New Delhi: After the main International Yoga Day event, co-hosted by the Indian High Commission’s Cultural Center, was stormed by a crowd of protesters, the government of the Maldives launched several investigations and assured that the perpetrators would be punished “promptly”.
On Tuesday morning, Indian High Commissioner Munu Mahawar and his counterparts from Bangladesh and the UK were at an event to mark International Yoga Day at the National Stadium in the Maldivian capital.
As the event was co-hosted by a Maldivian ministry and the Indian Cultural Center, it was also attended by Minister of Youth, Sports and Community Empowerment Ahmed Mahloof and Foreign Secretary Ahmed Latheef.
According to local media and witnesses, there had been protesters outside the venue before the event began, with signs claiming that yoga was against the principles of Islam. In a disturbing turn of events, protesters breached the security ring and broke up the event.
Crowds vandalized yoga props and banners – and threatened attendees. However, no one was seriously injured.
After protesters burst into the stadium, more police reinforcements arrived to maintain physical distancing between event attendees and protesters. The police also used tear gas against the crowd which disrupted the diplomatic function.
Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih said the case was being seriously investigated and the perpetrators would be “promptly brought to justice”.
An investigation was opened by @PoliceMv in the incident that happened this morning at the Galolhu stadium.
This is being treated as a matter of grave concern and those responsible will be promptly brought to justice.
— Ibrahim Mohamed Solih (@ibusolih) June 21, 2022
In the evening, the foreign ministry said that the government of the Maldives “strongly condemns the acts of violence 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 the safety of individuals and the diplomatic corps will not be tolerated,” the ministry said.
The statement also noted that International Yoga Day has been observed annually in the Maldives since 2015. “The United Nations declared the day International Yoga Day by consensus on December 11, 2014, through a resolution co-sponsored by a record from 177 countries, including the Maldives,” he said.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs cited initial support for the yoga day as Abdulla Yameen was in power in 2015, when the Maldives had co-sponsored the resolution at the United Nations.
Removed from power, Yameen is now spearheading the opposition’s “India Out” campaign which aims to corner the Maldivian government by targeting its close relationship with New Delhi. The Opposition. led by the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) of Yameen, has repeatedly claimed that India has deployed its army in the nation of the Indian Ocean archipelago. The government of the Maldives has strongly denied this allegation.
In a meeting chaired by President Solih, the Maldives cabinet formed a new ministerial panel “to explore the matter further”.
So far, Maldives Police say six men have been arrested as they launch a “high priority” investigation through the Serious and Organized Crime Department of the Criminal Investigations Command. “The perpetrators had sought to instill fear by forcing entry, destroying property and attempting to assault attendees of the event,” the statement said.
The police also undertook an internal review because of concerns that the security provided was insufficient.
The electoral commission also warned that if the police investigation reveals the involvement of a political party, measures will be taken “under Article 49 of the Law on Political Parties, with reference to Article 45 of the law”. Legislation imposes fines of up to 75,000 Ruffiya for “misconduct”.
According to Maldivian media, the police statement said that the initial investigation revealed that some of the the objects used by the crowd came from the office of the PPM.
In an interview with the Raajje broadcaster, Minister Mahloof claimed that the storming of the event was supported by the PPM and Jamiyyath Salaf, an Islamist organization.
“It is a very modest act, which should not have taken place. It is absolutely unacceptable. It is not a religious activity. It is an exercise. This day has already been celebrated, including in the administration of President Yameen. Thus, there is no reason for it to become haram now,” he said.
The condemned PPM the incident and told local media they were investigating whether protesters had used the same flags that were waved at a recent opposition rally.
The PPM’s coalition ally, the People’s National Congress (PNC), claimed that the government staged the incident to shift blame to the opposition.
“How else could a group of people storm the Galolhu stadium. For example, the authorities stopped peaceful activities planned by the PPM based on the assumption that violence could take place,” said PNC leader Abdul Raheem Abdulla ‘Adhurey’.
Meanwhile, Jamiyyath Salaf also dismissed the charges by the Maldivian Minister, calling it an act of incitement against the group. “The allegations made against us by Minister Mahloof are false. We condemn him in the harshest terms. The allegation made in complete disregard of the facts is a dangerous allegation. The sole purpose is to incite hatred towards this organization among members of the general public,” the group said.
Previously, the venue for the yoga day had to be changed to the National Stadium at the last moment. It was previously due to stand on the artificial Rasfannu beach, but the opposition-dominated Male City Council revoked license on Monday following complaints from residents.
A local religious organization Ilmuveringe Gulhun also had already sent a letter to the Ministry of Islamic Affairs to demand the cancellation of the event as yoga is a “dangerous thing against Islam and the Maldivian Constitution under the name of exercise”.