Comment: What went wrong on June 12?

When ex-president Mohamed Nasheed was arrested on February 22, we protested every night, for three months. We signed petitions. We took to the streets in the tens of thousands on February 27 and May 1. Our MPs disrupted parliament. Our former rivals, the Adhaalath Party and the Jumhooree Party, allied with us. The international community denounced President Abdulla Yameen’s increasingly authoritarian tactics to remain in power.

But on June 12, only some 2,000 people took to the streets for the planned sit-in. What went wrong?

The June 12 protest was aimless. In the weeks leading up to June 12, opposition leaders were preparing for talks with the government, not for a mass protest. The MDP had even come up with a draft position paper outlining a roadmap for political reconciliation. Opposition MPs had ended their parliamentary siege. Why stage a sit-in to reiterate the same demands? Why protest when we had forced President Yameen to capitulate and call for talks after the May Day protest?

On February 27, the Jumhooree Party let us down. But we scared the government by our numbers. On May 1, despite all the intimidation and threats by the government, we turned up again with twice the number of people. We did not manage to enter Malé’s Republic Square or topple President Yameen’s government as hoped. Instead, nearly 200 people were arrested. The police could not cope with the large number of detainees at Dhoonidhoo.

But a president who had refused to sit for talks before, relented.

True, President Yameen continues to rule out negotiations on Nasheed and ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim’s release. But the gesture for talks, regardless of how insincere it may be, is a win for us. The government’s lack of sincerity is not surprising. They were forced to call for talks.

Our leaders were not prepared for June 12 or a prolonged sit-in. Their demands were not clear. There was no hype in the lead-up either. Bad weather in the first week of June, the Dhiraagu Road Race which was scheduled for the same day and the approaching month of Ramadan had cast doubt on whether the protest would even take place. The government, meanwhile, dismissed dozens of employees, and threatened many with charges that carry a prison term. But the poor turnout was because the protest was not organized well and its purpose was not clear.

We are still angry. We do not give up. We will turn up to protest again. But first, we must allow the government time to respond to our demands.

If they do not accept all-party talks and release all political prisoners, then we must prepare to shut Malé City down.

A march through the streets of Malé will not do. We must stand our ground, and we must fill the prisons. There is discontent among the security forces. But they will only splinter if we hold the streets for days.

June 12 was a minor setback, but one to learn lessons from. The international community is watching. US Senators John Mc Cain and Jack Reed’s letter calling for Nasheed’s release is not an isolated event. It shows international pressure is growing. The European Union parliament is with us. We must continue our protests. The Maldives is not Myanmar, Zimbabwe or Egypt. We cannot afford to isolate ourselves from the world when our economy depends on tourism.

Photo by Shaari

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June 12: Back to the streets

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Photos by Shaari

Maldivians took to the streets for a third mass protest on June 12 calling for the release of “political prisoners.” Turnout was much lower than expected at just more than 2,000 people. Thousands staged a sit-in at Malé’s central junction, but police used pepper-spray to disperse the protesters at midnight. The police also confiscated sound systems and podiums used at the sit-in.

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Opposition ‘prepared for prolonged sit-in’

The opposition has asked supporters to prepare for a prolonged sit-in on Malé’s thoroughfare Majeedhee Magu tomorrow (June 12), and have notified the police that the protest may last for three days.

“We will continue to protest as long as we can peacefully continue,” said Ibrahim ‘Ibu’ Mohamed Solih, MP of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

The Maldivians Against Tyranny coalition – which consists of the MDP, the Adhaalath Party, members of the Jumhooree Party (JP) and family members of jailed politicians – is protesting over the imprisonment of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed and ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim, and the targeting of opposition businesses.

Supporters have been told to wear comfortable clothes and gather at the opposition’s campaign office near at the Artificial Beach area at 8:30pm.

Organizers stressed that the sit-in will be peaceful, but declined to reveal further details of plans for the protest.

The sit-in is the third mass protest called by the opposition. Some 10,000 protesters marched on February 27, while some 20,000 protested on May Day.

President Abdulla Yameen is in China, and due back on June 16.

#BaaraHayeh15

MDP has set a hash tag for the sit-in, #BaaraHayeh15, reflecting the date of the protest. Supporters are also using #OccupyMajeedheeMagu and have set up a blog with news of the event.

Mohamed Shifaz, the MDP vice-president, said some 5,000 supporters from the Maldives’ remote atolls will converge on Malé for the protest. Some 2,000 have already arrived, he said.

“The largest groups are coming from the southern Addu atolls, central Laamu and Alif Atolls and northern Noonu and Haa Alif atolls,” Shifaz said.

He also assured supporters that the leadership will remain with protesters throughout the protest.

Key opposition figures are in prison or abroad. The JP’s deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim and council member Sobah Rasheed left the Maldives shortly before the Prosecutor General’s office pressed terrorism charges on a claim of inciting violence at the May Day protest.

Sobah has since said he is seeking political asylum abroad.

Adhaalath President Sheikh Imran Abdulla is in police custody, awaiting the conclusion of a terrorism trial, also on charges of inciting violence.

The MDP chairperson Ali Waheed, who was arrested on May 1 along with Imran and Ameen, is abroad in an unspecified country for medical treatment.

Obstructions

MP Ibu has denounced what he called the government’s attempts to disrupt the protest.

The biannual street market in Malé was due to end on June 8, but extended until June 13. The organizers said the extension was necessary due to heavy rain last week.

Ibu also said the government had pushed back a sermon by Islamic Scholar Mufti Menk from June 11 to the night of June 12. The coalition had chosen June 12 because the government had initially set the sermon for Thursday, he said.

The Elections Commission has meanwhile fined the MDP and the Adhaalath Party for “unlawful acts” during the May Day demonstration. The MDP is fined with MVR 53,000 (US$ 3,437) and the Adhaalath Party was handed a fine of MVR 69,000 (US$4,475).

Reconciliation

The demonstration is taking place in a more conciliatory political environment than May 1.

President Abdulla Yameen called for separate talks with the allied opposition parties. He has, however, ruled out negotiations on Nasheed and Nazim’s release.

A police spokesperson said officers will cooperate with the protesters if the sit-in remains peaceful. While the opposition has criticized the police for requiring a notice before the protest, the police official said the notice did not amount to seeking permission, but only to allow police to make arrangements for public safety.

The police, however, have also announced that the military has guaranteed support for the June 12 protest.

JP representatives met with cabinet ministers yesterday, and asked the government to facilitate joint talks between all parties, freeing opposition politicians in jail or facing criminal prosecution, ensuring judicial independence and protecting investors.

JP leader and tourism tycoon Gasim Ibrahim has been in Bangkok since late April. According to local media, the criminal court has issued an arrest warrant for Gasim on charges of financing the May Day protest.

Nearly 200 people were arrested on May Day.

Opposition MPs, meanwhile, are no longer protesting in the People’s Majlis.

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Opposition to stage a sit-in on June 12

The opposition will stage a mass peaceful sit-in on the capital Malé’s thoroughfare Majeedhee Magu on June 12.

The sit-in signals a change in tactics by the Maldivians Against Tyranny coalition. The opposition’s first mass demonstration on February 27 ended abruptly at 6pm, while the second mass demonstration ended in a police crackdown when protesters attempted to take the restricted Republic Square on May 1.

MP of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), Ibrahim ‘Ibu’ Mohamed Solih, said: “We are once again, taking to the streets to end tyranny. We cannot achieve our goals in one day with just one action. So on June 12, we will raise our voices again.”

Supporters are to gather at 8:30pm at the opposition’s campaign offices or Haruge at the Artificial Beach.

The opposition is protesting over the jailing of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed and ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim in rushed trials criticised for apparent lack of due process.

The tax authority’s decision to freeze Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim’s businesses over a US$90.4 million claim is another key concern. The MP’s Villa Group claims the fine is unlawful and is contesting it at the civil court.

“We will gather at the Haruge, walk to Majeedhee Magu and stage a peaceful sit-in. We will raise our voices. Depending on the results, we will, if we have to, take to the streets again,” Ibu said.

The coalition consists of MDP, the religious conservative Adhaalath Party, members of the JP and defectors from the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives.

JP members were absent at today’s press conference.

Two JP officials who played a lead role in the coalition, deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim and council member Sobah Rasheed, left the country shortly before terrorism charges were pressed over the May Day protest.

Adhaalath Party president Sheikh Imran Abdulla, also charged with terrorism, is in police custody until the trial ends.

Independent MP Ahmed Mahloof said today: “We must not fall back to the government’s, President Yameen’s intimidation. We will not fall back. The [government] is attempting to jail those who come out with us on charges of terrorism, but I for one, I will remain steadfast.”

Nearly 200 people were arrested at the May Day protest, the largest number of arrests from a single protest in a decade. An additional 15 were arrested on charges of assaulting a police officer.

The police have since obstructed the coalition’s attempts at street protests by limiting protests to the pavements, banning the use of speakers beyond 11pm, and requiring permission for the use of four-wheeled vehicles in protests.

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Opposition announces mass protest for June 12

The allied opposition parties have called for a third mass demonstration for June 12 as President Abdulla Yameen reiterated appeals for negotiations over continuing political turmoil.

The call for a new protest comes weeks after police arrested nearly 200 people, including opposition leaders, from a historic anti-government protest on May 1.

The “large-scale peaceful rally” will be lawful, the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ibrahim ‘Ibu’ Mohamed Solih said today. He appealed for support from the security forces.

“We call upon all institutions, especially the security forces, to cooperate with us for the rally, and not to obstruct the citizen’s from fulfilling their constitutional responsibility,” he said.

The ‘Maldivians against tyranny’ alliance is protesting against alleged government authoritarianism and demanding the release of jailed ex-president Mohamed Nasheed and ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim.

Nearly 20,000 people took to the streets on May 1 in what is thought to be the largest anti-government protest in Maldivian history.

The coalition’s activities had slowed down following the May Day crackdown. Police had declared the protest unlawful, arrested the leaders of the three allied parties and used tear gas, stun grenades, pepper spray and baton charges to disperse protesters.

Adhaalath Party president Sheikh Imran Abdulla and MDP chairperson Ali Waheed remain in police custody. Jumhooree Party deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim was released by an appellate court.

President Abdulla Yameen has meanwhile called for negotiations, but has ruled out discussions over Nasheed and Nazim’s imprisonment, saying he has no authority over their release.

The opposition has questioned the president’s “sincerity,” but JP has accepted the invitation, while the Adhaalath says it will sit down with the government once Sheikh Imran is released. The MDP is yet to make a statement on the invitation.

“There is no room to question our sincerity. We will find out whether the government is sincere or if the opposition is sincere when we reach the negotiating table,” president Yameen said at a press conference today.

He insisted that all-party talks must prioritise national interest: “The biggest issues in the country do not include the conviction of criminals or their next steps.”

He urged Nasheed to appeal, saying the president can only help when the appeal process is completed.

Nasheed’s lawyers said the criminal court prevented them from lodging an appeal by refusing to hand over the required court transcripts within the shortened ten-day time frame. The government insists Nasheed can still appeal, but his lawyers say the law, amended by the Supreme Court, is silent on late appeals.

“If the opposition claims to protects the people’s rights, then come negotiate with us. The government is ready to accept the issues raised by the opposition with cooperation, so come to negotiate,” he said.

Journalists were barred from carrying phones during the press conference, but recorders and cameras were allowed.

Responding to the president’s comments, Ibu today said the MDP will answer the government in writing on Thursday. The MDP is holding a national council meeting tonight.

“Even at the beginning of our activities we have called upon the government for dialogue, to find solutions through discussions. We see this as President Yameen’s answer to our calls,” he said.

The MDP will take the lead in organising the June 12 demonstration, Ibu said. The JP had led the protest on Februray 27 and Adhaalath Party had claimed responsibility for the May 1 rally.

The coalition says it will visit various islands in the coming weeks to canvass for support. Nearly 7000 islanders joined the protest in Malé on May Day.

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