The Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) is to investigate the pepper-spraying of former President Mohamed Nasheed by police during a protest on July 14.
A video of the incident shows a riot police officer reaching over a crowd of people surrounding Nasheed and spraying him in the face. Nasheed turns away as the spray hits him, and is taken away by his supporters, but later returned to the protest.
“Maldives Police did not use any excessive force nor was pepper spray directed to anyone’s face,” police said in a statement.
“The Maldives Police strongly denies MDP allegations of directly pepper spraying on individuals eyes at close range, especially ex-president Mohamed Nasheed, and urge the Maldivian Democratic Party to publish statements responsibly,” police said.
Police admitted using the spray to control the crowd during their recovery of barricades removed by the demonstrators, but have denied intentionally targeting the former President.
“Pepper spray was used to halt the charging demonstrators on July 14th night against police barricades set for security reasons. This spraying was never in any case directed to human eyes in close range but into the air to avert possible regulation violations by demonstrators,” the statement read.
“The allegations made by the Maldivian Democratic Party against Maldives Police pepper spraying directly on Ex-president Nasheed’s face is not true. The Maldives Police Service have no intentions on directly pepper spraying on Ex-President Mohamed Nasheed nor any other individuals; however, the incident is currently being looked into and necessary actions will be taken against any officer who uses excessive force.”
Police also appealed the demonstrators “not to rage in violence and not use any loudspeakers as the unfriendly circumstance by the demonstrators went deep into the night.”
Asked to clarify the circumstances under which pepper spray was used on demonstrators, Police Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef referred Minivan News to the police statement.
The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) have meanwhile condemned the “cowardly” pepper spraying of their leader, alleging that the Special Operations officers sought out the former President and deliberately sprayed him.
“Nasheed is a former president and the security services are legally responsible for his security,” the party said in a statement.
The incident had “further destroyed public confidence in police”, the MDP stated, and was “an attempt to create chaos and incite protesters to violence.”
The MDP’s Parliamentary group leader, MP Ibrahim Mohamed ‘Ibu’ Solih, said the party would submit the matter to parliament’s national security committee.
“Police should be mindful of maintaining their authority and integrity at a time when confidence in the police institution has been undermined,” Solih told local media.
President’s Office Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza was not responding at time of press.