Male, Apr 21 (EFE).- The Maldivian government Thursday cracked down on the opposition over a controversial “India Out” campaign against Indian military presence in the Indian Ocean island nation
President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih ordered police to stop the campaign led by former president Abdulla Yameen and ordered the removal of all banners from his residence and the headquarters of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) seen as being closer to China.
Yameen, who walked free from house arrest in December last year after a court overturned his conviction in a money-laundering and embezzlement case, has been a vocal opponent of the Maldives signing defense deals with India.
He alleges that foreign military was present on many Maldives islands, apparently referring to the India-funded harbor base for the Maldivian Coast Guard on Uthuru Thilafalhu (UTF) island. The government has denied Yameen’s allegations.
The Maldives shares close ties with India, and the campaign had riled New Delhi battling China’s growing influence in its backyard.
On Thursday, police conducted the raid and removed a banner from his house that read “India Out.”
Opposition spokesperson Heena Waleed told EFE that around 10 police officers went into the house with a court warrant.
“The presidential decree is proof of how indebted this government is to India and it shows the level of subjugation. We are expressing our opinions, our voices. No decree can prohibit this,” Waleed said.
She said the opposition would not let go of its duty to hold the government accountable.
“Freedom of expression cannot be stopped under any law. We will continue to call for ‘India Out’ and we will continue to put up banners. But our leaders will decide how and when to carry out the activities.”
The presidential executive order said the “India Out” campaign had no objective and was politically motivated against a specific country.
“Misusing the freedom of assembly and freedom of expression guaranteed under the constitution, the campaign against India is intended to disrupt public peace, harm the long-standing relations between India and Maldives, hinder development and the stability of this region,” the order said.
The order noted that harassing and discriminating against a specific race or heritage was an offense under the penal code.
Solih said the campaign obstructed security to foreigners in the Maldives and endangered the lives of the Maldivians living and traveling abroad.
He called for action against such campaigns insinuating hatred towards any country.
The president ordered the authorities to stop the opposition’s campaign earlier declared a national security threat by the national security council.
“If we have to arrest people and press charges, we will do that too. For instance, the things we removed today can be used as evidence in the future,” Chief of Staff Ali Zahir told EFE.