SAM Staff, November 4, 2019
A dozen people were arrested from a protest organised by the opposition on Saturday night to mark Victory Day.
Shortly after the gathering began outside the Progressive Party of Maldives office in Malé around 8:30pm, police issued warnings through a loudspeaker and announced that the area was not designated for gatherings. Riot police officers then pushed back protesters and tried to clear the area, leading to clashes and arrests.
All 12 were released after they were briefly detained for obstruction and refusing to obey orders, police said. Turnout was estimated to be fewer than 200 people.
Speaking to the press after the protest ended around 10pm, former MP Abdul Raheem Abdulla said the protest was held because the authorities refused to permit a rally at the carnival grounds. He vowed to continue protesting against the alleged slander of Islam in a 2016 report by NGO Maldivian Democracy Network and heavily criticised President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s recent remarks about the controversy.
The opposition Progressive Coalition accused police officers of using obscene language and disproportionate force to disperse protesters and called on the government to respect the constitutional right to freedom of assembly, a call that was echoed by NGO Transparency Maldives, which noted that freedom of assembly was “a fundamental right enshrined in our Constitution and in a number of international agreements such as UDHR and ICCPR.”
Earlier on Saturday, police warned of action against demonstrations staged in violation of the 2013 freedom of assembly law, which was revised during the previous administration to require permission to gather in areas other than the carnival area in the capital’s eastern waterfront designated by the home ministry.
Government-sponsored legislation to reverse the changes is currently before parliament.
Victory Day marks a failed coup attempt by a group of Maldivians and Tamil mercenaries to overthrow former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom on November 3, 1988. Some 19 people, including soldiers and two hostages taken by the fleeing mercenaries, were killed during the coup attempt, which was foiled after India deployed paratroopers to reclaim the capital.