Opposition protests continue as President calls for return to article 285

Opposition protests on Male’ continued over the weekend against the military’s detention of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed, and a proposal to withold lower court salaries until the judiciary is lawfully appointed in accordance with Article 285 of the Constitution.

Judge Abdulla Mohamed was arrested by the military on January 16 after he attempted to block his own police summons. Charges against him include 14 counts of obstructing police duty, “hijacking the court” and other corrupt professional dealings.

For the past two weeks opposition-led demonstrations have taken place outside the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) building, the closest point to the no-protest zone surrounding Republic Square, the President’s Office and other official buildings. After attempting to advance on Republic Square around midnight, smaller protests have spread to other parts of the city.

Activities this weekend have ceased by 1:30 am each evening, Police Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef said.

On Thursday evening opposition leaders including Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) Vice President Umar Naseer addressed an attentive crowd – approximately 200 young and old men and a few older women – from atop a van parked outside the MMA building. Starting at 9:00pm, speakers listed their concerns, made allegations against the current government and requested a fair trial for the judge.

“This is a dictatorship, this here, it is all dictatorship,” several protesters told Minivan News, while another claimed “the President is a drunkard and a [drug] addict.”

After a group prayer the crowd retreated in preparation for an advance on Republic Square. Following a swift surge from behind the fish market to the police barricade in front of the MMA building, protesters were held at bay by police forces armed with body-length plastic shields. Civilians shouted, criticised and laughed from nearby alleys as police and protesters retreated from the no-protest zone.

Around 12:30 am police used pepper spray to disperse the crowd, following violent scuffles.

During a clash in which protesters allegedly hurled pavement bricks, Haveeru photographer Ibrahim ‘Dodi’ Faid sustained a blow to his head. He was treated at ADK hospital.

PPM activist Ahmed ‘Maaz’ Saleem was taken to Indira Ghandi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) following a blow to his leg, local media reported.

By the end of Thursday evening police had arrested 22 individuals including PPM MP Ahmed Nihan Hussain Manik and former SAARC Secretary General Dhiyana Saeed, who recently resigned from her SAARC post after criticising the government’s order to detain Judge Abdulla Mohamed.

As the protestors dispersed, Saeed and two unidentified women sat in Republic Square, Haneef said. After refusing to leave the three women were taken into police custody for approximately five minutes before being released.

Of the 22 individuals arrested 17 were transferred to Dhoonidhoo Detention Centre. All were released on Friday, Haneef said.

Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) also arrested an individual from Henveiru ward carrying a large knife after the protests on Thursday night. Minivan News was informed that the knife was an ornate “war” knife approximately one and a half feet long.

Haneef confirmed that the individual was in custody and an investigation was underway.

On Friday the protests continued in the same location while ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) rallied at party headquarters on Ameenee Magu.

According to local media, PPM MP Saleem returned to the MMA building area in a wheelchair to join protestors who broke through police barricades and sat in an open area nearby.

PPM MPs Riyaz Rasheed and Ilham Ahmed meanwhile were allowed into police headquarters where they requested a meeting with Police Commissioner Ahmed Faseeh, local media reported. An appointment has not been set.

Police report no violence or use of pepper spray during Friday’s protest, however four individuals were arrested and are currently being held at Dhoonidhoo.

As the protests look to stretch into their third week, Haneef said police are “still doing our duties as usual. We are not fatigued.”

He added that MNDF will maintain its position outside state television station Maldives National Broadcasting Company (MNBC), following targeted attacks last week in which journalists were beaten and tasered by protesters. The journalist who was beaten, Moosa Naushad, has been sent for medical treatment in India following injuries to his back and hand.

Protest leaders have pledged to continue the street demonstrations if their demands are not met. On January 26 MNDF rejected a High Court order to produce the judge.