in March.

The 15 belong to the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

The Freedom of Assembly Act prohibits protests at airports and carries a MVR150 (US$10) fine, or six months in jail, house arrest or banishment.

Nazim contends the group’s actions do not constitute a protest.

“State witnesses include testimonies from the police officers who arrested the individuals. How can that be used to prove they were protesting?” Nazim questioned.

Malé City deputy mayor Shifa Mohamed and MDP women’s wing vice president Shaneez “Thanie” Saeed are among the defendants.

The criminal court had previously conditioned the group’s release from remand detention on avoiding protests. The High Court later said the court’s conditions are unconstitutional.

Shifa has previously accused the criminal court of misconduct and bias in the treatment of those arrested at protests, and said that the individuals are being punished for the same crime twice with the 60 day protest ban.

Judge Usman sat on the three-judge panel that sentenced ex-president Nasheed to 13 years in jail on terrorism charges. The trial was widely criticised for apparent lack of due process.


Three arrested from opposition protest

Three men were arrested from an opposition protest on Wednesday night when they reportedly refused police orders to step out of the street and on to the pavement.

Opposition MP Rozaina Adam told Minivan News that police officers pushed some hundred protesters on to the pavements at the main junction of Chaandhanee and Fareedhee Magu. Three protesters were arrested for disobedience to order.

“They are cracking down on our right to assembly and free speech.  This is how rights are taken away in dictatorships, step by step,” she said.

The allied opposition parties, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), the Adhaalath Party and the Jumhoree Party (JP), are protesting over the imprisonment of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed and the ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim, and the takeover of JP Leader Gasim Ibrahim’s businesses.

A police spokesperson said the protesters had been told to stay on the pavements to avoid blocking traffic. Protesters were very cooperative, he said.

The official declined to comment on the opposition’s claims of narrowing rights. “But we never do anything against the law.”

The three men who were arrested remain in police custody.

Since a 20,000-strong march on May 1, the police have banned the use of four-wheeled vehicles in protests. In April, police banned the use of sound systems beyond 11pm and protesting beyond 12am.

MP Rozaina said the protest had ended at 11pm when the police ordered sound systems to be shut off.

MDP Vice President Mohamed Shifaz said the police had prevented supporters from holding a demonstration on Monday as well.

The opposition had protested peacefully every day from February 10 to May 1.

Violent clashes broke out on May Day when protesters attempted to enter the city’s restricted Republic Square. Some 193 people and the three leaders of the allied opposition parties were arrested. Protests have slowed since then to just three or two days a week.

The opposition has opened a campaign hall for its nightly activities and have announced a third mass protest on June 12.

In a speech this morning, President Abdulla Yameen welcomed “non-stop protests” but said the government will not tolerate attacks on police officers.

“To politicians, I say, we will not allow you to violate police officers, torch property and disrupt the peace. Political activities should be carried out, but it should stay within the limits,” he said.

Two police officers were beaten on May Day. Some 14 people were arrested. At least three of the suspects have told lawyers police severely beat them and threatened to kill them.

The president also condemned calls for a tourism boycott.

“People who call for boycotting tourism in political turmoil are enemies of the country,” he said.

Photo: social media


Police to break up “unauthorised” protests

Police have announced they will break up protests which have not received authorisation in advance, in an apparent attempt to clamp down on daily demonstrations over the jailing of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed.

The opposition said its daily protests would continue, while decrying the move as a violation of the right to peaceful assembly guaranteed in the constitution. A member of the human rights commission also said the police plan was unconstitutional.

Police said last night that regular protests using “unusually loud” sound systems have been disrupting schools, businesses and are not in the public interest.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and allied parties have been holding daily protests throughout the country to demand the release of Nasheed, who was sentenced last month to 13 years in jail on terrorism charges. Protesters in the capital Malé have been marching through the streets every night, often through its main thoroughfare Majedhee Magu and through its narrow alleys.

Police said that demonstrators must apply for authorisation in advance for any “pre-planned” protests , as required by article 13 of the Freedom of Peaceful Assembly Act.

The act was passed in 2013 but police have not so far enforced the authorisation requirement, although hundreds of protesters have been arrested on other charges.

Police last night warned they will break up any unauthorized protests after one warning, and will confiscate loud sound systems.

The police announcement was deemed “unconstitutional” by Human Rights Commission member Ahmed Tholal.

Speaking to Minivan News today, Tholal said that freedom to assemble peacefully without permission from the state is a fundamental right granted by article 32 of the constitution.

“They [police] cannot withhold constitutional rights by referring to a provision in the [assembly] act. If there are problems with regards to the provisions in the act, they should address it without limiting constitutional rights,” said Tholal.

Police have arrested over 100 people at recent opposition protests. While some of them have been released without detention, several were barred by the criminal court from going to further protests for 60 days.

Elsewhere, the Ministry of Housing and Infrastructure wrote to the MDP on April 1 saying that the ministry would not be able to provide any plot of land for political activity because of the political situation in the country.

However, Minivan News understands that ruling Progressive Party of Maldives will be holding a rally at the artificial beach tonight (April 9).

MDP MP Eva Abdulla described the government actions as an attempt to “harass the opposition by attempting to obstruct peaceful assembly.”

“This is a coordinated attack by the government on our constitutionally stipulated rights to freedom of assembly and yet another example of how far this regime is willing to go in its harassment and persecution of the opposition,” Eva said.

“There is no longer any pretence of the government upholding our laws and our constitution,” she continued.

Minivan News was unable to obtain any comment from the Housing Ministry about the letter at the time of going to press.


Police declare opposition protests not peaceful, threatens crackdown

The ongoing nightly protests by the opposition ‘Alliance against brutality’ are not peaceful, police have declared, claiming protesters were assaulting police officers and planning to carry out acts of arson in Malé.

At a press briefing on Thursday (March 26), Chief Superintendent of Police Abdulla Nawaz said speakers at the demonstrations were inciting violence and that protesters have repeatedly broken through police lines, disobeyed police orders, and obstructed police duty.

Protesters have also “thrown rocks, glass and lead balls at police ranks,” and attempted to cause physical harm to police officers, he alleged.

During the past two nights (March 24 and 25), Nawaz claimed that speakers “openly” called for subverting peace and security, and “encouraged breaking laws and regulations.”

Nawaz warned that police would disperse protests “without further warning” if protesters attempt to forcibly enter barricaded zones.

Moreover, a decision has been made to disperse protests after prior warning “if any unlawful actions take place to any extent during protests after Saturday night, or if we see such actions are about to take place,” he warned.

The nightly protests first began after the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and Jumhooree Party (JP) allied against the government’s alleged breaches of the constitution on February 12 – two days after the arrest of former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim on charges of weapons possession. Tensions escalated further with the arrest of former President Mohamed Nasheed on February 22.

Following Nasheed’s conviction on terrorism charges on March 13, the MDP accepted an invitation by Adhaalath Party (AP) President Sheikh Imran Abdulla to form a united front against the government’s “brutality” and continued protests this week under the banner “Alliance Against Brutality.”

Shortly after the police press conference, the Elections Commission (EC) announced that it has fined the MDP and AP for allegedly attacking police officers, damaging private property, and inciting violence in violation of laws governing freedom of assembly and political parties.

The MDP and AP were fined MVR47,000 (US$3,047) and MVR33,000 (US$2,140), respectively, and ordered to pay the fine within seven days.

In a letter to the parties, the EC warned that further action would be taken if “such actions are repeated in protests conducted by the parties”.

Police and EC meeting today
Police and EC meeting today

Peaceful assembly

Nawaz meanwhile claimed that individual police officers have been confronted and intimidated at their homes, adding that efforts were underway to “psychologically weaken” police personnel.

Police vehicles and private property have also been damaged, he added.

Nawaz revealed that 162 protesters have been arrested so far and police have forwarded cases involving 95 protesters, including two MPs, to the Prosecutor General’s Office.

The Criminal Court has also released 62 protesters on the condition that they do not participate in protests for a determined period. Of these, two have subsequently been arrested for attending protests.

Nawaz said the 2013 Freedom of Assembly Act requires protests to be held to achieve a peaceful purpose and be free of violence or any form of incitement to violence.

He noted that the opposition alliance had not notified police prior to any of the nightly protests, which he said has prompted complaints from the public and businesses due to blocked roads and disruptions to public order and safety.

Nawaz also accused certain media outlets of attempting to falsely portray police as brutal towards civilians and said the media cut off live feed when protesters attacked police officers. He warned the police would arrest media personnel if they obstruct police duty.

If police officers violated the law during protests, Nawaz invited political parties and the public to lodge complaints at the relevant oversight bodies.

Meanwhile, at a separate press briefing on Wednesday, Chief Superintendent of Police Ismail Naveen said police intelligence has learned of planned acts of arson and other plots to “create fear in the hearts of the people.”

The recent spike in violence against expatriates – which saw two Bangladeshis murdered and four expatriates stabbed this week – was “planned”, he said.

According to police media, Naveen met officials of the EC, Police Integrity Commission, and Human Rights Commission of Maldives on Thursday in “emergency meetings” held to share concerns regarding “turmoil on the streets of Malé planned and carried out by political parties” and discuss counter measures.

Businesses in the capital were facing “irrevocable economic losses” due to the protests and police resources were diverted from law enforcement, Naveen told the independent commissions.

If protesters use loudspeakers after 11:00pm and continue protests after 12:00am in defiance of orders by police – invoking powers under the freedom of assembly law – Naveen said police were considering “not allowing the opportunity to continue these gatherings”.

Related to this story:

MP Mahloof, Raajje TV journalists among nine arrested from opposition protest

“We will secure our rights from the street,” says Sheikh Imran

Government should initiate discussions or face consequences, warns opposition

Gasim “economically paralysed,” says JP Deputy Leader

Former bitter rivals unite against “brutality” of President Yameen’s government


PIC advises protesters not to obstruct police duties

Protesters are advised not to obstruct the implementation of police duties, the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) announced in a press statement (February 17), according to local media.

The PIC noted that police and protesters are sustaining injuries ‘typically’ caused when police break up protests, which occurs “when protesters break through police barricades” and gather at locations prohibited in the Freedom of Peaceful Assembly act.

Protesters were advised not to obstruct police duties and “exercise their freedoms” within the limits of the law, while the PIC advised police to “only use force to the extent demanded by the given circumstance” and also to keep their actions within the limits of the law, local media stated.

Under the new bill, citizens are not allowed to hold gatherings within a certain distance of the headquarters of police and the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF).

Among the key features of the bill is the outlawing of demonstrations outside private residences and government buildings, limitations on media not accredited with the state and defining gatherings as a group with more than a single person.

Demonstrations would also be outlawed within a certain distance of the residences of the president and the vice president, the offices of the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA), 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.

The bill also states that demonstrators wishing to protest against a specific individual, may not use megaphones, stand outside, or have a sit-down outside that person’s residence.


Union raises job security fears following strike action at Kanuhura resort

The job security of almost 100 staff at the Kanuhura resort in Lhaviyani Atoll is in doubt after they participated in strike action at the property this week, the Tourism Employees Association of Maldives (TEAM) has alleged.

TEAM Secretary General Mauroof Zakir claimed the job security of about 90 members of staff who took part in industrial action at the resort on Monday was uncertain after they were requested to take paid leave away from the site next week.

Legal representatives for Kanuhura’s parent company, the Sun Resorts Group, told Minivan News that the company was attempting to resolve a salary dispute with its staff and had sought assistance from both the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture and the Labour Relations Authority (LRA) to liaise on the issue.  The company added that with salary negotiations ongoing it was also trying to maintain operations at the resort, which had been impacted by a number of employees failing to report to duty over the last two days.

Team Secretary General Maurouf claimed that staff at Kanuhura staff last month gathered at the property to demand a rise in monthly wages to US$250 per month – an amount he claimed to be in line with other nearby resorts. Minivan News understands that staff also requested an increase in service charge payments, which was currently being considered by Sun Resorts Group management.

According to TEAM, staff at Kanuhura were earning an average basic wage of between US$175 – US$200 per month.  Staff had been told by company officials they would be receiving an increase in salary by January 20.

The proposed salary increase of between US$25 to US$30 was however deemed insufficient by the majority of staff who had demanded a wage increase, Mauroof claimed.

“Most do not want to accept this increment and there was a work stoppage involving an estimated 95 staff,” he said.

Mauroof added that resort management had since requested that staff involved in this week’s strike action take paid leave of seven days – a request he claimed had been met with suspicion by employees.

“Right now [the resort] does not have accommodation to hire new staff. I do not think they will reinstate the existing workers once they leave,” he claimed.

While not organised by TEAM, Mauroof said the union backed the stance taken by staff in the pay dispute.

“Staff have done everything according to regulations. They raised their concerns last month and wrote to management about the matter,” he said.

Mauroof said there had also been an isolated incident in which a fire had occurred at two guest bungalows on the property, an incident he said was thought to have been an accident.

Replacement allegations

Hussain Rasheed, a senior butler who claims to have worked at the resort for eight and a half years, told Minivan News that some 30 to 40 staff who had taken part in strikes at the resort this week had decided against continuing their employment. He claimed these staff, who were promised a package of three months in wages and a month in service charge payments by cheque, were instead requesting cash payments before leaving the property.

Rasheed also alleged that while remaining staff had apologised for their role in the strike action and wished to stay in their positions, all staff who had taken part in the week’s protests had been requested to take paid leave for at least four days. However, he claimed that no assurances were given that staff would be able to return to their jobs at a later date.

Rasheed alleged that resort management were already in the process of bringing expatriate workers to the island over the last two days to take up roles at the resort.

“They have brought 35 expatriates to the resort from Male’, and they have told me [the imported staff] are being given a basic salary of US$200,” he said.

Rasheed claimed that after having spoken with the new workers, they had admitted to not knowing where their passports or documentation were, and questioned the legality of their employment status.

He claimed that issues had been raised with the Maldives Police Service and the Department of Immigration and Emigration.

Kanuhura response

Speaking to Minivan News today, a legal representative for Sun Resorts Group – who asked not to be named – said workers have taken part in industrial action at the resort last month over calls for a review of wages and service charges.

The representative said that officials from both the Tourism Ministry and the LRA were once again being invited to oversee discussions between both parties.

“The had demanded an increase in salary and service charge payments. The company agreed by January 20 to implement a wage increase. On the matter of service charge payments, we said we would respond to staff by March [2013],” the source said.

“The company’s HR Manager who was here yesterday spoke with staff, who did not accept the proposal offered. They once again went on strike and we have asked the LRA and Tourism Ministry [for assistance].”

While negotiations with state officials and staff ongoing, the legal spokesperson said the company did not wish to discuss the numbers of staff involved in the strikes or the wage rises being offered.

The source also declined to comment on individual accusations raised by staff concerning attempts to employ expatriate staff to take their roles.

“In cases such as this there are likely to be a number of allegations raised. We do not wish to comment on them individually,” the source claimed. “Right now we are trying to manage the resort with what we have. There are about 30 to 50 staff not reporting to work.”

The legal source said that despite efforts to try and manage with reduced staff some operations had been adversely affected as a result of the strikes.

“Some guests have registered complaints with us,” the company representative added.

Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb Abdul Gafoor nad Deputy tourist head Mohamed Maleeh Jamal  were not respong to calls from Minvan News at the time of press.

Freedom of assembly

Under the new ‘Freedom of Assembly Bill’ recently passed by parliament, demonstrations outside a number of public places including resorts and airports, have been outlawed.

The regulation also states that although demonstrators do not need to seek authorisation ahead of a gathering, police must be then notified of any pre-planned demonstrations before they commence.


MJA express concern over media limitations outlined in assembly bill

The Maldives Journalists’ Association (MJA) has expressed concern over certain clauses in the Freedom of Peaceful Assembly Bill passed this week that it says will directly impact reporting by local and international media organisations.

The bill, passed by parliament on December 26, includes a number of measures such as banning demonstrations outside private residences and government buildings, as well as establishing reporting limitations on media not accredited with the state.

MJA President and board member of the Maldives Media Council (MMC) ‘Hiriga’ Ahmed Zahir stated today that the association has appealed to Attorney General Azima Shakoor and President Mohamed Waheed Hassan to review some of the clauses in the legislation.

According to the bill, only journalists who are accredited by the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) will be authorised to cover and report on gatherings and police activities in the country. The bill would also require MBC to establish a regulation on accrediting journalists within three months of its ratification.

Zahir claimed that in view of existing laws and regulations, the MBC is mandated with the oversight of broadcast media, while it was the MMC that had been entrusted with regulating all media outlets in the country.

“For one thing, I do not believe that a body appointed by the parliament will be able to undertake the accreditation of media persons in an independent manner free from any influence. We are seeing the MBC failing to address many existing issues even now, so we cannot support handing over additional responsibilities like this to such a body,” Zahir said.

Zahir also stated that in principle, the MJA did not approve of the idea of journalists having to get accredited before being able to report on events like protests.  The MJA has stated that events and gatherings should ideally be accessible to all media outlets.

Zahir also raised concerns that foreign journalists coming to the Maldives would also be required to obtain additional accreditation. He said that international media was already faced with having to meet specific visa requirements and obtaining state approval.

“For example, [international reporters] cannot really cover events if they are just here on a tourist visa, that won’t be allowed anywhere in the world,” he said.

However, due to the current political situation in the Maldives and allegations of some media personnel carrying out “irresponsible activities”, the MJA stated it could ultimately agree on some form of accreditation process.

Zahir nonetheless emphasized that even in such a case, accreditation should be done by a self-regulatory body with representation from media outlets in the country.

“From the existing bodies, we would prefer that the responsibility be handed over to the MMC. The council has representatives from all major media outlets in the country. Its members will respect individual rights and can do an independent job,” Zahir said.

On the back of the MJA’s concerns about the bill’s impact on media, Attorney General Azima Shakoor has been quoted in local media as accepting some form of review may be needed.

“Although the said bill regulates a different issue, one stipulation in this contradicts with the mandates of MBC and MMC. Hence, the best line of action may be to correct this through an immediate amendment. I feel that would be the most convenient solution now,” she was quoted as saying.

The bill further states that if an accredited journalist is suspected of being involved in a gathering’s activities, they would be treated in the same manner of those assembled as to the discretion of the police. The bill, however, does not define what could be considered such an act.

Commenting on the vague nature of the clause, Zahir told Minivan News that loose phrasing seen in the bill potentially left too much interpretation at the discretion of the police and their powers.

“The bill should more clearly define what exactly it means when saying a journalist is ‘seen to be participating in a protest’. They should set down specific actions. For example, it’s not a problem for a journalist to go into a crowd of people gathered, they do not necessarily have to stay behind police lines all the time. Just them walking into a crowd should not be defined as participation. It has to depend on a certain action they do alongside protesters,” Zahir explained.

Zahir stated that although media personnel – as individuals – are granted the constitutional right to participate in demonstrations, the MJA did not encourage such actions.

In the initial draft of Freedom of Peaceful Assembly bill, the accreditation of journalists had been put down as a responsibility of the MMC, as reported in local news websites. However, the responsibility had been transferred to the MBC by the time the bill had been revised at committee level and submitted to the parliament for final voting.

MBC Vice President Mohamed Shaheeb was not responding to calls at the time of press.


Parliament passes bill redefining limitations on freedom of assembly

Parliament on Tuesday (December 25) passed the bill on “Freedom of Peaceful Assembly” despite unanimous opposition from the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP). The legislation was first submitted by independent MP Mohamed Nasheed on 5 April 2012.

The bill, which was initially called ‘Freedom of Assembly Bill’ was passed on the parliament floor with 44 votes in favour, and 30 votes against.

Among the key features of the bill is the outlawing of demonstrations outside private residences and government buildings, limitations on media not accredited with the state and defining gatherings as a group with more than a single person.

One of the main stated objectives of the legislation is to try and minimize restrictions on peaceful gatherings, which it claims remain a fundamental right.

The legislation continues that any restrictions enforced by police or other state institutions on participants at a gathering must be proportionate actions as outlined under specific circumstances defined in the bill.

The bill also provides a definition for ‘Gathering’ in Article 7(a), stating it refers to more than one person, with the same objective, purposefully attending a public or private place temporarily and peacefully expressing their views there.

Article 9(a), meanwhile, defines ‘Peaceful’ in relation to a gathering as being one where the organizers have notified [authorities] that this is a gathering to achieve a peaceful purpose, and provided no acts of violence occur, nor are there any chants, writing or drawings encouraging violence used in the gathering. Additionally, in such a gathering, no acts violating any laws must be committed, nor encouraged. Nor should participants have any items on them which can potentially be used to commit acts of violence.

Section (b) of Article 9 rejects defining a gathering as ‘not peaceful’ on the basis of words or behaviour of certain participants during a protest that may be considered hateful or unacceptable by other persons.

Under the new bill, citizens are not allowed to hold gatherings within a certain distance of the headquarters of police and the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF).

Demonstrations would also be outlawed within a certain distance of the residences of the president and the vice president, the offices of the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA), 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.

The bill also states that demonstrators wishing to protest against a specific individual, may not use megaphones, stand outside, or have a sit-down outside that person’s residence.

The regulation also states that although demonstrators do not need to seek authorization ahead of a gathering, police must be then notified of any pre-planned demonstrations before they commence.

Among the actions prohibited under the bill include an article stating that participants in a demonstration are not to have on them swords, knives, other sharp objects, wood, metal rods, batons, bleach, petrol, kerosene, any form of chilli (including dried or powdered), acid, explosives, any other items that can potentially be used as a weapon or any gear used by police for riot-controlling and peacekeeping.

Article 21 stipulates that participants will also not be allowed to cover their faces with masks, balaclavas or any other material which would prevent them from being identifiable.

The bill does guarantee organizers and participants of a gathering the right to decide where to hold a demonstration as well as choosing its objectives and the persons who are given the opportunity to speak during the protest.

The bill will not be applicable to activities, gatherings or meetings organized by state institutions, or those organized under any other law and to sports, games, business or cultural events.

According to the bill, if participants in a gathering have to face material or physical loss due to the negligence of police who must provide protection, then the police institution must provide compensation. It further adds that in such instances, the affected individual cannot be penalized for having taken part in the gathering.

The regulations also impose restrictions on police officers, preventing them from partaking in activities such as joining a gathering, displaying agreement or disagreement to messages or themes of a protest and ordering where or when to hold demonstrations.  Police officers are also prohibited from intervening in a gathering unless they are in uniform and states officers must not cover their faces unless as part of their riot gear under the bill.

Right to assemble

The bill also states that the right to assemble can be narrowed in the instances of a perceived threat to national security, or in order to maintain public safety as well as to establish societal peace in accordance with existing laws, to protect public health, to maintain levels of public discipline or to protect the rights and freedoms guaranteed to other individuals.

With regard to the media’s right to cover demonstrations, the bill adds that the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) must draft a regulation on accrediting journalists within three months of the ratification of the Bill on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly. It is only those journalists who are accredited by the MBC who will be granted access to cover and report on gatherings and police activities in the vicinity.

If an accredited journalist is believed to partaking in the gathering’s activities, treating these journalists as equal to those assembled is left at the discretion of the police. The bill, however, does not define what could be considered such an act.

The Maldives Media Council and the Maldives Journalists Association have expressed concern over these stipulations on Wednesday.

The limitations defined in the bill will bring positive changes: Home Minister

Minister of Home Affairs Mohamed Jameel Ahmed has stated that the Freedom of Peaceful Assembly Bill would bring positive changes to the country’s political environment and that it would provide guidance to politicians.

“It’s been established today that every right comes with accompanying responsibilities. I believe even the constitution reflects these principles. However, these principles need to be broken down into a law that would bring convenience to the people. Some among us thought when the constitution came that these are limitless freedoms that we’ve got. These past days we have seen people acting under that belief,” Jameel was quoted as telling the Sun Online news service.

“Under the name of this freedom, they were violating the personal and individual rights and protections of citizens. They were going at people’s residences, gathering outside and yelling vulgarities at parents and families, depriving children and families of sleep. All under the excuse of freedom of assembly.”

The Home Minister said that this bill would bring necessary limits at a time when many undesirable activities were being carried out under the guise of freedoms. He noted that the freedom of assembly was granted within limits in all other developed countries.

Not an ideal time to tamper with fundamental rights: MDP

Responding to the claims, MDP Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor expressed concern that the fundamental right to assemble was being limited through the bill at “a time like this.”

“It is not wise to tamper with constitutionally provided fundamental rights at a time like this, when we are in times of a coup. But even that can be understood only by persons who can at first understand democratic principles, of course,” Ghafoor said.

“We need time for the Maldivian psyche to be able to grasp the concepts of fundamental rights first.”

“Home Minister Jameel is a prescriptive, Salafiyya-educated, uncivilized man. He has never yet been able to partake in and win any elected posts, his statements hold no weight in the eyes of the people. He is a man who obviously does not even understand this very basic, fundamental concept,” Hamid said in response to Jameel’s statements in media about the freedom of assembly bill.

Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN), which is cited in the parliamentary committee report as an entity that provided written feedback on the bill was unable to comment on the bill at the time of press.

MDN said that the NGO had today received the final bill which had been passed by the parliament, and that they were currently reviewing it to establish how much of their recommendations had been featured in the final bill.

Minivan News tried to contact MP Mohamed Nasheed, who was not responding to calls at the time of press.

Chair of the committee MP Riyaz Rasheed and Vice Chair MP Ahmed Amir were also not responding to calls this evening.

Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) Vice President Ahmed Tholal’s phone was switched off at the time of press.


Government and courts block MDP gatherings, as freedom of assembly bill enters the house

Hours after the dismissal of  the MDP’s civil court case challenging last month’s dismantling of its protest camp at the tsunami monument by the police and military, the Housing Ministry had informed Male’ City Council (MCC) of its intention to remove the party from its new base at Usfangandu.

After more than two weeks of hearings, the Civil Court dismissed the case of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) against the state.

The case was dismissed after court said that the party’s interim chairperson Moosa ‘Reeko’ Manik did not have the authority to file the case on behalf of the MDP.

Judge Aisha Shujon argued that the court could not verify whether an interim chairperson had been elected and so did not see sufficient grounds to continue with the case.

The initial legal arguments supporting the closure of the camp ranged from charges of illegal activities to claims that the land actually belonged to the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF). The claim that the MCC did not have the right to lease the land for political purposes has resurfaced in the new challenge against the MDPs latest camp.

After a short media blackout following the security forces entering the camp at Lonuziaaraiy Kolhu, illicit items including alcohol and condoms were displayed to the media as evidence of nefarious activities.

A member of the MDP’s legal team Hissan Hussian said that the court had gone “beyond its jurisdiction” in questioning the internal processes used within the MDP to elect an interim chairperson.

“We argued that the MDP had passed a decree that allowed a person to act as interim chairman and submitted the minutes of the meeting to show that Moosa was nominated,” said Hissan.

“The [court’s] ruling said that these minutes needed certain formalities and so would not recognise them although the court did recognise that the voting took place,” she continued.

Hissan also pointed out the a previous higher court ruling stated that a case, once started, cannot be dismissed on a procedural issue that has no substantive bearing on the case.

The next hearing, scheduled for April 10, was expected to see both sides present their concluding statement.

The case has been re-submitted to the court with the signature of the MDP’s President, Dr Ibrahim Didi.


Shortly after the dismantling of the original camp, the MDP began assembling only a few metres away at Usfasgandu. Crowds attempting to gather in the area behind Dharubaaruge were initially dispersed by police but a permanent stage has now been erected.

Protest marches and demonstrations have once again begun to emerged from the area. Two such marches last weekend, targeting the home of the President and a business belonging to the Vice President, started and finished at Usfangandu.

The MCC has today acknowledged the receipt of a letter from the Housing Ministry informing them that they have until Thursday to remove this new demonstration area.  The letter informs the MCC that if this does not happen, the land will be confiscated by the government.

The Council intends to challenge the government’s assertions that it has breached its regulations in leasing the land to the MDP for political activities. The current lease for the area was due to expire at the end of June.

Former advisor to President Mohamed Nasheed Ibrahim ‘Ibra’ Ismail described the dismissal of the court case “highly questionable”, and the threat to remove the MDP from another demonstration site as part of a wider move to stifle all political activity within the country.

“We are concerned about government institutions not working within the law… the courts don’t seem overly concerned,” said Ibra.

Freedom of Assembly

Independent MP Mohamed Nasheed last week submitted a Freedom of Assembly bill to the Parliament in an attempt to provide greater clarifications of the rights and responsibilities of both protesters and those policing them.

The most prominent instances of recent confrontations with the security forces have occurred when anti-government groups have attempted to breach the cordoned off area radiating from Republican square.

Breaches and attempted breaches of this zone have resulted in clashes with security forces, ranging from sit-down protests to the deployment of tear-gas, rubber bullets and high powered hoses.

Nasheed says the bill he is introducing is needed to replace the current regulations concerning freedom of assembly which pre-date the current constitution. These regulations are, he understands, currently the subject of a challenge via public petition in the High Court.

“Several parts [of the current regulations] can be challenged for their constitutionality. I am confident that the larger part of these rules will be null and void. They are obsolete.”

The proposed bill is based largely on the guidelines published in 2010 by the European advisory group on constitutional law, the Venice Commission (officially called the European Commission for Democracy Through Law). The guidelines argue that any restrictions to freedom of assembly must consider legality, necessity and proportionality.

The unusual nature of the country, he argued, requires that “absolute” restrictions on static protests remain around the state’s vital institutions, in particular those areas on Republican Square which affect the security forces’ ability to operationalise.  These require an area of 200ft to the front and 50ft to the side of police and military headquarters to be prohibited from static protests, such as sit-downs. Other military barracks require a protective zone of 50ft; other police facilities, 25ft.

The police protest on February 7 that led to the downfall of Nasheed’s government took place outside the MNDF’s headquarters.

Additionally, the bill suggests that a minimum distance of 25ft be kept from mosques, schools, hospitals, court buildings, the President’s Office, the President’s house, and from the Parliament. The proposed bill places no restrictions on moving protests.

The only time-based restritions are those that proscribing protests outside of an individual’s home after 10pm, and those that use loudspeakers after 8pm.

Nasheed was also keen to point out that this bill, and the timing of its submission, was unrelated to the current political situation. He stated that he had been working on the bill since 2010 and had completed a first draft last year.

He was realistic, however, about the difficulties the bill would face.

“People who are protesting will be unhappy with any restrictions… but they should respect the rights of others,” said Nasheed.

Due to the current pace of legislative activity, he said that the bill could take up to a year to be passed.

When asked about the likely success of the bill, he said: “I don’t anticipate anything. All I have done is taken the first step.”