Additional reporting by Neil Merrett.
Police arrested eight individuals in the island of Maradhoo in Addu City yesterday (May 15) following clashes with Special Operations (SO) officers near a campaign office of the government-aligned Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM).
Police said in a statement that SO officers were dispatched upon receiving information that two rival groups were preparing for a gang fight.
“When police went to the scene at around 3:15pm [yesterday] and attempted to search the people there [for weapons], a group of people in the area threw rocks, inflicted varying degrees of injury to police officers and caused unrest,” the press release stated.
The eight men arrested during the disturbance for allegedly obstructing police duties included a 19 year-old, two 20 year-olds, a 21 year-old, a 22 year-old and two 27 year-olds, police said.
PPM MP Ahmed Nihan tweeted shortly after the arrests that clashes occurred with police following a complaint of loud music from the party’s youth office.
He today told Minivan News that although the PPM was in the process of collecting information on the incident, the party would not rule out the possibility that gang violence was behind yesterday’s clashes, playing down the possibility of political motivation behind the police action.
Nihan claimed that street fights between rival gangs from different neighbourhoods were common in Addu City, while also being symptomatic of growing “friction” between different political supporters ahead of this year’s presidential election.
“We can only rely on police accounts of the matter so far that this was a group of people fighting each other,” he said.
The clashes occurred in an area recently established by the PPM for young supporters, a policy that Nihan explained was designed to encourage youth engagement with its election campaign.
“We never thought anything like this would happen though,” he said. “We believe that the rule of law must be upheld regardless of political colour.”
Nihan said older supporters had noted a “scattered group” of young people around the area where clashes later occurred.
PPM officials told Minivan News that a party supporters and another eyewitness had alleged police had attempted to raid the campaign area to perform a search, resulting in confrontations with some PPM members present in the area.
MP Nihan told Minivan News yesterday that party supporters and other witnesses had alleged that officers had arbitrarily detained party members.
“There is some confusion as to what has gone on, even in the party. Sources tell me many people were taken into custody for no reason,” he said at the time.
The PPM today also slammed supporters of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) over what it claimed were attempts to accuse the Maldives Police Service of using excessive force against members of the government-aligned party.
Special Operations (SO)
Former President Mohamed Nasheed also took to twitter to condemn “the actions of a few policemen who’ve arrested members of pol parties, used excessive force, violated the sanctity of their premises.”
Nasheed resigned on February 7, 2012 in the wake of a mutiny by SO officers, who have since been accused of using excessive force against demonstrators.
The police press release meanwhile stated that a group of people attempted to block the link road and had thrown rocks at police vehicles following the arrests.
Police also denied allegations in social media of brutality against women and children by SO officers.
Addu City Mayor Abdulla Sodiq said yesterday that he was aware of “confrontations” between police officers and a group of young people in Maradhoo, though he was awaiting exact details on the matter.
Sodig said that Maradhoo was traditionally a close knit community, with residents often standing by each other.
Newspaper Haveeru reported eyewitnesses as claiming that police beat people who chased them after rocks were thrown.
A resident of the house where the PPM office is located told the newspaper that police entered both the office and adjoining house, used pepper spray and threw people to the ground before taking them into custody.
He claimed that the situation turned violent when police asked a young man to lower his boxer shorts while searching him.
“He refused, started yelling and people gathered. Then verbal attacks were exchanged between the people and police and they started throwing rocks,” he was quoted as saying.
Community website Addu Online meanwhile reported that a crowd gathered in the area in the wake of the arrest to protest police brutality.
The demonstration was reportedly dispersed when SO officers returned to the area.
Local media reported later in the day that rocks were thrown at two police officers near the Hithadhoo regional hospital. The pair were however not hit by the projectiles.
Police also arrested an individual in Addu City last week for allegedly threatening to kill an officer.
Mayor Sodig told Minivan News earlier this month that 50 people were arrested in advance of a visit by President Mohamed Waheed on May 8, “and about 90 percent of those taken in were MDP [Maldivian Democratic Party] supporters”.
Police however denied making the arrests.
As part of an ongoing police operation in Addu to “keep the peace”, “lots of people were taken into custody and were released after their information was collected”, a police media official who spoke with Minivan News initially stated.
The official then refuted the statement, claiming that only one person was arrested in Addu City on May 7.
Mayor Sodig explained that the city council had requested the police “provide extra strength to increase numbers to about 30 per station.”
“The special operations team [responded by] sending their ‘star force’, but they don’t have their commander here. He’s not in control of this group or operations. Instead they are directly overseen by Male’ command,” said Sodig.
“That’s the reason why we don’t want them to continue,” he declared.
The task force consisting of 50 special operations police was started in January 17, 2013 and was supposed to end April 17, according to Sodig. However, the entire special operations force has remained in Addu City, targeting those allegedly involved in drug and gang issues.