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.


MNBC journalists beaten, tasered during protest

State television journalist Moosa Naushad was attacked by approximately 15 individuals while filming the opposition-led protest outside Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation (MNBC) last evening.

Naushad was struck down from behind. After showing his media badge the badge was taken from him and he was continuously kicked and beaten while lying on the ground, MNBC Director Adam Shareef said.

MNBC Editor Thoyyib Shaheem intervened by showing his own media badge, but was tasered in the stomach. Naushad was taken to Indira Ghandi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) at 1:00am on January 24 where he was treated for a broken hand. Shareef said the journalist had sustained fractures in his shoulder blades and feet, but had no internal damage. Naushad had not been released from IGMH at time of press.

The protesters, including opposition Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MPs Ilham Ahmed and Ahmed Mahlouf, allegedly made violent gestures with stones and wooden sticks while advancing on the MNBC building. MNBC have asked why their offices and staff have been targeted, “as if MNBC was ruling this country.”

MDP supporters were also reported protesting near the judiciary, before heading south towards the Haruge and clashing with opposition supporters.

“Over the past several nights our reporters have been verbally abused, threatened and warned they would would be killed by hanging or drowning,” said an MNBC official.

Shareef said he had “no idea” why the media organisation has been targeted, but “we are a government company so perhaps that’s the reason.”

The opposition has claimed that the attackers came from the MDP Haruge and attacked Naushad after reportedly mistaking him for a VTV reporter.

Last night marked the tenth consecutive demonstration since two minority opposition party members were questioned for “hate speech” against the government. The situation developed after military forces took Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed into custody on January 16, after the government accused him of endemic corruption and political favoritism.

Although journalists have been targeted for the past several nights, Naushad’s beating was the most severe instance, Shareef said.

A photo of the attack on Naushad taken by a bystander

According to Shareef the two sides have not had any direct communication over the situation: “the opposition doesn’t want to talk to us, they are boycotting us as a state broadcaster. But we don’t want to speak with them either,” he said, adding that Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) and the Broadcasting Commission have released statements on the matter.

President of the MJA Ahmed ‘Hiriga’ Zahir on Wednesday said that the MJA had released a statement condemning both the attack on Naushad and damage to the offices of DhiTV as soon as he learned of the attacks.

President Mohamed Nasheed’s Press Secretary, Mohamed Zuhair, meanwhile blamed the attack on opposition parties and condemned them for “lurching towards violence, thuggery and intimidation in order to achieve their political ends.”

In a statement, he called on opposition parties to “respect journalists’ right to report the news free from fear or intimidation.”

While MNBC journalists “are not afraid”, Shareef said the state broadcaster will no longer be covering anti-government protests on-site.

“I don’t want to lose my staff. If possible we will have a live feed, but in any case we will cover the whole story, every point,” he said.

Police estimated that between 300 and 400 protesters turned out last night, and claimed that aside from the attack on Naushad only “a few minor injuries” were sustained. After being dispersed at midnight the crowd spread “throughout the city, between the Maldives Monetary Authority building and the [ruling] Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Haruge.”

Police understand that another protest is scheduled for 9:00pm on Tuesday evening.

As the protests continue opposition leaders are calling for extreme measures.

Speaking during last night’s protests, firebrand opposition politician Umar Naseer said bloodshed was not beyond the group’s means, according to MNBC reports. The station also reported that the Adhaalath Party’s Sheik Imran Abdulla, another protest leader, had called for jihad. Hours earlier Sheikh Imran had stated that “non-stop protests are maybe not the best way, even if it’s fighting for the citizens’ rights, as their time and businesses are affected” at a press conference.

PPM MPs Mahlouf and Illham were not responding to calls at time of press.


PPM still asking for Chief Judge’s release as violent protests continue

Police and Maldives National Defence Forces (MNDF) last night arrested 19 people during a violent protest outside the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) building near Republic Square, in which four police officers received minor injuries.

“The protest became violent when people started throwing bricks and other things,” said police Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef. “We tried to disperse them, and the protest spread throughout Male’ city.” Haneef said the protests continued until 1:25 am on Monday morning.

‘Sandhaanu’ Ahmed Ibrahim Didi, a council member of minority opposition Dhivehi Quamee Party (DQP), has been released. The other 18 individuals remain in custody.

However, Mulaku MP Abdulla Yameen was summoned to police headquarters this morning for questioning in regards in to an ongoing investigation. Local media reports that Yameen was due to leave for Sri Lanka this evening to meet foreign diplomats.

Police officials estimated that between 300 and 400 individuals associated with political opposition parties participated in last night’s protest, part of a trend which began when several opposition figures were detained for “hate speech” against the government nine days ago. Opposition-led protests demanding freedom of expression escalated when Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed was arrested by military forces seven days ago, shortly after he declared the arrest of the politicians unlawful.

Sub-Inspector Haneef said the protests were “of a high concern to the Male’ police service”, observing that last night’s protest was part of a developing trend of increasingly violent demonstrations.

Stating that military forces are prepared to assist police upon request, MNDF spokesperson Major Abdul Raheem added that “anytime there is violence it is a big concern of ours. We are always on alert and want to make sure Male’ is safe for residents.”

Meanwhile, the Security Services Committee (241 Committee) questioned MNDF Chief Major General Moosa Ali Jaleel and Police Commissioner Ahmed Faseeh  regarding the detention of the chief judge and the string of protests.

Local media reported that further hearings will be held. However, Minivan was unable to confirm the report with members of the 241 Committee at time of press.

Concerns about the protests were raised at Parliament’s National Security Committee last week by PPM MP Ahmed Mahlouf.

According to Committee Chair and MDP MP Ali Waheed, Mahlouf subsequently withdrew the case “because he didn’t want (MDP MP) ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik to be involved, and he didn’t like the way the investigation was going.”

“We offered dialogue, because we don’t want to stop work, we want to be democratic. In a committee we should be able to have dialogue and make a solution. But the opposition is trying to disrupt the process and make trouble everywhere in the country so the government can’t focus,” Waheed claimed.

Stating that the protests “are an issue of national security”, Waheed warned that disrupting committee procedures were “a means to an end.”

“Right now there are many ways to terrorise a country. Some use guns and bombs, some use language, and even now the way [former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s Progressive Party of the Maldives] is acting is a type of terrorism – they are trying to stop the whole system”, he said, observing that as the protests carry on with blocked roads and vandalised homes, “Male’s roads should not be used only by PPM.”

PPM MP Mahlouf had not responded to phone calls at time of press. However, party member Abdul Rasheed Nafiz said he understood that Mahlouf’s case was voted down during a committee session when MP Yameen was absent, and did not believe that the National Security Committee had the mandate to address the protests.

Nafiz said the protests were important for public expression however he believed the response was overblown.

“Police and military forces are both involved, which is a concern. Force is not required, when these people are gathering they keep silent until the police decide to disperse the crowd,” he claimed.

Acknowledging that a regulation prohibits demonstrations after midnight and at certain locations – such as Republic Square, located next to the MMA building – Nafiz pointed out that “neither side has obeyed that regulation, and even a small regulation can’t limit the freedoms granted in the Constitution.”

During his time as a Parliament member, Nafiz said, he suggested regulations on public protests “because Male’ is a small place and people are saying things that are hard for families and small children to hear. We have a culture and a religion to respect as well. But at the time the proposal was attacked and now people can hold protests when and where they like.”

Nafiz said he believed restoring peace “depends on the chief judge’s release.”

“Opposition parties are willing to bring an end to the protests through negotiation, but the government should release the judge first,” he said, noting that a group of lawyers had today forwarded the case to the International Criminal Court (ICC), of which the Maldives recently became a member.

“This is really a legal issue, and a mediator is needed. The question is ‘who’. Now is the time for the international community to get involved”, he said.

Yesterday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that it had requested an international legal delegation from the United Nations’ Human Rights Commission to assist the Maldives.