Male', 28 November 2015; On 27 November 2015, a scheduled protest organised by the main opposition party in the Maldives, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) took place.
Arrangements for the protest were made and communicated to the Maldives Police and the Elections Commission, who both had urged the MDP to convene the protest in a lawful and peaceful manner, and further, to protest within the parameters set by the appropriate authorities.
The Government of Maldives respects and fully supports the right to protest, the right to freedom of expression, and the right to assembly, and would not seek to restrict those rights. However, such rights are not absolute in any democratic country. Reasonable restrictions can and are placed upon demonstrations where it is appropriate to do so, to ensure the security of the public.
It was agreed with the MDP that the protest would take place within clearly defined areas, and would end at midnight.
Such parameters are not unreasonable, and were set so as to balance the right of individuals to protest and voice their opinion, with the rights of those individuals who did not wish to take part, and sought to go about their usual daily business.
As noted, such actions by the authorities are not unique to the Maldives; it is in fact a usual practice in any democratic society that public demonstrations are set within controlled parameters.
It is regrettable that those persons leading the demonstration failed to conduct themselves appropriately and within the agreed parameters.
The Maldives Police were therefore compelled to take necessary action when a number of protesters sought to move out of the defined area and take their protest further into Male’ city, thus potentially impinging on the freedoms of those citizens not seeking to take part, and further, raising the potential of a security risk given recent events in the Maldives.
Action was taken following the refusal of a small group of protesters to disperse after the midnight cut-off. Again, the fact that the Police felt compelled to disperse the protesters after this time is not unusual and would be expected in many other democratic countries.
Reports of violence being used towards protesters are not true. This is not a case of the Maldives Police seeking to prevent the protest or an instance of protesters being targeted. Following the order to disperse being ignored by a number of protesters, appropriate, reasonable, and lawful force was used to ensure the dispersal.
The Maldives is aware of the apparent scrutiny of other nations and as much as questions and advice of other nations is welcomed, it is concerned that there appears to be extra focus on the islands, when the very fact that no issue was taken with the protest taking place ought to evidence the Government’s respect for freedoms and civil liberties.