Additional reporting by Leah Malone
Multiple arrests and pepper spraying marked the fifth consecutive night of protests on Tuesday evening, as supporters of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) demonstrated near the Supreme Court in Male’.
Both regular police officers and Special Operations branches of the Maldives Police Service (MPS) were present at yesterday’s demonstrations, as well as Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) officers who were manning barricades.
The Supreme Court has been the focus of protests after its order to indefinitely delay the second round of the presidential elections forced the Elections Commission (EC) to concede that the September 28 run-off could not go ahead.
Thirty female protesters gathered near the Supreme Court in the early evening and were met by Special Operations police in riot gear and MNDF officers. MDP MP Eva Abdulla and former Education Minister Shifa Mohamed were among those detained by police during the demonstration.
By 11:00pm approximately a thousand protesters had gathered near the FDI Station on Fareedhee Magu – the closest protesters can go to the Supreme Court building, as the area remains cordoned off by police and military forces.
Following a series of speeches by MDP MPs – including Eva Abdulla who was released from police custody in time to address the crowd – the demonstrators altered their strategy. Instead of remaining in a single location, the protesters divided their numbers between multiple locations on the north side of the capital.
Hundreds peacefully walked the back roads behind the Supreme Court calling for elections, and were met by MNDF officers in riot gear guarding the alleys leading to government buildings. A group of protesters were met by approximately 30 Special Operations police in riot gear near Republic Square, which prompted the crowd to continue their march.
After regrouping near the FDI building the protesters staged another march down Chandanee Magu, to Majeedhee Magu, and back up Orchid Magu – all main thoroughfares in the capital city. Groups of onlookers were seen gathered in front of private businesses and homes, some of whom joined the protest.
The seemingly spontaneous marches were to intended to disorient the smaller numbers of Special Operations police, an MDP activist and former government official told Minivan News during the demonstration.
Minivan News observed MNDF in riot gear blocking protesters from approaching government buildings, however they deferred to police once fresh squads arrived at the various intersections.
Standard police officer’s – ‘blues’ – were observers using pepper spray on protesters, while Special Operations officers sent in snatch teams to pluck people from the crowd once numbers had dwindled to around 400.
Although the police website reported 10 people arrested, Minivan News witnessed up to 20 people taken into police custody before the protest ended around 2:30am.
Following criticism of police arrest procedures at the Parliamentary Privileges Subcommittee yesterday, the police today released a series of statements stating that strip-searching, testing for drugs and handcuffing were legal, and “not inhumane.”
The MDP has alleged arbitrary and frequent use of pepper spray, beating, strip-searching, frisking, handcuffing and drug tests of their supporters arrested at protests.
Arrests “not inhumane”
In a statement today, the police said they were authorised to frisk and strip-searches under Articles 32-36 of the the Police Powers Act. The articles state that police are authorised to frisk and carry out strip searches if the police have reasonable grounds to believe the detainee may hold an object to harm themselves or another, or an object for intoxication, or an object to commit an illegal object.
In a separate statement today, the police said that handcuffing is not an “inhumane act” saying the police are authorised under Article 57 of the police powers act to handcuff detainees while they are being transported.
The police said they are also authorised to ask for urine samples to do drug tests if there were reasonable grounds to suspect the detainee was intoxicated, even if the individual was not detained on suspicion of drug use.
Prosecutor General Ahmed Muizz meanwhile told the Parliamentary Privileges Committee that police could only carry out drug tests if the detainee was arrested for suspected drug abuse, or if police had reasonable grounds to suspect detainees arrested on different charges have used drugs.
Police carried out a drug test on Haveeru journalist during one of this week’s earlier protests, and requested a urine sample from MP Ali Azim.
Police also expressed concern about media taking photographs of the operations.
“Who is taking these photos? She’s snapping pictures of everything we do,” one SO officer objected to a colleague.
“Let her take photos, what can she do with them, right?” the second officer remarked.
“We should just take her in,” said a third.
The Supreme Court has yet to make a decision on Gasim Ibrahim’s bid to annul the first round of results after he placed third, despite the court concluding the hearings last week.
Earlier this week, court media officials offered assurances that the case was being worked on “around the clock”.
Speaking at a Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) event on the island of Maafushi yesterday, presidential candidate Abdulla Yameen suggested that street protests would not influence the outcome.
“The Maldives will obey the rulings of the judicial courts. Street rulings will not work in the Maldives,” local media reported Yameen as saying.