Opposition condemns “arbitrary arrest” of 15 protesters during anti-government demonstration

Police on Friday have arrested 15 Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) activists at the party’s protest site ‘Usfasgandu’, during an anti-government demonstration.

Police said the demonstrators were arrested on charges of “breaking the police barricades” and “obstructing police duty”.

The police had previously cordoned off the party’s protest site  after the High Court ordered police to repossess the area until it delivered a verdict in an ownership dispute between Male’ City Council (MCC) and the Housing Ministry.

Over a thousand MDP demonstrators took to the streets of Male’ on Friday, calling for President Mohamed Waheed Hassan to immediately step down along with other government figures including Defense Minister Mohamed Nazim and Commissioner of Police Abdulla Riyaz.

The demonstration was led by senior figures of the party including former Chairperson MP Mariya Ahmed Didi and several ministers of the former government, who repeated the call for a caretaker-administration prior to scheduled presidential elections on September 9.

“The Maldives Police Service on strictest terms condemn the act of obstruction of police duty while this service was executing the order of High Court to cordon off the area,” read the police statement. Police said that out of the 15 arrested, two had been female protesters.

Speaking to Minivan News, police media official sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef said police had only arrested protesters who broke through police lines.

“We only arrested the people who broke the police line and entered the area. We did not target any political figures nor did we see which party the arrested individuals belonged to,” he said.

The arrested demonstrators were presented to court this afternoon, which extended the detention period of the protesters by five days.

Minivan News understands that among those currently in police custody include Male’ City Councilor Mohamed Falah and MDP Youth Wing President Aminath Shauna.

A protester who was present at the time disputed police allegations that demonstrators broke through police lines.

“We were just standing behind the barricades when they came in, we didn’t even move or run. We just stayed there, we didn’t even call them ‘baaghee’ (traitor) but we kept on telling them they should give a proper reason for arresting a person, they just can’t take people for no reason,” the protester told Minivan News.

Demonstrators kept questioning the police as to why they were making the arrests when none of them had crossed the police line.

“We kept on asking what the [the arrested protesters] had done. After taking in a few protesters, they came towards us and took Shauna. They came towards her and said she had to come with them whether she liked it or not. Two to three of us were holding her when they took her,” she added.

Meanwhile, the MDP in a statement called for immediate release of its members claiming the activists were arrested for their “illustrious work to defend freedom of assembly and freedom of expression” in the country.

“The MDP condemns in the strongest terms the police swoop into the rally as a politically motivated and premeditated illegal incursion to arrest a specific target list of highly dedicated party workers.

“Eyewitness reports have established that today’s foray also was characterised by high-handedness and needless force typical to the Police Special Operations squads in the clutches of a usurper police commissioner and usurper government,” read the statement.

The party also condemned “false reporting” of the incident by some local media outlets, who claimed that protesters “had breached police lines”, which the party alleged were “outright lies”.

Speaking to Minivan News, MDP Spokesperson MP Imthiyaz Fahmy suggested the arrests were a result of lack of a mechanism to hold the police officers accountable for arbitrary arrests.

“There is absolutely no way to hold the police accountable,” he said. “They know that everything will be settled once they take the protester to court. The Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) and the Police Integrity Commission (PIC)’s failure to hold the officers accountable means they can take full advantage of their impunity.”

Fahmy also dismissed claims made by police that those arrested had broken police lines.

“While I was there a group of police barged into the protest and randomly arrested a few people after looking at their faces. We did not break the police line. That is an outright lie,” he added.

If police can be held accountable for their actions, Fahmy said such arrests would not take place and freedom to carry out peaceful political activities would not be compromised.

After weeks of quiet in Male’, the MDP resumed their protests against the government on January 22,  led by former President Mohamed Nasheed.

Nasheed during the demonstration called on parliament to create an interim, caretaker administration “which can lead the country towards a genuinely free and fair presidential election in which all candidates are able to freely compete.”

MDP Spokesperson MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor told Minivan News at the time that the party planned to hold more assemblies and protests in next coming months around Male’.

“The MDP have been off the streets some time, we have taken a break. Now we are back. We have too many options and ideas opening up and people need to know what’s going on,” Ghafoor said.