Additional reporting by Mariyath Mohamed
Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz has dismissed opposition allegations of the possible politicisation of officers during the presidential election, scheduled for September 7, maintaining that the institution is bound by the “law of the land” and not any one individual.
In the lead up to this month’s polling, the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has continued to accuse the chief of police of conducting “overtly political” actions, while also being a key player in the controversial transfer of power on February 7, 2012 – which it maintains was a “coup d’etat”.
Commissioner Riyaz is currently under investigation by the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) over the temporary publication of a letter on Twitter that was allegedly written by a third party urging officers to vote against MDP candidate and former President Mohamed Nasheed.
Article 69 of the Police Act states, “It shall be illegal for any police officer to commit any of the following acts even in his or her personal capacity, a) Committing any act or participating in any activity that obstructs the performance of his or her duty without bias or partiality b) Committing any act or participating in any activity that could create doubts in the minds of citizens/the public concerning the performance of his duty without bias or partiality c) Becoming a member of any political party, or participating in any activity organised by a political party, or providing financial assistance to a political party.”
Nasheed resigned from office last year following a police and military mutiny that led to Riyaz being appointed as chief of police.
While the investigation over the Twitter case is pending, the PIC yesterday ruled that the commissioner had been appointed to his position in compliance with the Police Act, and that his appointment was lawful.
Meanwhile, Riyaz stressed in July this year the police service will continue to refuse any orders it decides are “unconstitutional” after expressing concerns over leaked proposals allegedly devised by the MDP to reform the country’s security forces should it win the upcoming election.
Committed to transparency
Speaking to media in Male’ today, the police commissioner said the institution was committed to transparency in providing election security.
However, he declined to discuss the investigation into the content of a previous controversial post on his official Twitter page, or the issue of why officers were today seen by local media removing campaign posters and images posted on private property, depicting a violent crackdown against MDP supporters by authorities directly following the change in government last year.
The commissioner said he could only answer questions on matters relating to Saturday’s election, while also rejecting accusations that the Maldives Police Service favoured any specific candidate during voting.
“The Maldives Police Service is an institution and not an individual. We are bound by the constitution to make sure officers operate with the laws of the land,” he said. “Yes, there have been some allegations [of politicisation among senior officers including himself] from one party out of several, but we do our best to be transparent.”
Riyaz told Minivan News that the MDP – as the country’s sole opposition – has been invited to four separate meetings held for political parties to discuss any concerns regarding the police strategy to produce election security on polling day.
He added that the party had declined to attend on all occasions.
“My message would be is that all officers must act in accordance to the law and human rights,” Riyaz said.
Electoral security plans
The commissioner also today updated local media on the police service’s election security plans that will see officers stationed on all inhabited islands by this evening under the name ‘Operation Blue Waves‘.
Riyaz said he was calling on all “political actors and their supporters”, as well as the general public to ensure officers were provided with maximum cooperation to officers involved in providing security during the election.
“I also urge everyone to maintain peace, and should they have any concerns, to address them within due process,” he advised.
“We must set an example to the world by showing that we can get through this elections while maintaining absolute peace and stability.”
In comparison to the country’s first multi-party election held in 2008, Riyaz described the present election campaign period as being generally peaceful despite a “few incidents” occurring, arguing he had received no complaints of any presidential candidate being refused entry to islands.
“I have personally observed how ready our teams are to deal with any situation that may arise. Each officer knows their role and responsibility. We are working closely with the Elections Commission (EC) under an MOU we signed, and are also working with the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF). I am certain that this election day will proceed peacefully, without incident,” he continued.
Despite anticipating a peaceful vote, Riyaz added that SWAT teams and Special Operations (SO) Officers had been provided with election-related training, but would only deployed as a “last resort”.
“Here is the thing, we will only be using the ‘Blues’ [general police officers] for election security purposes. Only if things escalate, and special response teams need to be deployed will we use the SO and SWAT teams. They will only be used as a last and final resort when we absolutely have to. We will try our best to avoid deploying them,” he responded.
The commissioner said that UN human rights experts had also held training with both the SO and SWAT teams on overseeing polling efficiently.
“The team they trained then held wider sessions for the rest of the police force. Our aim is to protect all citizens of Maldives, and all officers are trained to do so,” he said.
As part of the police’s election security strategy, Riyaz added that the Commonwealth had also provided a technical expert who was continuing to assist the institution and provide feedback on their plans for the election day.
The technical consultant, Eldred de Klerk, today met with officers from the country’s South Police Division based in Addu to try to get an understanding of their work and technical capabilities available on the ground during polling.