The Maldives Police Services arrested 14 opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) female activists at 3:00pm from a protest at the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA).
The women were carrying posters calling for the release of former President Mohamed Nasheed, currently in police custody until the end of a controversial terrorism trial.
The MDP this week scaled up its protests, with letter campaigns, daily protests and motor cycle rallies under the banner “a last warning.”
A police spokesperson said the Freedom of Assembly Act bars protests at airports. Among those arrested are Deputy Mayor and MDP Women’s Wing President Shifa Mohamed and Women’s Wing Vice President Shaneez ‘Thanie’ Saeed.
Nasheed is charged with terrorism over the military detention of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012. The charges come amidst increasing tension in the Maldives following the MDP’s alliance with former ruling coalition partner Jumhooree Party (JP).
Shortly after the alliance was formed, police arrested President Abdulla Yameen’s Defense Minister Mohamed Nazim over a controversial weapons discovery at his house during a midnight raid.
Speaking to Minivan News, MDP Vice President Mohamed Shifaz said President Yameen had failed to listen to the people despite over 10,000 people taking to the streets in protest of what they call a lurch towards authoritarianism on February 27.
“On February 27 the people of Maldives showed that they are against the unjust prosecution of President Nasheed. But the government did not listen. So we will escalate our activities and see how far we have to go in order for the government to listen to us,” he said.
The MDP has planned a boat protest on the seas near Malé at 4pm on Friday and a rally in Malé on Friday night.
“This is a warning call. The government has to listen to its people,” Shifaz said.
The MDP claims the terrorism charges against Nasheed are unjust and have pointed to several irregularities in the trial, including two of the three judges in Nasheed’s trial having provided witness statements during a 2012 investigation into Judge Abdulla’s arrest.
The judges refused to step down from the bench and have ordered state prosecutors and defense lawyers not to name them as witnesses.
President’s Office Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali said the government welcomed peaceful political activity conducted within the limits of the Constitution.
“Violating the rights of people who are not joining your cause, or damaging their businesses and goods are not activities within the boundaries of the law,” he said.
Meanwhile, Commissioner of Police Hussein Waheed today said the opposition’s protests were aimed at discrediting and defaming the police, and said the police force had always followed best practices and continued to respect human rights in its interactions with protesters.
Police ranks would remain united despite the opposition’s attempts to disrupt public order through its daily protests, Waheed told 31 officers participating in a public order training today.
Speaking to opposition aligned Raajje TV, MDP Chairperson Ali Waheed today said the party would not respect an unfair verdict against Nasheed.
“We are in this struggle assuming there is a verdict against President Nasheed already. But we will not consider Nasheed’s candidacy to be void even due to this verdict, because this trial is unjust,” Waheed said.
Waheed’s comments came after a joint MDP and JP meeting with Home Minister Umar Naseer this morning.
He dismissed rumors that MDP would hold a General Assembly and elect a new President if Nasheed is convicted.
“MDP will not go on with our usual political agenda after sacrificing Nasheed’s freedom. That will not happen as long as I am the Chairperson of the party. We will not stop our work until we find solutions to the present problems and we will explore all channels in doing so.”
Waheed warned the government of increased unrest if Nasheed is to be jailed and called on the government to initiate reconciliatory talks.
“The government is mistaken if they think Maldives will stay calm after unjustly imprisoning Nasheed. Maldives will slide back 30 years. We will not stop our work to free President Nasheed. I want to say to the government that our nation will only be calm if our problems are sorted out through reconciliation,” he warned.
Despite the government’s claim it has no power over Nasheed’s prosecution, Waheed argued the responsibility rests on President Yameen’s shoulder.
“I believe the judiciary and other independent institution need to be reformed. But considering the situation of the nation we can’t blame them alone. President Yameen has to take full responsibility.”
Nasheed will come back stronger, he assured party members.
“In the few minutes that I was able to meet with Nasheed in Dhoonidhoo I saw confidence in him. He has sacrificed all his life for this ideology, for MDP. God willing Nasheed will come back even stronger.”