Comment: Origins of the Special Operations police

This article was first published on Dhivehisitee. Republished with permission.

An especially trained squad known as Special Operations were at the forefront of the police mutiny that ended in the resignation of President Mohamed Nasheed on 7 February. Together with riot police squads, they have since led violent attacks on protesters and re-introduced into Maldivian society the culture of impunity and violence of the pre-democracy era. Although their abuse of power and violations of human rights have been documented by local and international institutions, there have been no prosecutions or disciplinary actions against them.

Late last year, Nasheed’s Police Commissioner Ahmed Faseeh gave evidence to the Commission of National Inquiry (CoNI) on the events of and surrounding 7 February 2012. Although it was a national inquiry held for the benefit of the public, none of the statements and evidence submitted to CoNI have been made public. A transcript of Faseeh’s evidence, however, was leaked online recently.

He provided members of CoNI with a detailed description of how the SO was created in 2004, as a means of crushing the Maldivian people’s uprising against dictatorship and their agitation for democracy. This is an English language translation of the evidence, reconstructed in narrative style. The only changes made are to style, facts remain as shared by Faseeh:

“Police Commissioner Adam Zahir summoned me to his office. It was about two weeks before the 12/13 August 2004.

On 1 September we will be placed under the Ministry of Home Affairs,” he said.

“If we do not get a good force ready by then, we could be severely weakened. We must do everything that can be done to cope. So we must have a plan. Faseeh, why don’t we find someone who can build muscle?” Adam Zahir asked me.

“There is only one person in Male’ with a gym for building muscle. His name is Kesto Haleem, he is the owner of Muscle Load,” I replied.

Adam Zahir asked for more details.

“His name is Kesto Haleem. He may have been a student of yours. He was in Majeediyya School, four batches before us,” I told him.

“We must know him to see. Must have been in a class of mine. Get him over quickly,” he said.

I called Haleem and the three of us met in Adam Zahir’s office the very next day. From what I remember, it was around late afternoon.

“I want to put some muscle on about 30 boys.”

“That’s no problem”, Haleem said immediately. “They can be trained in my gym. For free. All you have to do is get the meds.” Zahir agreed.

The day after, Haleem told me he wanted to take ‘Before’ and ‘After’ pictures of the boys. They were called to the Police Theatre Hall, looked at, and measured. Work began on preparing the team.

Only a few days later, I think it was 12,13 August, vast crowds gathered at Republic Square.The boys stood with me outside the police gates, to protect us and to protect the headquarters. They had not yet had any training; they were green. But, these boys — about 30 or 35 from what I recall — made a line in front of the Hussein Adam building, blocking its entrance. I stood behind the line, around the middle. There was a stabbing. I was cut only a little. Two of the boys were stabbed, the one in front of me, and one a bit further away.

About two months later, the boys were all muscled up. They were ready. Within six months, they were what you would call “pumped.”

“This isn’t enough. We must also teach them something about special operations,” Adam Zahir said. “Why don’t we talk to Thailand?”

Thailand is a friendly country. Our police relations are very good. Discussions with a Thai General secured us 16 placements at their Police Commanding School. I even went to the opening ceremony. From what I recall, I went with F.A [Mohamed Fayaz, current State Minister for Home Affairs]. It is a tough school, and the boys trained rigorously for about two months. They returned from the Commander School and became what is commonly referred to as the Star Force. STAR Team is their real name—Special Tactics and Rescue, that’s what STAR stands for.

That’s how they came into being.

In truth, STAR Team is the name of Singapore’s elite force.We followed the Singaporean model because it is most suitable to a place like this. It is an island nation, they are at the forefront of law enforcement. I, too, graduated from Singapore. That’s where we took the STAR Team from and, actually, we worked within the democratic process.

There were many challenges. We did not really know much at the time. Also, around the same time, it became essential to train riot squads. There were only two individuals with riot control training. From what I recall, one of them was called Superintendent Asheeth. Initially it was with Asheeth’s assistance that we laid the foundations, introduced recruits to what riots are, taught them methods of confrontation, took them through the drills, explained the system to them. That is how they were trained.

MDP was very active on the streets. They were protesting day or night, whatever the area of Male’. Even if a banner was lifted, the cloth must be confiscated—that was the policy. No banners could be hung, those were the orders from the top. When I was head of that department, this is how orders came down: “Remove the banner! Remove the pot! Remove the fish!” For instance, if we cooked bon’baiy, an order might come to have the bon’dibaiy pot removed. Next thing, the pot would be in Dhoonidhoo. Really. That’s how things were.

So, these are the boys.

My second point relates to how they were recruited. When we separated from the military, our population was about 400. When that includes personnel based elsewhere in the country, Male’ is left with only about twenty. We had no choice but to recruit a large number of police. There was no time for a proper recruiting process. People were given crash courses, some training, and sent out on to the streets.

We did not have the opportunity to recruit the kind of people we wanted. Although educational requirements demanded at least two passes in the London O’Level exams, we had to ignore that. Civil unrest was on the rise, time was of the essence, and we had no choice.

I would like to raise two points in relation to this. The boys that we recruited for the riot squads and the Special Team—or STAR Team—were not the type of people we wanted to recruit. We became more certain of this when Dhivehi Observer, a website, started carrying regular video clips of police, intensely criticising their actions. It was bad for our reputation, and became a matter of great concern to us.

“Watch their actions to check what they are really like,” Adam Zahir told me.

I went to a scene personally, and with increasing concern, relayed the allegations to the Direct Commander.

“We really have to look into this. This is ruining our reputation. If they confiscate a camera, they shatter it. If they get hold of a person, they spray him. Or, after bringing the person under unnecessary control, they hit him.”

There were several such incidences. There was no integrity then. No Police Integrity Commission.

Under Adam Zahir’s orders, I therefore sent an undercover team to observe them secretly. Their language was filthy, their vocabulary was obscene. They use the Lhaviyani word all the time. If they got hold of someone, they hit them.

Adam Zahir changed their command. That was one, one and a half, or two years before the term ended in 2008. That is why I wanted to talk about this. They are connected to the events of 7 February; that is why I have gone into such detail.

We did not get the kind of people we wanted, the kind of people we would have been proud of.

Back then, they thought they were in charge of the police, that they were the only people running the police. In fact, this attitude of theirs and the ego that accompanied it, created major motivational problems throughout the police. They were all puffed up, that was their attitude.

This was also of great concern to me. Adam Zahir did suggest having them replaced, but at a time like that, it was very difficult to do so. Before it could be done, government changed. In fact, under the new regime, I tried very hard to shuffle them, rehabilitate them, change their language.

When I became Commissioner on 17 November 2008, one of my greatest concerns was the murder rate in Male’. I think from 2007 to this day, there have been 41 murders in Male’. Cold blooded murders in a tiny society. A very very serious issue. I tried using them to tackle the problem.

But these people, these members of the STAR Team or Special Operation, regard routine police work as outside of their duties. If assigned to any other task, they jeopardise it, create chaos. They’ll hit someone, spray someone in the mouth, cut someone’s hair—something, they will do something disruptive. Nor do they want to do anything physically demanding. They do not want to arrest anyone by doing the dirty work, every day routine work, by asking questions. That’s not something they like to do.

I think, from what I have shared, you will know by now who these people are, how they came into being.

Dr Azra Naseem has a PhD in International Relations

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18 thoughts on “Comment: Origins of the Special Operations police”

  1. Special Operations Police or military wing in every third world country consists of uneducated, tempered and persons who have some kind of psychological problems sometime in their lives.

    You need to be insane to beat up a woman, a child or anyone of that kind. If we look at the footage since Gayooms rein, you would notice the hatred and anger in these people when the beat up MDP supporters on the streets. Nasheed was a president and he deserves dignity, MPs are also people who deserve respect, Women naturally deserve some decency in handling them even in riots. But just look at how they roughed them up!

    Nasheed in his status as a president or civilian SHOULD not be handled like a bag full of rotten coconuts dragged on the roads! You call that respect? Ironically, many died, were tortured or abused during the 30 year dictatorship, but none of the culprits were treated as the present opposition groups.

    Read about the special forces in Syria, Iraq, Tunisia, and Egypt and you will understand our special forces attitudes and backgrounds. There are psychologists in mndf and police treating most of these special forces because they have genuine problems in relation to anger management, among many issues.

    There is no difference with Israelis snipers who shoot journalists, children and women without mercy! The first thing Nasheed should do when he resumes power is to dissolve this special forces, offer them medical help and have them get reconciliation with the public because we cannot live hating each other forever!

  2. And with this infront of that Commission they still didn't see anything irregular about the fall of the previous government?

    The events of 8th February are clearly explained by reading this. The brutal behaviour of uniformed so-called police, was that of a mob out to kill. Clearly, this isn't a normal STAR, but more of a METEOR!

    Effectively, there's a so-called police force, ill educated, unfit for their job, armed with some of the most sophisticated riot gear and chemicals set lose on the civilian population! I pray for the future of this country.

  3. So Kesto gave these guys testosterone? No wonder they are going around bashing people on the skull with impunity.

  4. Try some insider information from Israeli War room, Syrian President, American Pentagon. YOu would get real behind-the-scene reasons.

    Or better, collect some from desert tents of the Arabian Bedouins years ago. You will have great insights to the origins of massive deception and unrest in the world.

  5. So in Maldives even body building is political! What about Zumba dance?

    All kinds of cock and bull stories and old wives tales, is this what this new paper is about.

    Some intelligence please...

  6. "Try some insider information from Israeli War room, Syrian President, American Pentagon. YOu would get real behind-the-scene reasons.

    Or better, collect some from desert tents of the Arabian Bedouins years ago. You will have great insights to the origins of massive deception and unrest in the world."

    This is not about war in Israel, this is not about a Syrian President, the American Pentagon or even whatsoever desert love stories!

    This is about something that happened in this country without the people not knowing!

    This is about something which is the cause of something that happened and is happening in this country right now!

    This is about abuse of human rights and about abuse of the people of this country!

    Faseeh may have thrashed out! But it is not possible to think that he would not guard his wickets!

    However, the gist of his story and all what took place and is happening right now boils down to the same fact!

    Taking into account fact about chain of command, in the Military or the Police, I will not say that Adam Zahir could have or would have done this on his own, without his Commander in Chief not knowing anything about it, or without being given the command to do it!

    This story in every way relates to the reality we saw happening then and now!

    It is sad however, that some do not want to believe given all facts. Instead they prefer to mock and criticize un-patriotically and in hypocrisy!

    If the Military of this country cannot stop this brute force, Allah save us!

    This is not about MDP, DRP, PPM or anything else! This is about injustice and the curse that has befallen us!

    This is about 30 or more brutes who Gayyoom in his latter part of his presidency brought into being to guard and secure the power he held over the people!

    This is about 30 or more brutes he has been keeping in a cage and releasing when his presidency was being ever wanted.

    This is about 30 or more brutes he has used to regain the presidency he lost!

    Pray, Allah have mercy on us!

  7. I guess except Nasheed, all the rulers were brutal and Nahseed never did anything wrong.

    Common, we have seen with our own eyes this Fili Naheed's orders to use pepper sprays and water cannon against the peaceful demonstrators.

    We have seen how Nasheed had asked the armed forces to arrest women and how harsh it was.

    Even we have seen Diyana arrest on the victory square ? It was a horrible incident and that order had come direct from FILI Nasheed.

    Naasir, Gayyoom and FILI Nasheed were equally bad and Nasheed and Gayyoom were much more corrupted.

    Nasheed had no tolerance to digest anything against him and he does not know how to manage situation . He is good to organize things on the road but not a good leader.

  8. i think the police should produce more of this my experience last night the protest is on going at majeedhee road & i have to cross that road to get home but i don't have to wait to finish that long march of the protester so i tried to look for a space between the protester lines,when i have a chance or so 4 of us as i remember crossing, somebody pushes me behind when i looked back they were just playing innocent.its that the way this group protest to own the street.when i'm walking to my house i have think that this kind of people is a back fighter & a coward like the man who lead them.the police & the government should discipline this kind of protest that's creating violence , fear & disturbance in the society.

  9. We're 22nd! It says here "heavy government spending have taken a toll on the local economy, cause high inflation and an unemployment rate that's nearly double since 2010.

  10. 4ma president thougt he could repeat Maumoons type of rule,remember we Maldivians are not in the mood for that type of tyrany.u cant go on arresting whoever u wish.try to respect the democracy we together fought for.once in power u guys forgot that,and u thought that u could do anything u wish.stop dreaming Nasheed,Allah willing,a tyrant like you will never ever be elected as president of Maldives.

  11. MDP,stop crying over spilled milk.the famous world heropresident was a zero when it was time for real action,how funy.

  12. It is clear the current SO need to be disbanded. They should be trained and established in a proper manner. The MPS cannot even manage the traffic in Male'!

  13. Disbanded? You're soft. Every last one of them must face a firing squad composed entirely of the war orphans whom they made by murdering innocent Maldivians.

  14. Dictators, FILE - In this 1974 file Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet speaks at an informal press conference in Santiago, Chile. Newly declassified U.S. documents indicate that Pinochet planned to use violence to annul the referendum that ended his brutal regime in 1988. The formerly secret documents posted by the independent U.S. National Security Archive on Friday, Feb. 22, 2013 showed U.S. officials warning Chilean leaders against violence if Pinochet tried to use force to stay in power if people voted against eight more years of his rule. They also show U.S. officials and agencies backed the anti-Pinochet campaign portrayed in the Oscar-nominated film "No," even though the U.S. government also had tried to undermine the socialist government Pinochet had overthrown. (AP Photo, File)View Photo

    FILE - In this 1974 file photo, Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet speaks at …

    SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — Newly published U.S. documents indicate that Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet sought to use military force to annul the referendum portrayed in the Oscar-nominated film "NO" that ended his brutal regime. The plan was rejected by his fellow generals, the papers say.

    The formerly top-secret documents posted by the independent U.S. National Security Archive on Friday also show U.S. officials warning Chilean leaders against violence if Pinochet tried to use force to stay in power.

    Pinochet "planned to do whatever was necessary to stay in power" just a day before the Oct. 5, 1988, referendum, according to a Defense Intelligence Agency document based on information from a Chilean air force officer.

    "Pinochet reportedly told advisors: 'I'm not leaving, no matter what,'" the document said.

    The documents also show that U.S. officials and agencies backed the anti-Pinochet campaign, even though the U.S. government had worked to undermine the socialist administration of President Salvador Allende that Pinochet overthrew in a 1973 coup and initially supported the new regime.

    The papers portray Pinochet as furious after the vote results.

    In a last attempt to retain power, the strongman who once compared himself to the greatest Roman emperors asked the members of the military junta to meet in his office in the presidential palace at 1:00 AM," says a report by the Defense Department titled: "Chile: plebiscite goes forward as Pinochet apparently loses."

    A CIA source at the meeting describes Pinochet as being "nearly apoplectic" about the results.

    "Pinochet was prepared on the night of 5 Oct to overthrow the results of the plebiscite," an informant said in a report by the State Department titled: "Chilean junta meeting the night of plebiscite."

    Pinochet had a document prepared for other generals to sign and "spoke of using the extraordinary powers to have the armed forces seize the capital," says one of the reports by the Defense Department.

    But even his closest allies said no. The air force commander, Gen. Fernando Matthei, "told Pinochet he would under no circumstances agree to such a thing ... Pinochet then turned to the others and made the same request and was turned down."

    Losing all backing to overthrow the plebiscite, Pinochet accepted his defeat.

    The lead-up to that decision is depicted in "NO," which is up for an Academy Award as best-foreign language film on Sunday. The Chilean film is based on the publicity campaign that helped oust Pinochet and return Chile to democracy.

    The general ruled Chile from 1973 to 1990. He died under house arrest, without ever being tried, despite charges of illegal enrichment and human rights violations.

    "We negotiated with him because we were never able to judge him and Pinochet died a free man and a millionaire," said Pablo Larrain, director of "NO," in an interview last month with The Associated Press.

    The film's July premiere in Santiago unsettled many audiences because Chile remains deeply divided over Pinochet's regime.

    He shut down Congress, outlawed political parties and forced thousands of dissidents into exile, while his police tortured and killed thousands more.

    But loyalists saw him as a fatherly figure who oversaw Chile's growth into economic prosperity and kept it from becoming a failed socialist state.

    "Given the entrenched and violent nature of Pinochet's dictatorship, the No Campaign's victory is all the more dramatic," said Peter Kornbluh, author of "The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability."

    Forty years after the coup, Kornbluh said, "It is not only important to remember how he took power, but was forced to relinquish it."

  15. Dictatorial rule and corruption

    Gayoom had been criticized by Maldivian media and opposition parties as a dictator, with his rule described as autocratic.[5] He also had been accused of nepotism, due to the fact that several family members, in-laws and close relatives had been granted high posts in his government and cabinet. According to Amnesty International, in the year 2003 "...there were severe restrictions on freedom of the press, and political parties were unable to function."[6]

    Gayoom's opponents and international human rights groups had accused him of employing terror tactics against dissidents, such as arbitrary arrests, detention without trial,[7][8] employing torture, forced confessions, and politically motivated killings.[6]

    Gayoom's tenure was marked by several allegations of corruption as well as allegations of autocratic rule, human rights abuses and corruption, charges that he still denies.[9][10] Even after he was succeeded by Nasheed, parliament is still heavily infuenced by Gayoom.[citation needed] Gayoom was declared the "Zaeem", or Honorary Leader, of his party. Last coup on the 7 Feb 2012 Gayoom was behind and still he is commanding been behind he screen.

  16. Good thing the American government does not provide the Maldive police service with drones. Imagine the poor public(not the parteys high on drugs) who go into protest getting into action with these weapons like the impoverished people from the third world!!??

    Guess now the protesting public need weapons to protect themselves from the brutal SO force? but then again there are too many Adam Lanzer type of psychos in this community???Azra, what's the solution!!yeah, i know bring back seyku Anni???!!!


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