Commonwealth human rights NGO calls for police brutality investigation

The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) has called on the government to investigation allegations of police brutality and arbitrary arrest of protesters from Friday’s anti-government demonstration.

The international human rights NGO expressed concern with reports of police using disproportionate force against protesters during a crackdown on the 20,000-strong opposition protest. Nearly 200 protesters were arrested and 175 remain in police custody.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party has also alleged the police severely beat three men arrested on suspicion of assaulting a police officer at the protest and threatened to kill them.

“The reports once again point to serious concerns regarding police excesses. Freedom of assembly is a fundamental tenet of participatory democracy and it is the duty of the government as well as the police to take measures to ensure people are able to exercise their right in a peaceful and meaningful manner,” said CHRI Director Maja Daruwala.

“Any action of the police in dealing with public gatherings must be strictly according to procedure established by law and must be held accountable. Allegations of excessive use of force must be investigated independently. Only then will Maldives move towards policing that is fair, non- discriminatory, lawful and efficient.”

The CHRI is an NGO with a Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.

Police have denied the allegations of torture. A police media official told Minivan News yesterday that lawyers for the detainees have not submitted complaints to the police. The human rights watchdog said it is investigating three cases of apparent brutality.

The CHRI also said high number of arrests raises questions over the legality of police action, as freedom of assembly is a fundamental right guaranteed by the constitution while the 2013 peaceful of assembly law assures protestors will not be detained or prosecuted for taking part in a demonstration.

The law also includes procedural safeguards on the dispersal of unruly or violent public gatherings with the use of force, the CHRI noted, including a requirement for police to issue at least three warnings.

The law states that the use of force must be legitimate, reasonable and proportional to the situation.

The NGO called for independent investigations by the police and human rights watchdog bodies to determine the legality of police action on May 1, including “a review of the grounds on which such large numbers have been arrested and detained”.

If investigations determine that excessive force was used, the CHRI said junior officers in charge of dispersing protesters as well as senior officers with supervisory responsibilities must face civil or criminal charges.

“CHRI calls for an end to police impunity that once again lies at the heart of deepening public distrust and urges the Government to provide accountable and just policing befitting a constitutional democracy,” reads the NGOs statement.