Government to compensate police officers for damages on February 8 unrest

The government will compensate police officers for damages incurred during nationwide unrest on February 8, 2012, Commissioner of Police Hussain Waheed has announced.

According to police media, Waheed gave information concerning the planned compensation to senior officers at a meeting of the police management board today.

Waheed said individual police officers stationed across the country have yet to be compensated for physical harm and damage to personal property during the February 8 civil unrest.

“However, the commissioner of police said the government has now decided to arrange compensation very soon for police officers who suffered damages that day,” police said.

On February 8, thousands of Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) supporters led by former President Mohamed Nasheed took to the streets of the capital in protest against a “coup d’etat” they alleged was perpetrated by mutinous elements of the police and military the previous day.

A brutal crackdown on the protest march in Malé sparked riots across the country, which saw police vehicles, courts and police stations torched in Thinadhoo and Addu City. Police officers were forced off several other islands.

Following an investigation, the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) concluded that the heavy-handed police crackdown on the MDP walk was “brutal” and “without warning” while the “disproportionate” use of force left dozens of demonstrators injured and hospitalised.

 

cars on fireMore than 160 people from the southern atolls are currently facing terrorism charges for the acts of arson.

In addition to police motorbikes, police said today that phones, laptops, valuables, and other personal belongings such as clothes were also set on fire and completely destroyed during the unrest.

Several police officers were left with only the clothes they were wearing, police said.

Last month, the government decided to reinstate a discontinued service and merit allowance for both police and military personnel.

The allowances were discontinued in 2009 during former President Nasheed’s administration.

Security services personnel who have served between ten and 20 years were eligible for the service allowance, while policemen and army officers who have attained higher education were to be eligible for a professional allowance.

A similar allowance was to be given to officials who have undergone training related to their fields.

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Artists protest exclusion of Nasheed paintings from Minivan50 exhibition

A group of local artists staged a protest at the national art gallery today over the exclusion of paintings depicting former President Mohamed Nasheed from an exhibition organised by the education ministry.

The exhibition, launched yesterday, featured artwork and handicraft by students from 32 schools as part of events planned by the government to mark the upcoming golden jubilee of the country’s independence.

“Nasheed is said to be the Mandela of the Indian Ocean and I personally have a lot of respect for him. That is why I chose to paint him,” 18-year-old Mohamed Raaif told Minivan News today.

The Maldives National University student explained that his painting was initially put up, but he later discovered that it had been removed.

Raif MDP painting
Mohamed Raaif

Raaif said a teacher told him that the organisers claimed his painting  was of “a terrorist” and could not be displayed.

The opposition leader was found guilty of terrorism on Friday night (March 13) and sentenced to 13 years in prison over the military’s detention of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012.

Education ministry officials in charge of organising the exhibition could not be reached at the time of publication.

A second painting by a student featuring the former president was also removed.

However, artwork featuring other politicians with blurred faces were displayed at the exhibition.

Raaif said he spent three days working on the painting and had stayed up all night to complete it. He said he was hoping to raise funds for his mother’s backbone surgery as the family was currently facing financial constraints.

He added that he did not have any intention of politicising the painting. However, Raaif said he associated the theme of the exhibition – freedom or independence – with former President Nasheed.

“Not free yet”

Online news outlet CNM reported that the second banned painting of Nasheed was from a grade ten student at the Addu20482_941120079255989_6670794182747816048_n City Feydhoo School.

“That photo is of a terrorist. Photos of terrorists cannot be promoted,” organisers allegedly said, according to an anonymous source.

Meanwhile, a group of about 30 people, including several artists, staged a silent protest inside the art gallery today, mingling with members of the public and holding up prints of the banned Nasheed paintings.

The exhibition was open to the public with free entrance.

The protesters also carried placards calling for freedom of expression and assembly as guaranteed by the constitution and stuck posters on the gallery walls that read, “Not free yet!” and “Minimum 50 years in prison.”

“The function of freedom is to free someone else,” read one of the posters, quoting Chinese dissident and Nobel laureate, Ai Weiwei.

“The work of art was a scream for freedom. Minivan [independent] 50 has not reached us yet!” read one of the placards held up by a protester.

An artist at today’s protest, Kareen Adam, told Minivan News: “The state cannot dictate to us what we can paint, draw, write or think etc. They should have called this exhibition ‘freedom within boundaries’ instead.”

Others artists said the organisers were sending a negative message to youth by banning the paintings of Nasheed, stating that former President Nasheed was an ineradicable part of recent Maldivian history.

Around 4:30pm – half an hour after the exhibition opened for the day – protesters told Minivan News that police asked them to leave as organisers had said the art gallery was closing.

A group led by Youth Ministry Coordinator Ali ‘Steps Ayya’ Shahid meanwhile arrived and began tearing down the material pasted on the walls.

“We will not keep paintings of terrorists,” one of the men allegedly said.

Protesters said the men tore down the paintings and ripped up the posters as police officers watched impassively.

A police officer was also photographed ripping a poster.

Steps Ayya Art Gallery protest
Youth Ministry Coordinator Steps Ayya. Photo by: Munshid Mohamed

 

Police told the protesters that the men had clearance to enter the gallery as they had passes of government coordinators.

One of the protesters took a photograph of the men and was allegedly pushed away.

The men also pushed out the protesters from the gallery. Protesters who spoke to Minivan News asked not to be named as they feared becoming targeted and said they did not have confidence that police would provide protection.

 


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Eight gangsters threaten MDP protesters with knives, vandalise lorry and speaker systems

Eight gangsters wielding knives threatened opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) members and vandalised the party’s lorry and speaker systems ahead of a protest last night.

Eyewitnesses told Minivan News, eight young men allegedly belonging to Malé’s gangs, charged into a group of 20 protesters with knives at around 9:00pm, threatened them and shattered the windows of a lorry and speaker systems that were to be used for the night’s protests.

The gangsters shouted, “You cannot do this, this is our country too!”

The MDP has held daily protests since February 10, first against President Abdulla Yameen’s alleged constitutional violations and later against the arrest of former President Mohamed Nasheed.

Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in jail for terrorism on March 13. The MDP has since pledged to launch a national civil disobedience campaign to free the party’s leader.

Speaking to Minivan News, MDP member Aisha Hussain Rasheed said the group threatened former MP Ibrahim “Bonda” Rasheed with a knife, telling him to stay back as they shattered the windows of the lorry carrying the sound system.

An MDP member took a picture of the gangsters, but they chased him down, took his camera from him and broke it.

A police van arrived on the scene, and police arrested one of the attackers, Aisha said.

“We told the police, please protect us, we are also Maldivian citizens. This is your country too, why won’t you do anything? The police, however said, ‘What are we supposed to do?’ Then they left,” she said.

Another eyewitness said a forensic team came ten minutes later and took pictures.

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A police media official declined to comment on the incident, but said no arrests were made last night.

The MDP issued a statement today condemning the police’s inaction, noting the attacks happened in public and were documented through photos and videos.

“The police are obliged by law to protect peaceful protesters. We note with great concern that police have failed to take action even as such groups continue to repeatedly attack MDP protests and destroy our property,” the statement said.

A group of young men had attacked MDP protesters on February 27, and cut off opposition-aligned Raajje TV’s live feed. Protesters on March 13 also reported that a group of young men threatened MDP supporters with box cutters and threw crude oil on protesters.

The ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) has also held numerous rallies in support of the government and calling for a speedy sentence in Nasheed’s terrorism trial.

The opposition has alleged hundreds of Malé’s gangsters attend the government rallies, a claim the PPM has denied.

Minivan News has observed several young men who had been charged with murder at the front lines of pro-government rallies on March 7 and February 19. Three young men seen in the front-lines of PPM bike rally on March 7 included one charged with the murder of 15-year-old Ahmed Shaneed in 2008 and two charged with the 2012 murder of 33-year-old Ali Shifan. They were all acquitted by the Criminal Court.

Speaking after the rally, Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb called on the opposition to stop its nightly protests.

“Don’t make us take to the streets. These are Malé City’s youth. This is a very strong crowd. If these young men get angry it would not be good. That’s why we are with these young men in their homes. We are people who love peace, so don’t make us come out to the street,” Adeeb warned, according to Sun Online.

“We won’t give him [President Nasheed] anymore chances. You [the opposition] will also have to go home. Then we will also quietly stay home,” he added.

MDP subsequently condemned Adeeb’s speech and accused him of threatening the opposition with violence.

“MDP is alarmed by the threats of violence against opposition protesters, made by senior members of President Yameen’s administration,” a statement issued by the party on March 8 read.

“This is a desperate and dangerous escalation of the current crisis by the government. President Yameen’s administration is baring its fangs,” spokesperson for MDP, Hamid Abdul Gafoor said at the time.


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State companies accused of dismissing, suspending opposition supporters

Several employees have accused three state-owned companies of firing opposition supporters for participating in anti-government protests.

Since March 1, at least four employees of State Electric Company Limited (STELCO) and one from Malé Water and Sewerage Company (MSWC) were dismissed, and at least five were suspended from Maldives Ports Limited (MPL).

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and Jumhooree Party (JP) on February 27 held a 10,000-strong protest march calling for President Abdulla Yameen’s resignation. Since then, the MDP continued daily protests over the imprisonment of former President Mohamed Nasheed.

The opposition leader was convicted of terrorism on March 13 and jailed for 13 years.

Speaking to Minivan News, Ahmed ‘Andha’ Saleem, 37, said he was dismissed from STELCO on March 12 despite 17 years of service because of his political views.

Saleem said his colleagues first told him to stop posting anti-government comments on social media or sharing photos of opposition protests. He complied, but was later told to resign when he was seen at an MDP protest on March 6.

At the time, STELCO offered him a MVR 300,000 (US$19,455) retirement package, but he declined the offer. Soon afterwards, he received a letter informing him of his dismissal, he said.

“I received a double promotion just three months back. This is an injustice. I will appeal this case at the Employment Tribunal,” he said.

Ali Farhad, dismissed from STELCO on March 10, claimed the President’s Office was directly responsible for his dismissal.

Several employees who attended the March 6 protests were asked to write apology letters to First Lady Fathimath Ibrahim or Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb, the 43-year old claimed. He was dismissed when he refused to write the letter.

“I love STELCO. I have worked there for 30 years. Even though I’ve been dismissed and my fundamental rights violated, I will continue to participate in protests,” he said.

STELCO’s Assistant Director Abdulla Nazir dismissed claims of forced resignation and said the four employees were retired voluntarily and afforded full retirement benefits.

“The dismissals went according to company procedures,” he said.

Condemning the dismissals, MDP Spokesperson and MP Imthiyaz Fahmy said the party would assist employees in contesting any unfair dismissal, suspension or incidents of harassment at the Employment Tribunal.

“The government is ordering civil servants and state company employees to attend pro-government rallies, I have seen the texts, the letters ordering their attendance. Opposition supporters are getting sacked for exercising their right to assembly and free speech even as board members and managerial staff lead pro-government rallies,” he alleged.

At MPL, a spokesperson said at least five workers had been suspended since March 1 for alleged misconduct.

However, employees claimed 18 staff were suspended for participating in the February 27 mass rally.

Administrative Officer Miusam Abbas said he received a letter on March 1 informing him he had been suspended for misconduct. He was summoned to a disciplinary committee last week and questioned on his participation in the February 27 rally, as well as his support for the government.

Two additional MPL staffs who wished to remain anonymous confirmed they, too, had been suspended for their anti-government views and support for the opposition.

“I don’t depend on Gayoom for my sustenance. I will continue protesting,” one 35-year-old told Minivan News.

The pair confirmed MPL staff regularly received text messages from the company requesting their attendance at ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives rallies.

Both said they had been summoned to a disciplinary committee and asked if they had gone to opposition protests. Attending protests calling for the president’s resignation while employed in a state-owned company was unacceptable, the pair were told.

MPL Media Coordinator Ahmed Athif declined to comment on the suspensions, claiming it was an ongoing case.

Meanwhile, a procurement assistant at MWSC, Ibrahim Ismail, 20, was dismissed on March 12 after he participated in a boat protest near Dhoonidhoo Island on March 6.

“I knew this was bound to happen. Firing government employees who support the opposition has become common practice. But my dismissal came without warning, it was very sudden,” he said.

The reasons for his dismissal remain unclear, Ismail said.

The MWSC was not responding to calls at the time of press.

 


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