Ministry of Home Affairs on Tuesday declared that street protests, marches, parades, and other gatherings can only be held with "prior written approval by Maldives Police Service", with the exemption of the comparatively secluded carnival area in the Henveiru ward of capital Male'.
The declaration is in accordance with the controversial first amendment ratified by former President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom, to the Freedom of Peaceful Assembly Act on August 23, 2016.
At the time, the former opposition and the current ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) had slammed the amendment as unconstitutional and in violation of the fundamental right to assembly.
Opposing the amendments during the Yameen-administration, incumbent president and then-parliamentary representative for Hinnavaru, Lhaviyani Atoll, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih had stated that Maldivians need not adhere to restrictions imposed on the constitutional right.
Following the change in administration, the stance on the policy appears to have changed as well. Although Minister of Home Affairs Imran Abdulla stated that the government intends to ensure citizens their right to express and assemble to the fullest extent, he believes that such opportunities can be granted without the need to repeal the contentious amendment.
The ministry's announcement comes in the wake of multiple protests staged during the month of July, including marches by exploited expatriate workers demanding unpaid wages, child and women rights groups, as well as by the opposition coalition.
A number of citizens have expressed concern over the lacklustre response by parliamentarians from the supermajority holding MDP, noting that parliament, the legislative body of the state, has complete authority to repeal laws which infringe basic human rights.
"The bill to repeal the first amendment brought to the Freedom of Public Assembly Act remains parked in parliament for close to a year. Lacking sincerity for progressive reforms is why such [injustices] fester", tweeted parliamentarian for Vilimale', MP Ahmed Usham.
Various ruling party lawmakers have expressed concern over the implementation of the bill. However, public ire remains focused on the MPs, demanding visible action over matters instead of social media responses.
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak in the country, Health Protection Agency (HPA)'s nationwide safety protocols deny gatherings of over 30 persons within a specified area.