Legal wrangling begins over MDP camp seizure

The seizure and dismantling of the Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) camp in the south-east coast of the capital by security forces has sparked debates over the legality of their actions.

The camp, often referred to as “Justice Square” at Lonuziyaaraiy Kolhu had served as the base for MDP protests since the resignation of former President Mohamed Nasheed in February.

During a press conference at Iskandar Koshi last night, Police Superintendant (SP)Ahmed Mohamed noted that the “operation [at the camp] was executed with regard to complaints received that major illegal activities were taking place”.

Following the raid, police displayed a case of beer cans and a barrel of home brewed alcohol – reportedly seized from the camp – to local media.

The SP also cited constitutional obligations which include the maintenance of law and order in the face of criminal activities as a reason for the dismantling of the camp.

“The violence in Male’ was also linked to the protesters who started the demonstrations from the Lonuziyaaraai area,” Mohamed alleged.

MDP’s response

Meanwhile, the MDP has denied all allegations about the camp and filed a civil suit against the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) and the Maldives Police Service (MPS) arguing that the security forces had acted unconstitutionally on a number of counts when dismantling the party’s camp.

In the first hearing of the case last night, the Attorney General’s (AG) Office justified the raid.  She argued that the raid was executed without a court order, on the grounds of suspected criminal activity in the camp, according to the head of the MDP’s legal team, Hissan Hussian, in an interview with Minivan News today.

According to the AG’s office, the suspected illegal activities negate any need for a court ordered warrant.

Hisan explained that the MDP’s defence calls on Article 19 of the constitution, amongst others.  These articles provide freedom from restraint in any activities unless the activities’ restraint is expressly authorized by law.

Should the veracity of the police’s suspicions be supported, they could provide the legal cover necessary to nullify this aspect of the MDP’s argument.

Additionally, the apparent discovery of alcohol at the camp yesterday may jeopardise the MDP’s defense under Article 19 which does not guarantee protection of any activities prohibited under Shari’ah.

The finding of alcohol has been questioned by the MDP, which has argued that a media blackout immediately following the military occupation gave time for such evidence to be planted.

Hissan claimed that basic rights to private property had been infringed due to the actions of security forces.

MDP spokesman Hamid Abdul Ghafoor meanwhile has complained that property belonging to the party members were seized during the raid and “nothing has been returned”.

“They [police] have even eaten the food [at the camp].” Ghafoor alleged.

Police however have stated that all property owned will be returned to the rightful owners and that officers “had not inflicted any damage to any item confiscated from the area.”

The other “reasonable limits” to which the constitution’s basic freedoms are subject to will no doubt form a major part of the next hearing which is scheduled for Wednesday at 4pm.

Ownership debate

Should the MDP’s constitutional arguments prevail, it is likely that they will still have to overcome the issues of jurisdiction regarding the camp area.

Attorney General Azima Shukoor was reported as having told local media yesterday that the area around the tsunami monument belonged to the Maldives National Defence Force, invalidating any deals made between the MDP and the Maldives City Council (MCC).

This argument has been used before by the Defense Ministry who have argued that 3,800 square metres of the south-eastern corner of Male’ were granted to the MNDF in 1997 owing to its strategic significance. State Minister Muizz Adnan confirmed to Haveeru on March 14 that this was the case.

This claim is disputed by Hissan who felt this agreement was superseded by the 2010 Decentralisation Act, under which the land was transferred to the MCC. The land was then leased to the MDP, with the lease running until the end of July.

This view has been corroborated by Mayor of Male City, Ali Manik, who also told Haveeru that the council had not been informed of the security forces’ intentions.

The Attorney General’s Office explained during the court hearing on Monday night that the reason a court order was not required was because the space was a public one.  Attorney General Shukoor referred Minivan News to the police for further comment on the issue.

Hassan Latheef of the MDP’s legal team doubts that this argument is “watertight”.

“Ninety-five percent of Male’ belongs to the state, so this is a questionable policy. There should be a warrant. One should not go into private property,” said Latheef.

Controversy over the area’s use has been building for some time. The decision to extend the MDP’s use of the area until the end of July was contested, with Council member Ibrahim Shujau in particular feeling that it was unfair that one group monopolise a public space for such a length of time.

Local media recently alleged that the MCC had denied a medical emergency helicopter from using the area’s helipad.

Similarly, there have been reports of complaints being made regarding the noise created by the camp and the disturbances caused to local residents.