8th March 2012, Male'; The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Abdul Samad Abdullah, today reaffirmed the Government's commitment to respect freedom of assembly, but also made clear that this freedom must be exercised within the boundaries of the law.

The Minister was speaking after a group of female protesters from the Maldives Democratic Party (MDP) breached a police cordon around the President's Office, setting off clashes which resulted in the use of water cannon.

"Let us be very clear" said the Minister, "protests are taking place all day and everyday in Male, and the police are allowing them to proceed in line with the constitutional right of all Maldivians to freedom of assembly. However, it is also true that MDP leaders are increasingly ignoring the relevant Constitutional provision and the law in the exercise of this right".

The Constitution makes clear that every person has the right to freedom of assembly without prior permission, but with prior notification.This is to ensure that all protests can be effectively policed in order to ensure the safety of the protesters and the public.

This point is emphasized in the Assembly Regulation which also sets various High Security Zones where protests are prohibited - including around the President's Office.

MDP know this from their time in Government. Yet they repeatedly continue flout the law.

The Government will not take any steps to prevent people from peacefully protesting. That is their right. But we do ask that they comply with the very reasonable laws which govern such protests.

The Government has taken note of the press statement by the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives on this matter. The Government has repeatedly called on all sides, including the police, to respond to protests with maximum restraint, especially at this difficult time.

However, we hope that HRCM will also remind all protesters from all sides, of their duty to exercise their rights in conformity with relevant laws".