Detainees arrested in Addu City after the controversial transfer of power on February 7, 2012, reported being “forced to walk on smoldering coals,” former Police Integrity Commission (PIC) chair Shahindha Ismail has said.
Shahindha said that a four member PIC team visited the southernmost atoll from Februay 10- 13 on the request of then Commissioner of Police Abdulla Riyaz, interviewing police officers and over 75 detainees.
“Almost everyone who was arrested said they were taken to the Gan Police station. Police officers took them through the burnt down buildings and accused them of arson. They said were pushed onto the coals and forced to walk over smoldering coals. We saw burns on various parts of their bodies. They also said they were tortured and pepper-sprayed. Some of the detainees said the police had threatened to burn them and their houses,” Shahindha told Minivan News.
Shahindha has called on the PIC to expedite investigations and expressed concern over “intentional negligence” on the part of both the PIC and People’s Majlis.
Meanwhile, police officers in Addu City said they had not received any instructions or help from their superiors, and had to sleep on the street after protesters burnt down their accommodation block along with most of their personal belongings.
“The police officers we spoke to were very traumatised and angry. They had no clothes, they were sleeping on the street. They did not even have toothbrushes, and were obviously not fit to do any policing,” she said.
In instances where a complaint is not filed at the commission, a majority of the PIC has to agree to launch an investigation. Shahindha said she had completed a report on the Addu City findings and asked the commission to investigate. But the PIC had not reached a decision on the issue when she had left the commission in October 2012.
New PIC chair Abdulla Waheed was not responding at the time of press.
“I have informed the People’s Majlis independent commission oversight committee on multiple occasions of the existence of the report. An Addu MP is on the committee. While the PIC must investigate such serious allegations, the Majlis has a responsibility to ensure the PIC does its job,” Shahindha said.
Arson in Addu City destroyed the police stations in the Hithadhoo and Gan districts, and the police accommodation block and training center in the Hithadhoo district.
On February 9, police officers arrested over 85 people from their houses, cafes and from boats on the sea. Detainees said police officers had relied on information provided by certain members of the public and had been quite arbitrary in who they arrested.
According to Shahindha, some detainees told the PIC team the police had handcuffed them and thrown them into a military truck. Afterwards, the police sat on them and beat them with batons.
With police facilities destroyed in the fire, detainees were not given access to sanitary facilities and were forced to sleep on the ground. They reported not being given the right to appoint a lawyer and said they were not brought in front of a judge to extend detention.
“In one instance, there was one man who had a medical condition and he had asked to see a doctor. He said that four police officers took him and two other men in the police van. But instead of taking them to see the doctor, the police officers drove around and parked the van in the sun,” she said.
“The detainees said their hands were cuffed to the back and that it was very hot inside the van. They said they became very thirsty in the heat. After an hour, they were taken to the burnt remains of the police station and the police officers threw ash over them. We saw remains of ash in the pocket of one of the detainees.”
An Amnesty International report in February 2012 alleged the Maldivian National Defense Forces (MNDF) attacked a group of peaceful female protesters in Addu during the unrest.
“We were left for dead”
The torching of the police buildings destroyed many police officers personal belongings including motorcycles, phone, laptops and clothes. What was not burnt was looted, officers told the PIC.
When protesters in Addu City confronted the police, they had no tear gas to control the crowd and did not have sufficient armor or shields. They could not reach their superiors and did not receive any instructions or help, Shahindha said.
“One officer told me ‘we were left for dead there’ ”, she said.
“The PIC conducted an initial assessment on state funds. There is a report on all of these findings. The PIC must investigate and the People’s Majlis must oversee the PIC.”
“Police officers who were responsible for the torture must be investigated and prosecuted, and their superiors must be investigated for negligence and failure to provide protection to the police,” she said.
In August 2012, the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) recommended that the police, PIC, and MNDF should investigate the failure to contain unrest in Addu and take legal action against security service personnel who were deemed negligent or responsible for the inaction.
The police and PIC should also “immediately investigate” allegations of torture in custody and inhumane treatment of detainees from Addu City and take action against the responsible police officers, the HRCM recommended.
In addition, the commission stated that legal action should be taken against police officers who were negligent in providing medical treatment to detainees as well as against officers who “violated the dignity of private households and infringed upon the rights of residents” during the arrest of suspects from their homes.