Amnesty International has called on the Maldives government to halt the use of excessive force against demonstrators, and urged the international community to continue closely monitoring the situation.
In a statement released on Tuesday, Amnesty said it “condemns the excessive use of force by police personnel and urges the Maldives government to ensure a full and impartial investigation is conducted into such attacks. “
Amnesty urged the Commonwealth and UN “to monitor the situation very closely and press the government to ensure people can fully realise their right to protest freely.”
Amnesty’s statement follows its investigation of the police crackdown on a Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) protest against the extrajudicial dismantling of the MDP’s Usfasgandu protest site on May 29 – a crackdown which included “beatings, pepper-spraying, and arrests. Those attacked include peaceful demonstrators, members of parliament, journalists and bystanders.”
Amnesty said that despite police claims to have used “the minimum required force to dismantle the area and arrest unruly demonstrators”, “it is clear that by far the majority of demonstrators were not using violence, and any such incidents cannot be used by police as an attempt to justify the ill-treatment of bystanders and those rallying peacefully.”
“Amnesty International believes that the police response to the demonstrations on 29 May was a clear example of excessive use of force.”
Amnesty’s statement included testimony from a number of protesters, noting that the latest reports “are consistent with many other testimonies Amnesty International has gathered previously. “
“One woman protesting peacefully in Majeedee Magu Street told Amnesty International that police officers suddenly pushed into them, and hit her and other peaceful demonstrators with their riot shields. Police hit them repeatedly on their back, and then pepper-sprayed them, aiming at their face and eyes. She said that police grabbed one demonstrator by the neck, shouted at him to open his mouth, and sprayed directly into his mouth,” the human rights organisation reported.
“Police also beat bystanders who showed no signs of violence. An eyewitness saw a man sitting on a stationary motorbike taking no active part in the demonstrations. Police went for him and hit him on his head with their batons. He lost consciousness. His friends took him to a nearby house where they arranged private medical treatment for him – they did not take him to hospital straight away as they were afraid he would be arrested.”
Mana Haleem, the wife of former Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmed Naseem, was among those detained.
“She was walking home with her female friend in Majeedee Magu Street when police stopped them and began beating them repeatedly with their batons on their arms, back and hips before taking them in a van to the police station,” Amnesty stated.
“In her testimony Mana Haleem says: ‘I asked why we were being held, but received no answer. Later, they [police] told us it was because we had not obeyed their orders. We asked them how we could have disobeyed their orders if they had not given any, but they were not interested. I have bruises on my shoulder, my back and my hip.’”
MDP MP Imthiyaz Fahmy was also arrested: “he said police in Dhoonidhoo told him he was arrested for ‘disrupting peace’. The next day, in court, police stated that he had been detained for ‘physically attacking a woman police officer,’” Amnesty stated.
The organisation called on countries supplying police and military equipment to the Maldives, particularly pepper-spray, to ensure that the substance was not being used to commit human rights violations.
“Any country that knowingly supplies police or military equipment to a force that uses them to commit human rights violations is itself partly responsible for those violations,” Amnesty warned.
“Amnesty International is calling on the government of Maldives to halt attacks on peaceful demonstrators including beating and pepper-spraying; bring to justice any police personnel who have used excessive force; ensure that security forces in the Maldives receive comprehensive training on what constitutes human rights violations, which they should not commit.”
In response to Amnesty International’s statement, President’s Office Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza observed that “there has always been a problem with police brutality in the Maldives, during the past three years as well.”
“We recognise the need to improve, but for this we need political stability and the MDP is not providing that,” he said, noting that the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) existed to hear such complaints.