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South Asia

Maldives Assures ‘Swift’ Justice After Protestors Storm Yoga Day Event

Minister Ahmed Mahloof claimed that the storming of the event was backed by the opposition Progressive Party of Maldives and Jamiyyath Salaf, an Islamist organisation.

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New Delhi: After the main International Yoga Day event, co-organised by the Indian high commission’s cultural centre, was stormed by a protesting mob, the Maldives government has launched multiple investigations and assured the perpetrators would be punished “swiftly”.

On Tuesday morning, the Indian high commissioner Munu Mahawar and his counterparts from Bangladesh and the United Kingdom were at an event to mark international yoga day at the Maldivian capital’s National Stadium.

Since the event was jointly organised by a Maldivian ministry and the Indian Cultural centre, it was also attended by Minister of Youth, Sports & Community Empowerment Ahmed Mahloof and foreign secretary Ahmed Latheef.

As per local media reports and witnesses, there had been protestors outside the venue before the event started, with placards claiming that Yoga was against the tenets of Islam. In a worrying turn of events, the protestors breached the security ring and interrupted the event. 

The mob vandalised yoga accessories and banners – and threatened participants. However, nobody was reported to be seriously injured.

After the protestors stormed into the stadium, more police reinforcements arrived to keep a physical distance between the event participants and the protestors. Police also used tear gas against the mob who disrupted the diplomatic function.

Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih asserted that the matter was being seriously investigated and the perpetrators would be “swiftly brought before the law”.

In the evening, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that the Maldives government “strongly condemns the violent acts perpetrated by a group of individuals targeting the participants, including members of the diplomatic community”.

“Such malicious acts of violence aimed at disrupting public safety and undermining security of individuals and the diplomatic corps will not be tolerated,” said the ministry.

The statement also noted that International Yoga Day has been celebrated annually in the Maldives since 2015. “The United Nations declared the day as International Day of Yoga by consensus on 11 December 2014, through a resolution which was co-sponsored by a record of 177 countries, including the Maldives,” it said.

The foreign affairs ministry referred to the original support for Yoga day as Abdulla Yameen had been in power in 2015, when the Maldives had co-sponsored the resolution in the United Nations.

Out of power, Yameen is now spearheading the opposition’s ‘India Out’ campaign that is aimed at cornering the Maldives government by targeting its close relations with New Delhi. The opposition. led by Yameen’s Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), has repeatedly claimed that India has deployed its military in the Indian Ocean archipelago nation. The Maldives government has strenuously denied the allegation.

At a meeting chaired by President Solih, the Maldives cabinet formed a new ministerial panel “to further look into the matter”.

So far, Maldives Police announced that six men had been taken into custody as they launched a “high priority” investigation through the Serious and Organised Crime Department of the Crime Investigation Command. “Perpetrators had sought to incite fear by forcefully entering, destroying property and attempting to assault participants of the event,” said the statement.

The police are also undertaking an internal review as there were concerns that the security provided was inadequate.

The Election Commission also warned that if the police investigation shows the involvement of a political party, action will be taken “under Article 49 of the Political Parties Act, with reference to Article 45 of the Act”. The legislation imposes fines of up to 75,000 Ruffiya for “misconduct”.

According to Maldivian media, the police statement had said that the initial probe had found that some of the items used by the mob had come from the office of the PPM.

In an interview with the Raajje television channel, minister Mahloof claimed that the storming of the event was backed by PPM and Jamiyyath Salaf, an Islamist organisation.

“This is a very lowly act, which should not have taken place. It is absolutely unacceptable. This is not a religious activity. It is an exercise. This day has been celebrated before, including in President Yameen’s administration. Thus, there is no reason it should become haram now,” he said.

The PPM condemned the incident and told local media that they were investigating whether the protestors used the same flags as brandished at a recent opposition rally.

PPM’s coalition ally, the People’s National Congress (PNC), claimed that the government had staged the incident to cast blame on the opposition.

“How else could a group of people storm the Galolhu Stadium. For example, authorities have stopped peaceful activities planned by PPM based on the assumption violence may take place,” said PNC leader Abdul Raheem Abdulla ‘Adhurey’.

Meanwhile, Jamiyyath Salaf also dismissed the charges by the Maldivian minister, terming it as an act to incite hatred against the group. “The allegations against us by Minister Mahloof are false. We condemn it in the harshest terms. The allegation made with complete disregard for facts is a dangerous allegation. The sole purpose is to incite hatred towards this organisation among members of the general public,” said the group.

Earlier, the venue of the yoga day function had to be changed to the National Stadium at the last moment. It was earlier scheduled to be held at Rasfannu artificial beach, but the opposition-dominated Male City Council cancelled the permit on Monday on the grounds of complaints by residents.

A local religious organisation Ilmuveringe Gulhun had also previously sent a letter to the Ministry of Islamic Affairs to demand that the event be cancelled as Yoga is a “dangerous thing against Islam and the Maldivian Constitution under the name of exercise”.