Police have refuted “in the harshest terms” allegations of police brutality by Amnesty International, after the human rights body released a statement on June 11 condemning the “excessive use of force” against demonstrators.
Amnesty’s statement followed its investigation of the police crackdown on a Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) protest against the dismantling of the MDP’s Usfasgandu protest camp on May 29 – a crackdown which included “beatings, pepper-spraying, and arrests. Those attacked include peaceful demonstrators, members of parliament, journalists and bystanders.”
In a press release yesterday, police insisted that “the minimum required force” was used to arrest 52 protesters on May 29, which included those who “obstructed police from performing their duty” and “disobeyed and resisted orders” as well as others taken into custody “on suspicion of attempting to inflict physical injury on police officers” and “for behaving in ways that cause loss of public order.”
Minivan News however observed one protester sustain a head injury after he was hit in the head by a baton, and was rushed to hospital in a pickup truck refueling at the nearby petrol shed.
Local daily Haveeru uploaded video footage showing violent confrontations between police and demonstrators during the arrests.
Minivan News also witnessed a cameraman from local TV station Raajje TV being pepper-sprayed by police while he was attempting to film police arresting a demonstrator.
The police statement noted that a report on the day’s events by a monitoring team from the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) “stated in very clear terms that excessive force was not used to arrest those among the demonstrators who threw objects at police, used obscene language and tried to obstruct police duties and that no physical harm was caused by police.”
The HRCM monitoring team however observed a police officer chase two demonstrators and strike them with his baton on the night of May 29. After protesting behind police barricades at the Usfasgandu area, MDP supporters began to gather at the intersection of Chandanee Magu and Majeedhee Magu in the centre of Male’ around 8:45pm.
The police statement explained that force was used to disperse the crowd at the Chandhanee Magu junction after protesters began throwing rocks at police officers from a construction site in the area.
“While six police officers sustained varying degrees of injury during the disturbances that day, two police vehicles were severely damaged,” reads the statement.
It added that police have concluded investigations of five demonstrators taken into custody on May 29 – including MDP MP Imthiyaz Fahmy ‘Inthi’ – and forwarded the cases for prosecution.
Police also noted that “very few complaints” were lodged concerning alleged misconduct and brutality by police officers.
A complaint by Maimoona Haleem, wife of former Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem, alleging excessive use of force in her arrest was being investigated by the police professional standard command, the statement revealed.
According to the Amnesty statement, ‘Mana’ Haleem was “walking home with her female friend in Majeedee Magu Street when police stopped them and began beating them repeatedly with their batons on their arms, back and hips before taking them in a van to the police station.”
“In her testimony Mana Haleem says: ‘I asked why we were being held, but received no answer. Later, they [police] told us it was because we had not obeyed their orders. We asked them how we could have disobeyed their orders if they had not given any, but they were not interested. I have bruises on my shoulder, my back and my hip.'”
However, the police statement claimed that in addition to a complaint filed at the HRCM by a detained demonstrator alleging the use of obscene language during his arrest, no complaints were lodged at the Police Integrity Commission (PIC), the oversight body for police.
The police statement slammed Amnesty for not reporting the “incalculable damage caused to police officers and property” during the MDP protest.
“Maldives Police Service calls on Amnesty International to clarify information from the relevant authorities and state the facts impartially and without bias when issuing such reports in the future,” the statement reads.
The statement concluded by urging “anyone with a complaint regarding police conduct” to formally lodge complaints at independent institutions.
In previous reports highlighting human rights abuse by police, Amnesty has noted police response denying the allegations and its recommendation that victims complain to HRCM.
“HRCM has told Amnesty International that they have serious limitations in terms of trained investigative staff and dealing with human rights issues in a highly politicised environment is an overwhelming challenge for them,” Amnesty has previously noted.
“By referring cases of police abuse of power to the HRCM, when it is clear that such investigations are beyond its capacity, the government is in effect forfeiting its own responsibility to enforce respect for human rights within the police force,” the organisation noted.
In its statement on the May 29 incidents, Amnesty had said that despite police claims to have used “the minimum required force to dismantle the area and arrest unruly demonstrators”, “it is clear that by far the majority of demonstrators were not using violence, and any such incidents cannot be used by police as an attempt to justify the ill-treatment of bystanders and those rallying peacefully.”
“Amnesty International believes that the police response to the demonstrations on 29 May was a clear example of excessive use of force.”
Amnesty’s statement included testimony from a number of protesters, noting that the latest reports “are consistent with many other testimonies Amnesty International has gathered previously.”
“One woman protesting peacefully in Majeedee Magu Street told Amnesty International that police officers suddenly pushed into them, and hit her and other peaceful demonstrators with their riot shields. Police hit them repeatedly on their back, and then pepper-sprayed them, aiming at their face and eyes. She said that police grabbed one demonstrator by the neck, shouted at him to open his mouth, and sprayed directly into his mouth,” the human rights organisation reported.
“Police also beat bystanders who showed no signs of violence. An eyewitness saw a man sitting on a stationary motorbike taking no active part in the demonstrations. Police went for him and hit him on his head with their batons. He lost consciousness. His friends took him to a nearby house where they arranged private medical treatment for him – they did not take him to hospital straight away as they were afraid he would be arrested.”
Amnesty called on countries supplying police and military equipment to the Maldives, particularly pepper-spray, to ensure that the substance was not being used to commit human rights violations.
“Any country that knowingly supplies police or military equipment to a force that uses them to commit human rights violations is itself partly responsible for those violations,” the human rights organisation warned.
“Amnesty International is calling on the government of Maldives to halt attacks on peaceful demonstrators including beating and pepper-spraying; bring to justice any police personnel who have used excessive force; ensure that security forces in the Maldives receive comprehensive training on what constitutes human rights violations, which they should not commit.”