President of the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) Shahindha Ismail has told the Majlis’ Independent Institutions Oversight Committee that police actions on February 8 were unlawful, and that police officers had used undue force to disperse a Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) demonstration.
Video footage of the February 8 demonstration show police in riot gear tear gassing and brutally beating unarmed civilians in front of Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) building.
The MDP took to the streets after former President Mohamed Nasheed claimed he was had resigned “under duress” following a police and military mutiny the previous day on February 7.
Responding to questions from MDP MP Ahmed Sameer, Shahindha said police had violated clauses 1, 8 and 11 of Article 7 of the Police Act. These clauses stipulate that police must respect and uphold fundamental rights of citizens, uphold and protect individual dignity, humanity and human rights, and must not under any circumstances subject any individual to inhuman, degrading or cruel treatment.
MP of the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) Mohamed Hussein asked Shahindha which measures the PIC had used to determine whether police had in fact used excessive force.
“There is a specific act regarding the use of batons,” Shahindha said. “While watching live coverage of the protest, I saw a policeman stretch out his arm with a baton and hit a citizen on his head. That is indisputably unlawful.”
Shahindha said the PIC had immediately called police-in-charge at the time Abdulla Phairoosh and had asked that police show restraint.
“Phairoosh said he was not aware [of police brutality]. We also asked for the police to leave the site if they cannot act within the law. Phairoosh agreed. But we did not see that happen,” she claimed.
Moreover, Shahindha said the police had also violated Article 41 of the Police Act which requires the police to inform the PIC if a police officer causes any harm to a citizen due to use of force, or while individual is under custody.
But Shahindha noted police were fully cooperating with the PIC in investigations, and that the PIC was prioritising the investigation of the events of February 6, 7, and 8.
Responding to questions from MP of the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), Rozaina Adam, Shahindha said while the police had the fundamental right to disobey an unlawful command and the right to ask their commissioner to resign under such circumstances, she could not state whether police actions on February 7 constituted a police mutiny until investigations were complete.
Parties allied with President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan refute allegations of police mutiny, stating that police officers were exercising their right not to obey an unlawful command on February 7.
In addition to the PIC, the Independent Institutions Oversight Committee also met with the Human Rights Commission (HRCM) and the Prosecutor General (PG) to question them about police brutality allegations and the detention of Criminal Court Chief Justice Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012.
Human rights violations
The HRCM told the Independent Institutions Oversight Committee that they believed human rights violations had occurred on February 8. HRCM said their monitors were active on the streets and had visited Dhoonidhoo Remand Center and the hospitals that day.
Speaking at a meeting held to mark the 79th anniversary of the Maldives Police Services, Commissioner of Police Abdulla Riyaz said he would not conduct an internal investigation, saying that he had asked the HRCM to look into the matter.
But President of HRCM Mariyam Azra said the police had not asked the HRCM for a formal investigation into police brutality.
“We did not receive a formal request for investigation. However, in a meeting with the police commissioner, after we asked the police to conduct an internal investigation through the police’s professional standards unit, he asked us to look into it as well. We do not believe that is a formal request for investigation,” Azra said.
Speaking to Minivan News after the committee hearing, Shahindha said if the police conducted an internal investigation into brutality allegations it would increase their integrity in the public eye.
CNI not independent: PIC
DRP MP Visam Ali asked if the PIC would collaborate with the presidential Committee of National Inquiry (CNI), which is charged with assessing the facts regarding Nasheed’s resignation.
New President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan instituted the three member committee following international pressure for an independent investigation into the transfer of power. However, the CNI has come under fire from the MDP and local civil society groups for unilateralism and lack of independence.
“The CNI has said it is not carrying out a criminal investigation. All of the PIC’s investigations carry a criminal aspect. I do not see the point of joint-investigations with the CNI,” Shahindha said.
“I do not believe the commission is independent or impartial nor does it have the mandate to investigate the matter,” she added.
The PIC had now completed 90 percent of its February 6, 7, and 8 investigations, Shahindha said.
Although the PIC and HRCM said they would be looking into police brutality and human rights violations during the transfer of power, the commissions had previously told Minivan News they did not have the mandate to look into the legality of the transfer of power.
Footage of the MDP protest and police response on February 8, following the change of government