Police fired gun in takeover of MNBC, video reveals

Video footage taken during the storming of Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation (MNBC) on February 7 reveals that a police officer used a firearm to break down the gates of the station headquarters in capital Male’, allowing dozens of police and military forces (MNDF) as well as some civilians in plain clothes to forcefully take over the station.

According to Maldivian law police officers are not issued firearms.

Approximately two hours before former president Mohamed Nasheed resigned from office “under duress” in what his government has called a “coup d’état”, a group of rogue security forces armed with batons, iron rods, wooden planks and evidently firearms “hijacked” the state media station, forcing it to change to Television Maldives (TVM), its title under former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

A video obtained from an unidentified source captured the event from an upstairs window within the MNBC compound, looking down on the television station’s locked gates.

The video begins as tear gas canisters are thrown at a group of MDP activists attempting to protect the building outside the gate, billowing yellow smoke and forcing then to retreat from the area. A woman inside the MNBC headquarters screams, “Oh Mother! Mother!” as another comforts her, asking to “stop crying.”

Riot police with shields charge the gate as the tear gas clears, accompanied by several men who are not wearing uniforms. As the scene unfolds, a male voice is heard saying,  “Look there’s the police coming, they have guns”, while another man exclaims: “Oh no! That’s the bad police”.

The mob then attempts to break the heavy chain on the gates while a man inside shouts, “Oh my God, they’re opening [the gates], they’re opening”.

At the height of the attack on the gates, a uniformed police officer sticks a gun through the circular hole on the right-hand side of the gate and fires. Smoke from the weapon’s discharge floats up into the air. The crowd then bursts through the gates into the courtyard. Some of the men throw stones and one of the men, who isn’t wearing a uniform, is brandishing an iron rod in his hand. The mob then advances towards the main entrance of MNBC before the video cuts out.

“We felt trapped, kidnapped”

Minivan News spoke to some of the then-MNBC staff on duty inside the headquarters that morning, who recounted the “frightening experience” of February 7 on condition of total anonymity.

“They just stormed into the building and broke the doors and windows to force their way in. Some slapped the paper stacks and equipment off the tables. The first guy who came into the newsroom was a protestor and he ordered us to stop all the work we were doing. He kept on stomping his feet on the ground to frighten us and threatened to ‘finish us’ if we didn’t listen. So we stopped. We were all so scared,” one reporter recalled.

“In just a few minutes the whole place was filled with protesters shouting at us, police and MNDF took over the main control room. There were shouts and cries of girls everywhere. We felt trapped, kidnapped,” the reporter added.

“A policeman shouted that we [MNBC] have brought enough of what government wanted. Now its time for them to broadcast what they want,” another station employee claimed.

The employee added that they were ordered to patch through the VTV channel, owned by minority opposition Jumhooree Party (JP) Leader and MP Gasim Ibrahim. The nation watched VTV on state TV before the feed was cut off and came back on, re-branded as TVM.

Another staff member said that the security forces let the staff that wanted to leave the building exit, and assured them, “No harm will come to the rest”.

Newsroom sub-editor Ahmed Muhsin was taken home under police custody, another staff member told Minivan News.

“But we were surrounded by armed opposition protestors. We were scared for our lives,” the source continued. “The first anchor who went on air could not continue even because of the intimidation. So someone else had to take over”.

Police sub-inspector Ahmed Shiyam said that President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan has ordered an investigation into the events of February 7, and that police will not comment on the events of that day until the investigation is concluded.

Dr Waheed’s alleged involvement

MNBC Managing Director Adam Shareef told Minivan News that he was “advised to hide to guard his life” when the protestors stormed in threatening to attack Muhsin and himself for alleged alignment with Nasheed and his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

“I was hiding inside the light room until the security forces assured me I would be given protection. When I came out Dr Waheed’s brother Ali Waheed was there. He shook my hands and said that he was there to take over MNBC on behalf of Vice President Dr Waheed. This was before Nasheed resigned.”

Shareef also claimed that Ali Waheed came earlier that morning asking to handover the state media but he refused. “I told him that MNBC had the authority to run the state media and we would not hand over it unless the security forces came. So that’s why they [police and MNDF] came with the protestors,” Shareef observed.

He said that he waited at the station to ensure the safety of his staff, while Muhsin was escorted home.

Several sources at the newsroom confirmed that members of Dr Waheed’s Gaumee Ithihaad party including Ahmed Faiz and Alim Shakoor, younger brother of newly appointed Attorney General and opposition-friendly lawyer Aishath Azima Shakoor, were in the news room “giving orders” that day.

Previously, Azima Shakoor represented parliament’s state broadcaster Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) in a drawn out tug-of-war with state owned MNBC for control of the assets of the state broadcaster, formerly Television Maldives (TVM) and Voice of Maldives (VoM).

Its also notable that after taking office, the first presidential decree passed by President Dr. Waheed was to transfer assets to MBC, although Nasheed’s administration had repeatedly contended that the MBC board is stacked with opposition supporters and that its attempt to control of MNBC is effectively a “media coup”.

Meanwhile, MNBC was criticised for favouring MDP.

State media liberated or hijacked?

The MNBC staff, who earlier spoke to Minivan News, insisted that “in the name of liberating state media, the police, MNDF and the protestors hijacked [MNBC]”.

“We know the lawful state broadcaster is MBC. But this is not the way they should take over. If the rule of law was respected as Dr Waheed promised in his first presidential address, he would not have let the security forces take control over us,” said a senior member of the MNBC staff.

Minivan News could not reach Maldives Broadcasting Commission at time of press.

The commission has however given a license to MBC, which is now preparing to take over management of the national broadcasting station’s assets, local media reports. President Waheed has replaced the MNBC board and tasked it with overseeing the transfer of assets to MBC, which the MDP has previously alleged has a board stacked with opposition figures.

Meanwhile, speaking to Minivan News, the Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) President Hiriga Ahmed Zahir claimed that the organisation has not reacted to the take over of MNBC because the police were “enforcing the law”.

“MNBC was operating the state media unlawfully, despite repeated calls from us and court orders to hand it over to the parliament-created state broadcaster,” Zahir continued.

He claimed that MNBC was “abusing the state assets, and tax payer’s money” to make the state media a “propaganda machine” of MDP, in the non-existence of a fair editorial policy.

“I am not saying it was done in the most appropriate way. It was a chaotic situation. But we will always welcome bringing unlawful actions within the legal bounds. Police is the body to enforce the laws and I see no reason to object to the police taking over the state media to hand over it to the lawful body,” Zahir said.

He added that it would have been a problem if they had destroyed MNBC’s equipment or intimidated the staff, but said the organisation had not received any official complaints although some concerns have been raised informally.

Former National Security Advisor and former Defence Minister Ameen Faisal meanwhile observed that it looks “very strange” to see the police in the video firing a gun outside the MNBC office.

“It’s very strange to see. It’s very clearly seen in the footage that they were firing from the main outside gate inside [the MNBC compound] and our police force has never been issued with guns. The big question is how they got the guns. Evidently it was from the MNDF because they are the only people authorised to carry guns.”

He further added that the Maldives witnessed a “police mutiny turn into an armed mutiny” on February 7, which forced a democratically-elected president to resign.

“Any democratic country will not accept a government which used the police force and mutiny to forcefully resign a democratically-elected president. They have to condemn [the new administration], with this video footage and with all the torturing by the police. They should not accept the legitimacy of the government and should ask the people of the Maldives to decide who their president should be,” Faisal contended.

A photo circulating on Facebook apparently showing defected police and MNDF celebrating in the courtyard of the state broadcaster, after taking it over on Tuesday.