The Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) protests in Malé escalated into violence over the weekend, with police and protesters sustaining injuries, arrests of demonstrators, intimidation of reporters, attacks on police, torching of police vehicles and vandalism of several businesses.
The MDP has vowed to continue street protests from July 8 until President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s administration is brought to an end. The party alleges President Mohamed Nasheed was deposed in a coup d’état on February 7 and has called for early elections.
Police arrested more than 65 protesters over the weekend, including the MDP Youth Wing President Aminath Shauna on Friday evening, and President Nasheed’s former legal advisor Hisaan Hussein on Saturday evening.
Shauna was released by the Supreme Court on Saturday at 9:00pm, after Chief Criminal Court Judge Abdulla Mohamed ruled that she not take part in protests for 21 days.
On Thursday night Minivan News observed dozens of policemen with riot gear and batons charging at protesters gathered at the junction of Chaandhanee and Fareedhee streets at approximately 1:00am. Protesters had heckled police and refused repeated police orders to disperse from the area. Some had also thrown empty water bottles at police.
A Minivan News reporter was among the crowd that ran before the police into the Sultan Park near the protest area. Pavement stones were flying in the park, but it was not clear who was throwing them. The crowd then gathered at the Chaandhanee and Majeedhee Magu junction afterwards. Minivan News saw a truck full of policemen driving through the streets at high speed, and individual policemen threatening and taunting protesters.
In a statement on Friday, police said MDP’s protests on Thursday night had turned into “riots” with protesters attacking law enforcement officers with chilli-infused water and pavement stones. A police officer was diagnosed with retrograde amnesia after being hit on the head, police claim.
The MDP have meanwhile accused President Waheed’s administration of systematically undermining civil and political rights, stating that police had “baton-charged demonstrators, used pepper spray and reportedly fired rubber bullets at unarmed protesters.”
Those arrested also included two disabled women, the MDP said.
“Demonstrators were always within demonstrating area set by regulation when police violently dispersed the crowd,” the MDP claimed. Police also attacked and beat President Nasheed’s former Human Rights Ambassador Mohamed “Go-go” Latheef and Malé Mayor “Maizan” Ali Manik, the party claimed.
The protest continues at the Chaandhanee Magu and Fareedhee Magu junction at the time of press.
Zero tolerance, say police
In a statement on Friday, police claimed protesters had attacked nine law enforcement officers “while a group of MDP activists brutally beating other security personnel and hitting his head has sent the officer into a retrograde amnesia.”
According to police, officers repeatedly asked the protesters to disperse from the area after midnight, but protesters threw glass pebbles and heavy lead balls at the police. The police were then forced to show “zero tolerance” to control the “atrocity” against them, the statement read.
Protesters attacked police media personnel, beat and threw a 45-year old man into the sea, broke the window panes of two shops, snatched seven mobile-radio sets and attacked several police officers, the police claimed.
In the attacks on the police, several police vehicles were damaged and one was set on fire, police added.
“The mob went on savaging the Male’ City streets, attacked another police officer and damaged his police motor bike near Masjid-Al-Zikra, a mosque in Majeedhee magu close to the junction. The mob also throwing pave stones to a police vehicle broke its window panes near the Le’cute’ shop, and a few yards east to the central junction on Majeedhee Magu scorched another motor bike,” the statement read.
Commissioner of Police Abdulla Riyaz on Twitter on Friday said he had instructed the Operation Commander to take necessary action to minimise injuries to police officers. Police Spokesperson Hassan Haneef explained Riyaz’s statement to local media Sun Online as meaning an instruction to take action to disperse protests at the first sign of violence.
Meanwhile, the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) on Thursday evening conducted breathalyzer tests on police on duty after protesters alleged police on duty were intoxicated. The test results were negative.
“Rights in full retreat”
The MDP has condemned police attacks on its MPs, journalists and protesters. MDP members have posted photos on social media depicting bruises and bloody cuts allegedly caused by the police.
MDP Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Gafoor said “civil and political rights are in full retreat. The police are responsible for daily human rights violations but nobody is ever prosecuted for these crimes – impunity has become the norm.”
The MDP has condemned the arrest of its Youth Wing President Aminath Shauna, and claims the arrest was “highly targeted.”
Police have denied any political motive behind Shauna’s arrest and said she was charged with obstruction of police duty.
Shauna’s arrest has meanwhile sparked international media attention with an online petition and a Twitter campaign calling for her release. A professor at Westminster College in the US state of Missouri has asked President Barack Obama to seek Shauna’s release. Shauna graduated from Westminster College in 2008.
“I fear for her safety and her life. I call on President Obama to demand her immediate release from prison and to grant her political asylum in the United States. She is the victim of political repression,” Professor of Political Science John Langton told newspapers the Fulton Sun and the Kansas City Star.
Criminal Court Judge Abdulla Mohamed released Shauna at 9:00 pm on Saturday evening on the condition that she does not take part in protests for 21 days.
Reporters of private television station Raajje TV, which broadcasts live coverage of MDP protests, told Minivan News they had to stop coverage after receiving death threats at around 4:00am on Friday.
Cameraman Ibrahim Riyaz said police had been verbally abusive towards him and journalist Zaidhullah Shabeen all night.
“When protesters set fire to the motorbike, a police officer came looking for us. Then we heard other police officers in riot gear say, ‘let’s beat them, destroy them and the station,’” he said.
Raajje TV reports its cameraman Mohamed Shanoon fell unconscious after being baton-charged and suffered a collarbone injury on Wednesday night.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has expressed concern over attacks on journalists from police and protesters. Private television station DhiTV’s presenter Mohamed Ameeth was mobbed by protesters on Wednesday evening.
Violence was relatively low on Friday night. Nineteen people were arrested, and police said they had dispersed protesters at 2:00am “without the use of force.”
However, protesters told Minivan News police in trucks had driven at them at high speeds causing protesters to scatter.
“We were afraid they would run us over,” protester Ahmed Yasmin said.