Police cannot order MDP to vacate Usfasgandu, Civil Court rules

The Maldives Police Service does not have legal authority to order the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) to vacate its ‘Usfasgandu’ protest camp on May 29, the Civil Court ruled today.

On May 29, police raided Usfasgandu with a search warrant from the Criminal Court and ordered the MDP to vacate the area before 10pm, after which the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) began dismantling the protest camp.

The Civil Court however issued an injunction ordering the security forces to halt the dismantling after the MDP challenged the legality of the operation. The injunction was to stand until the court reached a verdict and was later upheld by the High Court.

Police had obtained a warrant to search Usfasgandu on the grounds that the MDP was using the area as a hub for criminal activity and black magic.

Police alleged that people in the Usfasgandu area verbally abused police officers and damaged a police vehicle on April 20, obstructed a Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) exercise on May 9, and that, on May 25 “MDP protesters threw a cursed rooster at MNDF officers.”

MDP lawyers however argued at court that the warrant did not provide a legal basis to dismantle the demonstration area.

Following the dismantling of the MDP’s protest camp at the tsunami memorial area on March 19, the Male’ City Council (MCC) leased the Usfasgandu area to the former ruling party for three months, prompting repeated attempts by the government to reclaim the area.

The MCC – which has nine MDP councillors and two government-aligned Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) councillors – however refused to hand over the area to the Housing Ministry despite a cabinet decision authorising the Housing Ministry to reclaim the plot.

In its verdict today, the Civil Court noted that legal dispute between the MCC and Housing over guardianship of the Usfasgandu area could only be settled once the Civil Court reached a verdict on a separate case filed by the ministry requesting the MCC be ordered to hand over the plot.

As the MDP had a legally binding agreement with the MCC for use of the area, Judge Hathif Hilmy ruled that police could not infringe on the rights of the MDP as it was not party to the dispute between the MCC and the Housing Ministry.

Police therefore could not enforce the position of one party in a civil dispute without a court order as such an action would violate the constitutional rights of administrative fairness and equality (articles 17 and 20) of the other party.

Moreover, police could not infringe on the MDP’s right to use the leased land during its investigation of alleged criminal activity, Judge Hathif Hilmy ruled.

The Civil Court ruling today invalidated the police letter on May 29 ordering the MDP to vacate Usfasgandu or face confiscation of property.