Five in custody as anti-government protests continue in Male’

Police have said an anti-government protest held last night by Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) supporters was comparatively calmer compared to demonstrations witnessed on Sunday (July 15), as its officers continue to exercise “minimum force” to contain crowds.

Police Spokesperson Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef told Minivan News today that eight arrests had been made during last night’s demonstrations, with five of those detained still remaining in custody as of this afternoon.

However, the now opposition MDP has alleged that its supporters continue to be the victims of police brutality, accusing the country’s law enforcement officials of “lying” about the conduct of demonstrators and the alleged discovery of several “syringes of acid” this week.

The MDP has held a week of consecutive daily demonstrations centred around Chaandhanee Magu in Male’ against what its supporters claim is the “illegitimate government” of President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan.

While the opposition party contends that the protests this week have been “largely peaceful”, the ongoing demonstrations have at times broken out into violent clashes. This violence has led to allegations of police brutality against demonstrators, and counter claims of protesters attacking reporters and security forces.

Thousands of protesters were observed early yesterday evening by Minivan News attending the night’s demonstrations early, though this number had declined to a few hundred by around midnight. The protests eventually ended by about 4:00am this morning, according to police.

Crowd control

Sub-Inspector Haneef said that police officers had continued throughout the week to amend their crowd control tactics on a daily basis as needed. He declined to speculate on how demonstrators may have been adapting their own approach during the consecutive nightly protests that began earlier this month.

According to Haneef, an individual was last night taken from the crowd with what appeared to be stab wounds to his stomach. He adding that investigations were now continuing into the incident.

Haneef also confirmed that officers had discovered a package during the last two days said to contain vials of a substance later found to be an unknown concentration of sulphuric acid.  “We are now waiting on the final report to clarify the concentration of the acid,” he said.

However, MDP MP Imthiyaz Fahmy today hit out at police claims that they had been employing “minimum force” during the week, alleging that peaceful protesters last night continued to be harassed and, in some cases, arbitrarily arrested.

“Every protest so far is peaceful, we have seen police coming through the barricades to snatch people from the crowd in intimidation,” he said.

In recent days, Minivan News observed isolated incidents of half-filled water bottles and shoes being thrown from crowds gathered near temporary barriers set up by police.

Fahmy contended that the protests were themselves “largely peaceful”, with protesters exercising their right to demonstrate against a police force it claims had a direct role in the controversial transfer of power in February.

The MDP and former President Mohamed Nasheed have alleged that the government of President Waheed had been brought to power in a “coup d’etat”, sponsored by mutinous sections of police and military as well as opposition politicians now aligned with the coalition government.

Fahmy claimed the MDP continued to doubt the legitimacy and tactics of national security forces as a result.

“We simply cannot trust anything the police say. This is the same police that brought about the coup and also falsely arrest people,” he alleged. “People flocked in their thousands yesterday to march from [an MDP protest site at] the usfasgandu area of Male’ to Chaandhanee Magu.”

When asked about reports of police discovering syringes of sulphuric acid and “plastic bags filled with chilli powder mixed with water” during this week’s protests, Fahmy accused police of fabricating the  stories and evidence to defame protesters.

“They are always coming up with such stories. They have been lying about incidents during the protests,” he claimed. “We have raised concerns about video footage clearly showing [former] President Nasheed being pepper sprayed. They have denied using pepper spray at the protests. This video evidence contradicts statements they have made.”

Sub-Inspector Haneef responded that police had admitted to using pepper spray during the ongoing protests in certain circumstances . When asked to clarify the official protocols for using pepper spray against crowds, the police spokesperson referred Minivan News to an official statement released earlier today.