Police arrest 2 in violent opposition protests

Police arrest 2 in violent opposition protests

Maldives Police Service, on Tuesday night, arrested two individuals from the protest hosted by the opposition Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and People's National Congress (PNC), following violent clashes between the demonstrators and police officers.

Tuesday night's protest kicked off around 2015hrs at the junction between Majeedhee Magu and Chaandhanee Magu in capital Male', led by the parliamentary representatives of the opposition coalition, calling for the release of imprisoned former President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom.

About 45 minutes into the demonstration, security forces attempted to force the protesters back, which resulted in confrontations between officers and demonstrators. Police arrested one individual heading the protest amongst these clashes.

Upon being forced out of the area, the protesters regrouped at the junction of Majeedhee Magu and Maaeyo Magu and resumed the march, calling for the resignation of President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and Speaker of Parliament Mohamed Nasheed, in addition to severely criticising the incumbent administration on various fronts.

Police pepper-sprayed the participants at the Majeedhee Magu and Sosun Magu junction and arrested PPM's council member Ahmed Nareesh, who was leading the demonstration.

When forced away again, the participants walked to the PPM office located on Boduthakurufaanu Magu, where they concluded the protest at around 2300hrs.

Speaking at the end of the protest, PNC's President Abdul Raheem Abdulla declared that the opposition will continue holding these protests every night.

In a statement publicised after the protest, the opposition coalition condemned the use of disproportionate force by the police to disperse the crowd and arrest participants of the protest, in addition to calling for the immediate release of those taken into custody from the demonstration.

Noting that the parliamentary representative of Laamu Atoll's Maavah constituency Mohamed Saeed was injured along with other participants during police's efforts to force back the protestors, the coalition's statement requested the authorities not to obstruct the right to assembly.

The opposition released this statement while police are investigating the incident of two officers that were spat on during the protests, an allegation that has since been denied by the opposition.

"We are still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and have had the highest number of local infections today", Commissioner of Police Mohamed Hameed tweeted on Tuesday night, strongly condemning the act.

Opposition parties PPM and PNC hosted a student demonstration on Sunday as well. Two arrests were made during Sunday's demonstration, but police released them shortly after.

On July 14, the Ministry of Home Affairs declared that street protests, marches, parades, and all other public gatherings could only be held with prior written approval by Maldives Police Service.

The declaration was made under Section 24 (f) of the Peaceful Assembly Act 2013, a contentious amendment ratified during former President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom's administration in the wake of several protests held by the then-opposition and current ruling party.

Despite the government's present stance on the issue, Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) which was the main opposition during Yameen's administration, had lambasted the amendment when it was first implemented, stating it was unconstitutional and in violation of the fundamental right to assembly.

However, following the change in administration in late 2018, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih's government did not repeal the prickly law, although it was seldom enforced until the home ministry's announcement this week.

In addition to several local activists, parliamentarians, rights groups and the Bar Council, the international NGO Human Rights Watch also condemned the government's decision as a violation of fundamental rights.