Fresh protests erupt after police dismantle MDP camp at Usfasgandu

Police cracked down on a fresh wave of demonstrations that erupted in Male’ on Tuesday, after police raided the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)’s protest camp ‘Usfasgandu’ and later began dismantling it.

The demonstrations were sparked following a MDP National Council meeting held right next to the police barricades near the swimming tracks. The clustered meeting of 43 members of the council took the stand that “enough was enough” and that party should take  to the streets to get their constitutional rights.

Immediately, 400 protesters gathered in the area to challenge the legitimacy of police and demand the return of Usfasgandu, saying that they had not done anything violent. Minivan News observed objects thrown at police barricades, which triggered a brutal police crackdown leading to arrests and injuries.

Minivan News observed one protester sustain a head injury after he was hit in the head by a police baton, and was taken to the hospital in a pickup truck refueling at the nearby petrol shed.

Minivan News also observed a cameraman from local TV station Raajje TV being pepper-sprayed by police while he was attempting to film police arresting a protester.

The confrontations between the police and the protesters continued up until around 6:45pm whereupon the protesters made several attempts to cross the police barricades towards Usfasgandu. The frustrated protesters threw two police barricades into the swimming tracks.

At around 8:45 pm the protesters left the area and headed towards the junction of Majeedhee Magu and Chaandhanee Magu in the centre of Male’.

Protesters gathered in the intersection calling for an end to police brutality and for the resignation of President Mohamed Waheed Hassan and senior officials of the government, including Home Minister Mohamed Jameel and Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim, claiming that that the government came to power by a coup d’état. The protesters also called for early elections.

Soon after the protesters gathered, a lorry arrived with a sound system and participants began chanting over a mega phone.

The protesters said they had gathered in the area because the police had taken over their protest camp at Usfasgandu, and called on police to leave the camp.

At about 10:00pm, two vehicles containing police in riot gear arrived at the protesting area and began dispersing the crowd, which lead to heated confrontations between the police and the protesters. The police resorted to tear gas and pepper spray, and more protesters were arrested.

During the confrontations, the window of a shop in Majeedhee Magu was smashed after it was hit by an by an object thrown during the confrontations.

During the crackdown, police were seen using pepper spray on several bystanders who were standing in front of their houses on Majeedhee Magu who had not taken part in the protest.

At about 11:30pm, an injured young protester was taken into a nearby house, and then to hospital.

At the same time, some protesters again began gathering near the swimming track and the petrol sheds on Boduthakurufaanu Magu, where the protests earlier began.

Earlier at about 9:30 pm, the Civil Court issued a temporary injunction ordering the police and the military to stop dismantling the protest camp at Usfasgandu. The Criminal Court had earlier issued police only a search warrant.

The police let two protesters inside the police barricades near Usfasgandu after they produced a copy of the court order.

At about 12:10am, a group of pro-government supporters arrived and confronted the protesters, leading to heated arguments.

The protests ended at about 12:40am in the morning. Police revealed that 56 arrests had been made during the clashes, out of which two had been released at time of press. Those arrested included MDP MP and Spokesperson Imthiyaz Fahmy, the wife of former Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem, and two MDP councilors.

Confronted on twitter about the arrest of Naseem’s wife, President Mohamed Waheed tweeted back: “I am sorry to hear about Mana. I did all I can to expedite her release.”

Speaking to Minivan News, Police Media Official Sub Inspector Hassan Haneef confirmed that a total of 56 protesters were arrested. He confirmed that out of the 56 arrestees, two had been released.

During the skirmishes, Minivan News observed a 17 year-old boy being arrested by police. Police Spokesperson Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef said that police had no record of the arrest of a minor.

“Even though it is not on our records, there may have been an arrest made, but he was not taken into custody,” said Haneef.

Minivan News understands the boy’s name is Hamdhaan Mohamed, who is at time of press was summoned to Criminal Court for extension of his detention period.

When Minivan News asked about the pepper spraying of Raajje TV Journalist, Haneef said that police would not have done it deliberately, and the cameraman may have been the unfortunate recipient of a pepper spraying that targeted at protesters.

“The police during such a time would not be able to distinguish between innocent observers and violent protesters. So there are chances that even someone who was observing might get pepper sprayed,” he explained.

“That is why we issue a warning before we begin dismantling the crowds. No one is supposed to stay after the warning is issued,” he added.

A photo of the incident on Sun Online appeared to show the cameraman was wearing a media pass and was directly targeted with the spray. Haneef maintained that it was difficult to identify a person.

“How can we see whether he had a MDP pass or DRP pass or a DhiTV pass?” he questioned.

He maintained that he was certain that the “boys” would not do such a thing deliberately, but he said if such a thing had happened, there was a mechanism to file a complaint.

“I am not saying such a thing happened but if it did, the person can lodge a complaint with Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM), the Police Intergrity Commission or even us, we would then look into it,” he added.

Not a good sign: MDP

Speaking to Minivan News, MDP Spokesperson MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor alleged that the police were cooperating with “thugs from the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM)”, accusing them of infiltrating the peaceful protests to incite violent responses from the police.

“We have experienced all this in 2005, we have dealt with this mentality before, but now a large section of the population is aware of their rights and the stage is huge,” he warned.

“Tensions are high because of frustrations around the party talks and the commission of national inquiry, and that the administration is fragmented and not in control – this could be headed to a fist fight,” he added.

Ghafoor claimed in addition that a number of people in the national council had decided that they would no longer recognise the authority of the police as they had mutinied, and that some people had walked through the barricades.

“Lots of people were very angry [over the police actions],” he remarked.

He said that the police were “not acting like police”.

“The institution has broken down so much that people are having trouble believing there are innocent police out there on the street. Police are acting with impunity and clearly breaking the law, by sealing off the Usfasgandu area,” he said.

“People are talking about standing up to police and this is not a good sign.”

A female protester told Minivan News that the actions of the police were “animalistic” and “barbarian”.

“They were like animals at that time. Brutality has gone way out of control. They would stay at a distance and then they would barge in like barbarians and take away those that even were not a part of the protests,” she said.

The protester alleged that police had pre-identified political targets and sought to arrest them in the chaos.

Police crackdown on demonstrators near the Usfasgandu barricades:


Condoms and black magic: police raid Usfasgandu

Additional reporting by Daniel Bosley

Police raided the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) protest camp at Usfasgandu this morning, after obtaining a search warrant from the Criminal Court and cordoning off the area from MDP demonstrators.

MDP MP Mariya Ahmed Didi was inside the cordon showing the warrant to a group of media representatives shortly after 8:00am, as dozens of police began to gather in the area.

Reasons for the search as stated on the warrant included: “suspected criminal activity”, “damage to public property”, and “suspected black magic performed in the area”.

Under evidence, the warrant 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 of May 9, and on May 25 “MDP protesters threw a cursed rooster at MNDF officers.”

As blue-gloved officers from the Drug Enforcement Department (DED) arrived, a group of largely female protesters began to gather at the barricades set up near the STELCO building. The barricade was itself lightly manned by police, however a group of police stationed further back near the Dharubaaruge convention centre were equipped with riot shields, gas masks and rubber bullet guns.

The crowd was noisy and upset, but non-violent. An altercation erupted at the front between a group of women and several young men, whom protesters claimed had been sent by a government-affiliated party to provoke the crowd. Minivan News later observed one of these men being arrested by police after trying to break through the barricade.

Meanwhile, DED officers fanned out at the Usfasgandu site and began poking through plants and debris around the padlocked container under the main stage. A large group of police on the other side were picking through rocks along the seawall, while a police boat waited outside the harbour.

Media raced over to photograph the first discovery, retrieved from a nearby bush: cigarette butts and a brown substance wrapped in an MDP membership form. Police near the stage had meanwhile lifted up a wooden board and found a small plastic baggie containing the remnants of a dried substance.

A major find occurred after police broke open the container, searching through old paint tins and debris before reaching into a ceiling cavity, triumphantly producing a packet of condoms (‘Moods’ ultrathin).

The Usfasgandu area had been given to the MDP by the (MDP-dominated) Male’ City Council, after it was evicted by police from its previous camp just metres down the road at the tsunami monument. Police at the time claimed the area was being used as a hub for criminal activity and assorted deviancy, and a similar raid uncovered beer and condoms. The camp was immediately dismantled by the police and MNDF, and walls were painted over grey to remove all trace of the MDP from the area.

The Usfasgandu raid this morning ends a stalemate between the Home Ministry – headed by former Justice Minister during Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s rule, Dr Mohamed Jameel – and Male’ City Council.

The Housing Ministry initially sought to repossess the area from the Council, which refused to cooperate. The Home Ministry then instructed police to retake the area, who approached the Criminal Court for a warrant. The court initially denied this warrant, stating that the repossession was a civil matter and not within its jurisdiction.

Eight days later and Home Minister Jameel yesterday announced that the Ministry had received complaints of criminal activity in the area: “No complaints of any criminal activities had been raised with us at the time [of the original court order request]. But now many complaints have been received including criminal offences,” he told local media.

Police Spokesperson Sub-inspector Hassan Haneef said that following a search of the area a decision would be taken on whether to shut down the site.

“If there is reasonable evidence of crimes being committed there, we would look to close the area,” he said.

Male City Mayor Ali ‘Maizaan’ Manik was standing next to a cage full of crows – kept on the site by the MDP demonstrators to mock President Mohamed Waheed, who is caricatured as a crow on the popular Maakanaa Show.

“I’m too angry to talk right now,” he told Minivan News, as police were left to pick through the area after media scurried to protect their cameras from the sudden downpour.

Back through the police barricades, one visibly upset protester expressed frustration at what he described as “a police state”.

“We just want somewhere to peacefully protest,” he said. “They are just going to plant something, like drugs or explosives, so they can blame us. What can we do? We are helpless.”

An older man came up, put his hand on his shoulder, and led him out of the rain.


Home Minister claims reports of criminal activity in Usfasgandu, after criminal court drops request for court order

The Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed yesterday claimed to have received reports that criminal activity was being conducted at the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party MDP)’s protest camp in Usfasgandu area.

Jameel’s comments come only days after the Criminal Court refused to grant a court order for the forced dispersal of the protest camp, which was granted to the MDP by the Male’ City Council – which has an MDP majority. The court had argued that the case fell under the jurisdiction of the Civil Court.

Jameel was not responding at time of press. However he was reported in Haveeru saying that: “No complaints of any criminal activities had been raised with us at the time [of the original court order request]. But now many complaints have been received including criminal offences.”

The Criminal Court last week decided that the case concerning the disputed jurisdiction of the Usfasgandu area fell outside of its remit. The police had requested the court order following an instruction from the Home Ministry to take over the area on behalf of the government.

The MDP have based their activities in the area since their original ‘Justice Square’ protest camp was dismantled by security forces on March 19. During the subsequent court case the MDP’s legal team decried the fact that the government forces had acted without a court order.

After the camp had been dismantled, the government defended its actions, arguing that criminal activities had been planned and executed in the area.

There had been incidents in the days immediately preceding the raid in which police had been attacked by individuals who were then reported to have retreated into the crowded camp area.

Furthermore, the March 19 raid came only hours after an MDP led march, originating at the ‘Justice Square’ camp, in protest of the re-opening of the People’s Majlis turned violent resulting multiple injuries to both civilians, police and military personnel. Villa Television (VTV)) also sustained significant damage.

During the raid itself, after a brief media blackout, the security forces paraded cases of alcohol to waiting journalists as apparent evidence of illegal activity in the camp.

The ensuing court case was inconclusive, being dismissed on a technicality shortly before the closing statements were expected. The technical issue was resolved and the case re-filed, before again being held up on a similar issue.

Hissan Hussian, a member of the MDP’s legal team, said that the MDP will not stop police investigating potential cases of criminality. She said that the police could obtain a search and arrest warrant if it had reasonable grounds to believe that illegal activity was taking place.

“We are saying that if criminality is going on, they are free to investigate. We will not give cover to anyone engaging in illegal activities,” said Hissan.

She also revealed that a petition had been circulating in protest of the bullying tactics being used against the MCC. The petition seeks to remind the Local Government Association (LGA) and other government ministries that jurisdictional battles must be pursued through the appropriate legal avenues. The petition so far has arounf 150 signatures.

This follows the submission to the LGA last week of a petition criticising the MCC’s policies on religious speeches as well as its general provision of services.

Over 60 days had passed between the MDP’s relocation to Usfasgandu and the Home Ministry’s order to the police, during which time no complaints of criminal activity had been received according to the Home Minister’s comments.

Spokesman for the MDP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor saw these accusations as a furtherance of the government’s attack on basic freedoms: “This is very telling. They have tried but they are losing a battle against freedom of expression.”

“The coup administration appears to be acting on the previous constitution while we are acting on the current constitution. They have memory loss,” said Ghafoor

Ghafoor, who is also MP for Henveiru South, the constituency in which Usfasgandu lies, said that he had not been made aware of any criminal activities in the area.

“If there were serious problems I would be the first to know. I walk around the area every day,” he added.

Police Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef was unable to give specific details of any of these complaints, explaining that such complaints do not always go through the police but can go directly to the Home Ministry.

Usfasgandu has become the most prominent in a series of inter-governmental disputes between the central government and Male’ City Council (MCC). The government has argued that the MCC’s leasing of the Usfasgandu area for political purposes violates the terms of the 2010 decentralisation act.

The MCC has repeatedly refuted this and refused to cede control the area to the Housing Ministry. MCC Mayor ‘Maisan’ Ali Manik has said previously that the MCC would stand aside if a court order was obtained, whilst stating his belief that that these jurisdictional issues fall within the mandate of the Civil Court.


Male’ City Mayor summoned to court to apologise for “harassing” letter

Male’ City Council (MCC) Mayor ‘Maizan’ Ali  Manik was summoned to the Criminal Court today to explain to the registrar what the court felt was an “impolite” letter sent to it by the council.

The letter in question had been sent to the Criminal Court by the MCC following the police’s request for a court order for the clearance of the Usfasgandu area.

The police had received instruction from the Home Ministry to clear the area after the MCC had refused to hand the land over to the government.

Manik explained that the reasons for his summons had been “nothing serious”, and that the registrar felt “the letter was too hard and contained no politeness.”

City Councillor Mohamed Abdul Kareem said the court had described the letter as “harassing”. Kareem told Minivan News that the court was not able to promise that it would not give the court order although it agreed that the case was a civil matter, rather than criminal.

He said that the court had confirmed that it would look into the court order, although he claimed that the court was in agreement with him that the case fell under the civil court’s jurisdiction.

The offending letter argued that the Usfasgandu issue did not relate to the criminal court and ought to be dealt with by the civil court. It also said that the issue could not be ordered without the MCC being notified and allowed to represent itself.

Manik said that he had apologised for the tone of the letter, explaining that the matter was particularly urgent: “That’s why the letter was so harsh”.

The MCC has vowed to resist the repeated attempts by the government to reclaim areas of the council given over to it as part of the decentralisation process pursued by the previous administration.

The MCC’s belief that these issues should be dealt with by the Civil Court saw it submit two civil cases today relating to its disputes with the government.

The first challenges the reclamation of the Usfasgandu area by the Housing Ministry, while the second addresses the larger issue of conflicting legislation that it feels has prompted the battles over jurisdiction.

Local paper Haveeru spoke with City Councillor Ibrahim Shujau regarding the submission of these cases.

“The [second] case is regarding the conflict between the Land Administration Regulation, followed by the Housing Ministry, and the Decentralisation Act, Constitution and the Land Act. Thus we have appealed at the court to abolish the regulation,” Shujau told Haveeru.

Last week, the MCC sent letters to the Maldives Police Service (MPS), the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF), and the Housing Ministry, informing them of its decision not to comply with cabinet’s decision to reallocate the plot to the Ministry of Housing.

However, Manik argued that the MCC would not resist if a court order was obtained.

“They have to get a court order. If they have a court order, we will comply,“ he said.

The Usfasgandu area is currently leased to the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and is being used as the base of operations for their political activities. Most recently, these activities have consisted of weekly marches around the capital, attended by many thousands, protesting against the current government and calling for early elections.

The MDP’s previous base of operations at Lonuziyaaraiy Kolhu was dismantled by security forces on March 19. The government on this occasion acted without a court order, prompting legal challenge from the MDP.
The subsequent court case was first dismissed on a technicality and, after being re-submitted has once again been delayed for similar reasons.

When asked whether it was normal procedure to request a court order after a request from the Home Ministry, Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef said that it depended on the case in question.

“We are trying to follow legal procedures. We want to make sure to follow law and order, to maintain peace. We understand that this is sensitive issue,” he said.

Home Minister Mohamed Jameel Ahmed was not responding at time press.


Home Ministry ask police to take over Usfasgandu area

Minister of State for Home Affairs Mohamed Fayaz has told Sun Online that the Police have been asked to take over the Usfasgandu area following the non-compliance of Male’ City Council (MCC) in handing the area over to the Ministry of Housing and Environment.

He is reported as saying that the police have been requested to do this as soon as possible, although discussions are said to be ongoing.

The raised area behind the Dharubaaruge convention centre is currently being used as the base for the Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) protests. Most recently, weekly marches around Male’ originate and terminate at Usfasgandu.

The jurisdiction of the area has been under question for weeks, with the Housing Ministry first making clear its intentions to claim the area April 9. The ministry informed the MCC by letter that it had three days to remove the MDP from the area.

The Ministry argues that leasing the area to a group for political purposes contravenes the deregulation act under which the land was granted to the MCC.

In a precursor to this issue, the previous area at Lonuziyaaraiy Kolhu used for the staging of the MDP’s operations, dubbed ‘Justice Square’, was dismantled by police and the MNDF on March 19. The subsequent court case was dismissed on a technicality and, after being re-submitted, has recently been delayed once again following for a similar reason.

The MCC has remained defiant, last week writing to the Police, the Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) and the Housing Ministry, arguing that the area was fulfilling a pressing need for large numbers of people to conduct political activities without inconveniencing residents of Male’ City. It also dismissed the legal right of the government to claim the area.

Just last week Sun reported the police’s denial that they would take over the area, following rumours that their arrival was imminent.

The Housing Ministry has also recently removed Sultan Park and the artificial beach area from the council’s jurisdiction.

“Maldives Police Service believes that such SMS’s can create fear in the society; there is no truth in the stories being spread that the Police are planning to take over Usfasgandu. Police are not making any preparation in this regard,” Sub-inspector Hassan Haneef told Sun.


MDP Friday demonstrations continue around country

Around 5000 supporters of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) marched down the main thoroughfare of Male’ yesterday in continued protests against the current government.

The party estimated that between 5,000 and 8,000 people marched round Male’ yesterday, Interim Chairperson MP Moosa ‘Reeko’ Manik claimed a further 7000 took part in similar protests around the country.

The Male’ demonstration began at Usfasgandu at around 5:00pm and proceeded in a loop around the south of the island, heading up Boduthakurufaanu Magu and along Majeedhee Magu, past the social centre, before heading back to the MDP protesters’ current base of operations behind the Dharubaaruge conference centre.

An increased police presence was  observed around the government buildings in the security zone on the island’s North, although the marchers did not pass near this area.

Former Education Minister during the MDP administration, Shifa Mohamed, said that yesterday’s protest focused solely on calls for early elections.

Shifa said that people gathered at Usfasgandu without being prompted via SMS, as in previous weeks. She said people turned up as the Friday protests have become a regular event, adding that the party intended to protest ever yday for the next two weeks and had a number of different events in mind.

Yesterday’s march passed the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) base at Kalhuthukkalaa Koshi, at which point, according to local media, security forces emerged with shields.

“We were very surprised,” reported Shifa, who said that this had not happened during the demonstrations of previous weeks which have taken in the same route. No physical confrontations were reported.

Shifa was accompanied at the head of the march by two people dressed as crows. The bird has recently come to represent the MDP’s disdain for the current government, and a cage filled with the birds has appeared at the Usfasgandu camp in the past week.

Male’ City Council (MCC), who lease the Usfasgandu area to the MDP, were informed by the government over one month ago that such activities meant that the land was to be reclaimed by the government.

Male’ City Mayor Ali Manik was informed on May 9 that the government’s security forces would arrive to dismantle the MDP’s latest protest site on May 14. The protesters have been on alert throughout the week after the proposed date came and went without incident.

Unrest near mosque

After the march had returned to Usfasgandu, MDP protesters are reported to have been involved in an incident outside a mosque on Majeedhee Magu.

Both Shifa and Moosa said they were unaware of this incident.

Clashes between the protesters and some of those inside the mosque led to the arrest of five people, reported Police Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef.

The unrest is said by an eyewitness to have begun when MDP supporters attempted to disrupt a sermon which the MCC has said was unauthorised.

A source from the council said that a request was sent to police requesting that the meeting be stopped at around 9:00pm yesterday. Sub-inspector Haneef stated that the arrests took place between 7:30 and 8:00pm.

“They didn’t get permission – if they are giving this kind of sermon, they need this,” said the council source. “We asked the police but they said they couldn’t stop it.”

Haneef confirmed that the police had received this request from the MCC.

Minister for Islamic Affairs Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali was unavailable for comment at the time of press.

The eyewitness said that attendees of the sermon emerged from the mosque to clash with the MDP protesters before handing them over to the police.


Defiant Male’ City Council refuses to hand over second MDP protest site

Male’ City Council has refused to comply with a cabinet decision last week authorising the Housing Ministry to take control of the ousted Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) second protest site before May 14.

In a letter informing the ministry of its decision today, the city council insisted that the ‘Usfasgandu’ area was “temporarily leased” to the former ruling party in accordance with the Decentralisation Act, contending that the ministry did not have legal authority to reclaim council property.

The land plot behind Dharubaaruge (convention center) was leased to MDP in light of the current state of affairs, the letter explained, as there was “a need to find a way for large numbers of people to gather and conduct political activities” without inconveniencing residents of Male’ City.

As plans were in the pipeline to seek interested parties to develop the area, including “a swimming pool”, the letter continued, reclaiming the property, which was among 32 plots of land under council authority, would be “irresponsible”.

If criminal or unlawful activity was going on at the site as alleged by the government, the council suggested an investigation by the relevant authorities or litigation to resolve the issue.

The city council also sent letters to the Maldives Police Service and Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) requesting that no action be taken to evict the protesters pending a ruling or judgment by a court of law.

Meanwhile, Deputy Housing Minister Abdul Muttalib told local media today that a decision had not been made over reclaiming the area as Housing Minister Dr Mohamed Muizz was presently overseas.

The ousted MDP’s first protest site at the tsunami memorial area was controversially cleared out by the security forces on March 19.

Two days later, the city council leased the Usfasgandu area to MDP until the end of June. However on April 10, the Housing Ministry informed the council of its intention to remove the party from its new base.

The government contends that the council was in breach of its parent legislation in leasing the land to MDP. In a statement last week, the President’s Office said cabinet deliberations concerned “the breach of agreement by the Male’ City Council (MCC) in utilising the land plots and other properties handed over to the City Council by the Ministry of Housing and Environment.”

The cabinet had therefore decided “to entrust the Minister of Housing and Environment with the authority to reclaim the properties from the City Council when required.”


Cabinet confirms decision to take over second MDP protest site at Usfasgandu

The new Maldives’ cabinet has announced its decision to hand over the Usfasgandu area to the Ministry of Housing and Environment.

The area is currently being used for protests by the ousted Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), after the party’s site near the tsunami monument was forcibly dismantled by police and military on March 19.

In a statement, the President’s Office said that during discussions concerning “the breach of agreement by the Male’ City Council (MCC) in utilising the land plots and other properties handed over to the City Council by the Ministry of Housing and Environment,” the cabinet had decided “to entrust the Minister of Housing and Environment with the authority to reclaim the properties from the City Council when required.”

Speaking with Mayor Ali Manik at the protest site, Minivan News was told that the government forces would arrive on May 14. Manik said he had received a letter from the Housing Ministry informing them of this plan at 1:30pm today.

Asked about the decision, Minister for Housing and Environment Dr Mohamed Muiz said that he was “not in a position to talk about that.”

The Housing Ministry informed the MCC one month ago that it intended to take control of the Usfasgandu area if the MDP activities did not cease.

During the same week in April the Housing Ministry was involved in a further dispute with the MCC after the re-allocation Dharubaaruge staff members from the MCC to the Housing Ministry.

This action prompted the council to lock the doors to the centre and send staff home. This action was subsequently described by Muiz as “unlawful” before policemen arrived to reopen the facility.

The following week the Housing Ministry informed the MCC by letter that it had less than 24 hours to remove its employees from the Huravee building in order to accommodate new government ministries.

Deputy Mayor of the Council Ahmed Falah maintains that MCC will refuse to accept these decisions and these disputes must be settled in the courts.

When asked about the current situation in the Huravee building, Falah said things were continuing “as normal. Still we are in there.”

The MDP’s international spokesman and Secretary General of the party’s parliamentary group Hamid Abdul Ghafoor, interpreted these actions as an attack on both freedom of expression and the decentralisation policies of the previous government.

“The coup administration is breaking up the decentralisation concept. The President’s Office is controlling everything – even down to the playgrounds on the islands. They are bringing back Gayoom’s policies of centralisation” said Ghafoor.

Ghafoor questioned the wisdom of the acquiescence of government-aligned parties in the face of such policies.

“They are also curtailing freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. The Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) and the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) perhaps do not have a good concept of their basic human rights. Do their members consider what will happen to their freedom of expression? Their grassroots supporters may realise this too late,” Ghafoor continued.

The area behind the Dharubaaruge convention centre has been utilised by the now-opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) since security forces ejected them from their camp at the nearby tsunami monument on March 19.

Dubbed ‘justice square’, the camp in the Lonuziyaaraih Kolhu area, had become the hub for opposition demonstrations since the contentious transfer of presidential power on February 7.

The government’s allegations that these activities were of questionable legality prompted its dismantling of the camp and the subsequent court case brought by the MDP leadership.

The dismantling of the camp came at the end of a day on which MDP led protests at the reopening of the People’s Majlis had turned violent.

Multiple casualties were reported from both protesters and security forces. The headquarters of Villa Television (VTV), owned by leader of the government aligned Jumhoree Party (JP) Ibrahim Gasim, sustained significant damage.

The court case, the first incarnation of which was dismissed on a technicality, continues with the issue of land usage forming the backbone of the state’s defense.

The government has argued that the leasing of such public spaces for political activities violates the terms which govern the MCC’s stewardship of such areas.

Hassan Latheef, a member of the MDP’s legal team working on this court case, scheduled to resume on May 13, said that the government had “no grounds” to take the land from the MCC in either the case of Usfasgandu, nor that concerning Rahlugandu.

When asked about the government’s position on the use of council land for political purposes, Latheef argued that there was nothing in the decentralisation act that prohibits this.

“I do understand that anything is acceptable and expected in a police state. The country is being taken from the people by a few coup leaders. The Maldives is now a police state,” Latheef contended.

Blocking the steps leading to the raised area used for the MDP’s gatherings at Usfasgandu, a sign read: “No court order, don’t take this place.”

The original ‘justice square’ camp was leased to the MDP by Male City Council (MCC), itself established through the 2010 decentralisation act under the governance of former President Mohamed Nasheed.

In a clear refutation of this argument, the MCC made the decision to lease the Usfasgandu area to the MDP for a three month period within days of the party’s ejection from the tsunami monument area.

The MDP was widely supported by urban populations of the Maldives in last year’s local council elections, securing 100 percent of the council seats in Addu City in the south and Kulhudhufushi in the north, and nine of the 11 seats in the capital Male’.


“Mayday Mayday! We have a coup!”: MDP marks May Day

Thousands rallied in Malé on Tuesday campaigning for equal treatment of workers and protesting against the alleged “coup d’état” of February 7 in a rally held to mark International Worker’s Day, ‘May Day’.

The rally, organised by the ousted Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and led by former President Mohamed Nasheed, set out from Usfasgandu on the southern ring road of Malé with campaigners waving red and yellow ribbons, balloons, pom poms and drumming on makeshift instruments. Trucks blaring loud music accompanied the rally.

Nasheed resigned following a police and military mutiny on February 7, but later said his resignation was under duress and that he was deposed in a coup d’état. The MDP has held frequent marches calling for early elections and continues to hold nightly meetings at its protest camp area, Usfasgandu, located behind Dharubaaruge.

MDP Youth Wing President Aminath Shauna said the MDP had always worked for labor rights and that although the Maldives had joined the ILO in 2009, she was concerned that the Maldives continued to abstain from important ILO conventions such as those regarding collective bargaining, minimum wage, forced labour and child labour.

Mickail Naseem, 18, said he was at the rally to protest unfair promotions to police and financial benefits to the military at a time of financial crisis. In March, over a third of the police force received promotions while the military received two years of suspended allowances in a lump sum in April.

“Where is the equality? Certain police officers and military have received pay hikes, promotions and flats for housing. But the government has said the Maldives is bankrupt. This also increases pay differences between ordinary civil servants and the security forces,” Mickail said.

Another MDP supporter, Ahmed Yasmin, 30, held up a placard with the words “S.O.S. Mayday! Mayday! We have a coup!”. He had attended the rally “to have fun with my friends since it’s a public holiday.”

The colorful, noisy and peaceful demonstration stalled near former presidential residence Muleeage after police and military in riot gear blocked roads leading to the Republican Square, the President’s Office and Police and military headquarters.

A few hundred campaigners sat down in front of the police lines and were still there as of 7:30pm, but most of the rally participants dispersed. Verbal confrontations took place between MDP supporters and police. Minivan News overhead one police officer from behind a barricade tell a young girl that she was “very pretty” and that he would “like to have sex with her”, which was met with a torrent of abuse.

As of 7:30 pm, the sit in led by President Nasheed continued in front of Muleeage.

The MDP also plans to organise a rally to mark International Press Freedom Day on May 3.