Male’ City Council (MCC) has appealed to the High Court asking for it suspend a Civil Court ruling to hand over the Usfasgandu area to the Ministry of Housing and Infrastructure.
The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has been using the area as a protest camp after it was allocated the land by MCC. According to a Civil Court order, the MCC violated the government’s land use plan because it lacks the authority to hand over the land to other parties.
MCC Mayor ‘Maizan’ Ali Manik told Minivan News that the city council allocated the Usfasgandu area to the MDP in order to keep them from protesting on the streets around Male’, and that a letter had been sent to High Court today (January 21) asking it to suspend the Civil Court’s ruling.
“Usfasgandu is not only for the MDP but for the whole of Male’. Without it (the MDP) would be on the streets. To prevent this we gave them the area.
“The government want the MDP to go onto the streets, that way they can say there is no stability in the county and prevent early elections from being held,” Manik alleged.
Asked if the MDP would be allocated another area should they be removed from Usfasgandu, Manik answered “If they request for it, we will reply”.
Home Minister Mohamed Jameel Ahmed was not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press.
The area has been used for protests by the MDP since their former site near the tsunami monument was forcibly dismantled by police and military on March 19, 2012.
Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Spokesman Hamid Abdul Ghafoor said the threat of eviction is not an issue for the party who, if removed, “will simply have to find a new space”.
“Occasionally there are efforts made by the government to go to great lengths in order to restrict freedom of expression and assembly and this is one of them. This should not impact the MDP, we have grown in the past without space,” Ghafoor added.
“MDP are thinking in a nutshell”
Responding to allegations that the government is attempting to limit freedom assembly, President’s Office Spokesman Masood Imad told Minivan News that “if anything [the Usfasgandu handover] is facilitating freedom of assembly for everyone else”.
“By constantly being at Ufasgandu, are the MDP not limiting other people’s freedom of assembly and expression? If the Home Ministry is to take the site accessible for other parties to use the space as well as the MDP, it is not a restriction of assembly.
“They could make it like the artificial beach area so it can be used by all parties based on request, I am sure the MDP will be given the chance to use it,” Imad said.
Regarding Mayor Manik’s comments, Masood 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.
Should MCC’s appeal to High Court fail to suspend the Civil Court’s order, MDP Spokesman Ghafoor stated it would be up to the National Executive Committee or the National Council to take the matter further.
“The reason for this would be because the MDP is being denied a constitutional right and cornerstone of the human rights based democracy we achieved through peaceful assembly,” he added.
The civil court’s ruling, which orders the area to be handed over within the next seven days, states that MMC’s current use of the area is in contradiction to the agreement made between the council, Ministry of Housing and Infrastructure, and Ministry of Finance and Treasury.
According to the agreement, the land “shall be kept empty for public use and that the land shall be developed in manner accessible to the public all times.”
Ghafoor further claimed the government has become “very adamant” in taking back control of land from local councils, alleging that the ultimate aim is to prevent freedom assembly.
Condoms and black magic: Previous Usfasgandu raid
In May 2012, Maldives’ cabinet announced its decision to hand over the Usfasgandu area to the Ministry of Housing and Environment.
Following the “non-compliance” of MCC in handing over the area, police were asked to intervene and “take over”.
Police raided the MDP protest camp at Usfasgandu on the morning of May 29, 2012, after obtaining a search warrant from the Criminal Court and cordoning off the area from MDP demonstrators.
Reasons for the search as stated on the warrant included: “suspected criminal activity”, “damage to public property”, and “suspected black magic performed in the area”.
Under evidence, the warrant alleged that people in the Usfasgandu area verbally abused police officers and damaged a police vehicle on April 20, obstructed a Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) exercise of May 9, and on May 25 “MDP protesters threw a cursed rooster at MNDF officers.”