The opposition alliance have vowed to continue anti-government protests tonight despite the arrest of 193 protesters and leaders of the allied parties after clashes at yesterday’s May Day rally.
Police have meanwhile threatened to break up any demonstration held without prior notice as soon as it starts. The ‘Maldivians against tyranny’ coalition has urged supporters to gather at the artificial beach at 9:00pm.
The goal of the May Day protest march was to “bring an end to brutality,” but was met with a brutal police crackdown, said main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ibrahim Mohamed Solih ‘Ibu’ after a meeting of the alliance’s steering committee.
Police have said that protesters assaulted police officers, damaged the property of the security services and the public, and disrupted public order and safety. Two police officers have been flown to Sri Lanka for treatment of injuries.
However, opposition leaders accused police of using “excessive and disproportionate force” against protesters after 30,000 people took to the streets of the capital.
Police cracked down with tear gas, pepper spray, stun grenades, and baton charges after protesters attempted to enter the ‘green zone’ to perform dusk prayers at the Islamic centre. Gatherings are prohibited at the Republic square in front of the mosque.
Ibu said the alliance had planned to pray on the street after marching to the western end of Majeedhee Magu, but the leadership decided to pray at the Islamic centre as police had told the AP that no protest activity should take place between dusk and evening prayers.
While such an order was unconstitutional, Ibu said the opposition leaders decided not to carry out any activities during the specified period.
“We had a plan. We tried for the people gathered with us to the Islamic centre any way they could. But you saw how police acted after that,” he said.
Responding to criticism of the opposition leaders “fleeing” the scene after the crackdown, Sheikh Mohamed Didi from the Adhaalath Party said the leaders went to pray at nearby homes when it became clear they could not enter the Islamic centre.
Former ruling party MP Ahmed Mahloof said reports suggested the number of people arrested yesterday could be as high as 280 and not 193 as police have said.
“We are clarifying this information. This number of people have never been arrested in Maldivian history,” he said.
Mahloof also criticised the Police Integrity Commission for claiming police had acted professionally and with restraint. The independent MP said police beat up several protesters.
Further clashes took place at 8pm after protesters regrouped at Chandhanee Magu with Specialist Operations (SO) officers periodically charged the crowd and made dozens of arrest.
Police have made public video footage of protesters tripping and beating up a lone SO officer. The officer was rescued by protesters and brought behind police lines, prompting a baton charge. Police said another officer was injured when a protest pickup broke through police lines near the fish market.
Ibu said pro-government supporters had infiltrated the crowd yesterday and that the alliance is looking into the assault of the police officer on Chaandhanee Magu to determine who was involved.
Mahloof claimed the incident occurred shortly after an SO pickup charged into the crowd at high speed, which angered the protesters.
The alliance regrets the incident and does not encourage violence, he said, and suggested that the officer might have been assaulted by gangs paid by the government.
Local media reported officials at the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGHM) as saying that neither the police officers nor protesters suffered serious injuries. Five police officers and six civilians were treated at IGMH while four protesters were treated at ADK.
Meanwhile, invoking authority under the 2013 freedom of assembly law to restrict the constitutional right to protest, police announced today that further protests will not be allowed unless police are given advance notice.
“We notify protest organisers that gatherings held without giving notice or providing full information to police will be stopped at the time of commencement,” the Maldives Police Service warned in a statement this afternoon.
The 2013 law requires organisers to uphold public interest and notify police if the protest is to take place on public roads. The law also states that the right to assembly can be limited in the interests of maintaining national security, public order, and stability.