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.