Eight young men arrested on the island of Maradhoo in Addu City last week have alleged that they were physically abused by Special Operations (SO) officers while under police custody.
Police arrested the youth on Wednesday (May 15) for allegedly obstructing police duty outside a Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) campaign office, which prompted clashes between SO officers and members of the public.
Eyewitnesses told local media that the SO officers used pepper spray and excessive force to arrest the Maradhoo youth.
Former Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed – dismissed from the post earlier this month following his appointment as the running mate of PPM presidential candidate Abdulla Yameen – told local media that Maradhoo islanders have made a number of allegations concerning police brutality and the behaviour of SO officers during the arrests, including the use of foul language.
Dr Jameel reportedly met PPM members and families of the detainees in Addu City this weekend to gather information. The arrested youth included PPM members as well as Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) members.
Jameel told newspaper Haveeru that the party would provide legal assistance to the PPM members, whose detention was extended to 10 days by the Hithadhoo magistrate court on Thursday (May 16). One of the eight detainees was however released by the court.
The former home minister said he advised the families to file complaints with the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) for investigation.
Asked if he believed police could have been violent towards civilians, Jameel said he “could not say that such actions would not be seen from police.”
Dr Jameel was not responding to calls at the time of press.
Commissioner of Police Abdulla Riyaz meanwhile tweeted on Saturday (May 18) that a Professional Standards Command (PSC) team was “already in Addu to investigate the complaints against police.”
Following the arrests last week, 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 violent mutiny by SO officers, who have since been accused of using excessive force against demonstrators.
Speaking at a campaign rally in Maradhoo on Friday night, MDP lawyer Ahmed Abdulla Afeef said he met the detainees separately and all of them claimed to have been physically abused in custody.
The detainees said they were driven around in a police vehicle, taken to a bridge and beaten, Afeef said.
“For about half an hour, they were kept there and beaten with police ankle boots, police helmets and with their fists,” he said. “I did not see them being abused, but there are still fresh injuries on their bodies. So this has happened.”
They were then taken to the police station and stripped naked before being subjected to more physical abuse, Afeef continued.
The youth alleged that their hands were cuffed behind the back and police jumped on the handcuffs while the detainees were made to lie on the ground, Afeef said.
The detainees also claimed that the SO officers told them that they “toppled the government” and were untouchable, he added.
Afeef said he would file complaints at the PIC and Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) but doubted that any SO officer would be held accountable.
“The Police Integrity Commission will come here and taken statements. But in the end their report will say, ‘there are allegations of abuse but we cannot identify [the responsible officers], so we cannot take any action.’ That is how it has happened in the past,” Afeef said.
Afeef said the clashes with SO officers occurred after four police officers stopped in front of a young man sitting near the PPM office and demanded that he remove a necklace.
The young man had long hair that was dyed in the back, Afeef noted.
“In any case, when police started asking these questions and harassing him, he asked, ‘what’s the problem? am I not free to wear a necklace?'” Afeef recounted.
Police responded by dropping him to the ground and cuffing his hands, Afeef continued, which prompted his friends to intervene and clash with SO officers.
Afeef observed that individual liberty was guaranteed by article 19 of the Maldivian constitution, which states, “A citizen is free to engage in any conduct or activity that is not expressly prohibited by Islamic Shari’ah or by law. No control or restraint may be exercised against any person unless it is expressly authorised by law.”
Meanwhile, PPM-aligned news website MVYouth.com published an account yesterday of one of the young men arrested on Wednesday and released after 24 hours without being taken to court.
Mohamed Zaufnaz ‘Zauf’ Shinaz, an employee of a community news site called Maradhoolive.com, told MVYouth that he went to the area upon learning of a disturbance outside the PPM office.
Zauf said he saw two young men – currently in police custody – being manhandled by plainclothes police officers and was urged by the people there to take video footage of the incident.
More plainclothes officers soon arrived on a police vehicle, he recounted, and one of the officers grabbed Zauf by the neck and asked him if he had a media pass.
Zauf said he was hauled into the van before he could respond.
The police took off with Zauf and three others, he continued, noting that the police officers used obscene language inside the vehicle.
The officers tried to intimidate the detainees and threatened to smash Zauf’s camera, he added.
The four young men were taken to the Hithadhoo police station and shoved and pushed up the stairs, Zauf said.
They were taken inside a room and made to kneel down facing the wall, he said. Everyone except Zauf was in handuffs.
A police officer asked Zauf to delete the pictures and videos on his camera while the others were beaten for about 20 minutes by the officers in plainclothes, he continued.
A second group of detainees were soon brought in and Zauf learned from them later that they were taken to the Hankede bridge and beaten.
Shortly after their arrival, Zauf said he was taken to a room for interrogation. Two officers then took him inside another room and forced him to undress.
After he took off his boxers, the officers forced Zauf to walk naked around the room twice. He was then kept facing the wall while an officer took videos from a mobile phone.
Zauf said he heard the police officers sniggering behind his back.
“I heard the police mocking and laughing at me while I made the two rounds. But I hung my head down and did not look at them,” Zauf was quoted as saying.
After he was allowed to sit down again, Zauf said the officers made him lift his arms up and down three times. When he emerged after being frisked, a statement was prepared and he was made to sign it without reading its content.
Zauf was kept kneeling down again and heard the second group being beaten.
A plainclothes officer gave Zauf his camera back after deleting his photos and videos. An officer had bitten and damaged the memory card on the camera.
Zauf said he saw police officers jump on handcuffs while the others were kept on their knees. Zauf saw an officer smash Aafaq’s head against the wall.
Another officer told one of the young men to cut his hair and threatened that he would do so by force, Zauf said.
Zauf was then handcuffed and placed in a cell with the others. The detainees were given a meal at around 9:40pm. All eight men were forced to sleep in handcuffs.
The detainees complained of impurities in the drinking water and was promised clean water the next day, Zauf said, adding however that he was not given clean water when he was released in the late afternoon the following day (Thursday, May 16).
MVYouth reported today that Zauf’s family has decided to send him to Male’ for counselling as the young man appears to have been traumatised by the experience.