Amnesty International has urged the Maldives to investigate allegations of police brutality during a raid on a music festival on Anbaraa Island in April.
Although police claimed they carried out the raid on suspicion of drug abuse, their actions on Anbaraa seems to have been focused on stopping the festival and forcing women to cover themselves up, said Amnesty.
The organisation highlighted claims of unnecessary force, arbitrary arrest of 79 festival goers on alleged possession and use of drugs, ill treatment of detainees in police custody and denial of rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression.
Festival participants told Amnesty that the police manhandled many of them, verbally abused them, threw them to the ground, and forced them to lie face down.
Police also ransacked and looted their belongings, said festival-goers. Some detainees were beaten up while other suffered sexual harassment, Amnesty was told.
The Police Integrity Commission (PIC) said it has not received any requests to investigate police brutality during the festival.
Police were not responding to calls at the time of press.
Of the 200 festivalgoers, police only arrested 79 – including 19 women and a 17-year-old girl. The rest were set free.
It was only in remand hearings that the detainees learned they had been taken into custody for the possession and use of drugs.
Contrary to police statements that all detainees had tested positive for drugs at the time of arrest, drug tests were only performed after the court hearings at the Dhoonidhoo detention center, Amnesty said.
“The police said they raided the Anbaraa festival because the participants were using drugs. However, the delay in carrying out drug tests, and the fact no one has been charged with any offence, raises concern that this was only a pretext.”
The raid occurred despite approval from the authorities including the Ministry of Tourism to hold the festival, Amnesty said.
“However, in the very early hours of 20 April, the police raided the island from the sea in full riot gear and masks, shot off flares and rubber bullets and rounded up festival goers,” Amnesty’s statement said.
The organisation reminded the Maldives Police Service that law enforcement officials shall “as far as possible apply nonviolent means before resorting to the use of force and firearms” as per UN basic principles number four on use of force and firearms.
Festivalgoers told Amnesty that officers beat them up when asked to explain why they were being arrested.
One participant told Amnesty that she was kicked hard in the back by a policeman for not putting her hands up when ordered to, because in a state of shock she did not know what she was supposed to do.
Police officers also used pepper spray without provocation, they said.
Female participants told Amnesty of sexual abuse and humiliation. Police officers allegedly told female detainees they would “shove their batons up them.”
Another woman recounted: “We were separated from the men and then the police draped the women, some of whom were wearing shorts and shirts, with material because they said we were not decent.”
“They also filmed us. They meant to humiliate us and refused to say why we had been arrested. We spent the night in handcuffs, with little water and no food until morning,” she continued.
Police action seems to have focused on forcing women to cover themselves up, Amnesty said.
“Although there are no laws banning music in the Maldives and Islamic dress is not mandatory, police action appears to have focused on stopping the music festival and forcing women wearing skirts and shirts to cover themselves,” the statement said.
The last of the three Maldivians in custody were transferred to house arrest on June 2. A Malaysian national is still at the Dhoonidhoo Detention Center, Amnesty said.
Amnesty International has called attention to the police’s frequent use of excessive force against demonstrators, especially in the aftermath of the controversial transfer of power in February 2012.
A previous version of this article incorrectly said five of the Anbaraa detainees are still in custody.