The Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) and police used a salt water cannons to break up a gathering of nearly 100 female supporters of Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) outside President Office on Tuesday afternoon.
The women marched to the President Office around 3:15pm to deliver a set of letters requesting President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan to resign, while the rest of the female demonstrators sat down outside the office holding boards bearing slogans including “Where is my vote?” and “Justice now”.
The women from all ages continued to call for President Waheed’s resignation while the police and MNDF on the scene ordered the women to leave the area.
Video footage circulating over the social media then show that the police aimed a high-pressure salt water cannon at the crowd for at least five minutes, but this did little to deter the women, who were then physically picked up by policewomen. Others were pushed back by policemen armed with shields.
Several eye witnesses alleged to Minivan News that “some policeman groped the female demonstrators, tore their clothes and used foul language” during the removal.
“Two women’s clothes were torn from the shoulders when the policemen tried to grab them. One woman’s veil was taken off and I saw her shouting at the police,” one of the demonstrator told Minivan News over the phone.
Another eye witness reported seeing a woman who was “dragged by her feet” after she refused to leave. “The women tried to shove him off and cover her body because her blouse was torn, but the policeman grabbed her hands,” the source claimed.
Several women were seeing resisting arrest while the policewomen attempted to grab some of the women hosed down by the salt water. Although, the crowds were dispersed from the President Office, the women continued to voice their discontent on the nearby streets until nightfall.
Police media official, Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam, told Minivan News that female protesters forcibly crossed the police cordons and “intimidated the police”.
Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz at a press conference yesterday had vowed that police would “become feared by the most dreaded criminals”.
“[The women] forcibly crossed into the area near the President Office after intimidating the police guards at the cordon blocking the area. They were ordered to leave the area repeatedly before the police used force to remove them,” Shiyam said.
Responding to allegations that police used excessive force to subdue the gathering, Shiyam said “If anyone has any complaints they can follow the due process and file a complaint.”
“What we used was water. It is the least brutal force used to disperse a gathering,” he further added.
Speaking to Minivan News today, former Tourism Minister Dr Mariyam Zulfa said that before the protest outside the President Office nearly 500 female MDP supporters went to the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) to file a complaint over the police brutality.
She claimed the commission has so far failed to take any action.
“As we were coming back some went to the President Office to deliver letters to request Waheed resign. So while they did that, we sat down to peacefully protest. However, almost immediately police came and used a high pressure water hose,” said Dr Zulfa, who was also at the sit-down demonstration.
“There is no way to end this brutality,” she said. “The international community has failed to see this day after day. Anywhere else in the world this would be a shameless military coup.”
Meanwhile, later in the evening HRCM had issued a press statement condemning the police for using “excessive force” against the women while controlling today’s demonstration.
The commission also urged the police to to respect the people right to peaceful demonstration and asked them to refrain from any actions that will harm the dignity of women.
Women have been at the front line in MDP’s political movement to bring early elections, since the party’s candidate, former President Mohamed Nasheed was deposed in what the party calls a bloodless coup.
Recently, Amnesty International has also condemned attacks on a group of MDP women supporters in Addu Atoll by the security forces, after obtaining testimonies from victims of a crackdown on demonstrators at a rally during the recent visit to the MDP stronghold by new President.