“You will never walk out of here alive”: MDP reveals details of alleged torture of May Day detainees

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has accused police of torturing and threatening to kill suspects arrested for assaulting a police officer during Friday’s anti-government protest.

Nine suspects have been taken into custody over the assault. Video footage shows protesters tripping and kicking a Specialist Operations (SO) officer and one man hitting the policeman over the head with his baton.

The MDP said Moosa Sharmeel, 35, was arrested from his home in Malé by policemen in plainclothes and severely beaten in front of his wife and children.

“He was taken to police headquarters where he was beaten again. The detainee reports that the policemen inside the building, including those at the reception counter, cheered on while he was being beaten,” the MDP said in a statement yesterday.

Policemen kept saying “we will kill you” as they beat him, Sharmeel told his lawyer.

“He was shoved on the floor and beaten until he lost consciousness. His head smashed open when he was shoved to the floor.”

Police have denied the allegations of torture. A police media official told Minivan News yesterday that lawyers for the detainees have not submitted complaints to the police.

Lawyers and families could also file cases with independent oversight bodies such as the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) and the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM), the official suggested.

The human rights watchdog is investigating cases of alleged police brutality and custodial abuse.

Nearly 200 protesters were arrested from the 20,000-strong anti-government demonstration, which was the highest number of arrests made from a single protest in over a decade. Some 175 protesters are being held in remand detention for 15 days.

Sharmeel’s lawyer, Abdulla Haseen, told the press yesterday that a police officer intervened and stopped the beating. He was then taken to the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital and admitted at the intensive care unit for treatment of injuries.

Police denied his requests for a CT scan after he complained of a “foul smelling discharge from his head,” the MDP said.

Haseen said Sharmeel was suffering from chest pains, had difficulty digesting food, and suspects he has internal injuries due to the beating.

Eyewitnesses told Minivan News they saw policemen in plainclothes beating a man around 3:15am on Saturday near the Henveiru stadium, close to Sharmeel’s residence. Seven men, some wearing jerseys and shorts, repeatedly punched and kicked the man and drove off with him in a police van.

The MDP said Sharmeel was not taken to court within 24 hours “as his injuries from the beatings would have been too visible.”

“Instead, he was released near the Malé detention Centre (Atoll Vehi) and immediately shown another arrest warrant and taken into custody again,” the party said.

Police allegedly told Sharmeel he was “arrested for his own safety” and are now claiming “he was beaten inside his home by members of the public who also allegedly transported him to the Police HQ.”

The MDP also said two other suspects, Abdulla Ibad, 32, and Mohamed Rasheed, 52, were also beaten at the police headquarters.

Both detainees reported police threatening to kill them. Rasheed said police “kept saying ‘you will never walk out of here alive again. We will charge you with terrorism, you do not have that much longer to live anyway.'”

The party said other detainees reported beatings on the police vehicle after their arrest.

Former MDP MP Ahmed Easa was allegedly kicked and beaten on the head with batons after he was hauled on to the police vehicle. Minivan News journalists at the scene heard Easa scream from the vehicle packed with SO officers.

Easa was limping when he was brought to the remand hearing on Saturday.

The MDP noted that video footage shows Easa along with other protesters shove off the violent protesters, help the fallen SO officer to his feet, and take him back behind police lines.

Easa and MDP chairperson Ali Waheed were brought to a clinic in Malé last night. The MDP has said police doctors at Dhoonidhoo recommended the pair consult specialist doctors.

Lawyer Fareesha Abdulla said yesterday that three of her clients among the May Day detainees have alleged beatings by police.

The Dhoonidhoo doctor recommended medication for head injuries for one detainee, who says he has not received medicine so far, she said.

Police officers kicked and beat a second detainee with batons on a police vehicle, she said, while an SO officer kicked him on the groin with his knee at the police headquarters.

He has not been provided medicine prescribed by police doctors, she said.

Another detainee with a chronic illness said police were not providing medication at prescribed times, Fareesha said.

The detainee was having seizures due to the lack of medication, she said.


Lawyers accuse police of restricting access to May Day detainees

Lawyers have accused the police of restricting access to protesters arrested from Friday’s anti-government demonstration, and raised concern over packed conditions at the detention center as well as the arrest of pregnant women, senior citizens and nursing mothers.

The main opposition party’s legal team is planning to appeal the 15 day remand detention of over 170 protesters arrested after a crackdown on the 20,000-strong protest.

“Sick people and mothers of infants should be given lighter punishments. These people are not yet convicted they are only under the suspicion of a crime,” said lawyer Fareesha Abdulla at a press conference this afternoon.

The 195 arrests made on Friday was the highest number from a single protest in the past decade.

The criminal court had granted a blanket 15-day extension of detention for 175 protesters, while 19 were released after police failed to present them at court in the 24 hours required by law.

In addition to restricting access, lawyers accused police of holding detainees in overcrowded cells with no ventilation and failing to provide medication at prescribed times.

Amnesty International’s Abbas Faiz says the human rights organization is investigating reports of failure to provide medication to a pregnant woman.

About 12 lawyers visiting the Dhoonidhoo detention centre were kept waiting for hours and were only able to meet about four or five detainees a day before having to leave at sundown, lawyers said.

“The way police have made arrangements there we have faced a number of difficulties in meeting our clients,” said Fareesha.

Lawyers also said police had initially refused to provide a list of detainees and said the legal team gathered details based on calls to the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) hotline and by waiting at the criminal court for remand hearings.

Fareesha Abdulla said only one police officer handles paperwork at the Atholhuvehi custodial centre, who had to process forms from lawyers from over 170 detainees.

The police media official today dismissed the opposition’s allegations as “baldfaced lies,” insisting that cells at the Dhoonidhoo detention centre are up to standards.

MDP vice president Mohamed Shifaz meanwhile said the detainees included a number of bystanders, including a pizza delivery man, people out shopping, and students on their way to classes.

Shifaz said police were calling families of detainees and saying they did not have lawyers, while MDP women’s wing president Shifa Mohamed claimed police had offered to arrange lawyers for MVR3,000.

The police media official said families were contacted, but denied the claims of seeking money.

“No police officer would do that, we do not do business transactions here. Maybe that is something they do,” the official said.

Lawyer Abdulla Haseen meanwhile noted that the detainees were accused of “confronting police, throwing rocks and bottles, assaulting and harming police, and damaging police vehicles.”

Police had argued at the remand hearings that the detainees posed a danger to society if they were to be released from police custody.

Others were accused of not leaving the protest area despite orders by riot police, Haseen added.

The penalty for “obstructing police duty” for a first time offender was a MVR3,000 fine, Haseen said, adding that 90 percent of the detainees do not have criminal records.

The May Day detainees were treated with unprecedented “harshness” by police and the criminal court, he said, adding that the police had failed to hand over clothing and personal items provided by families of detainees.

Some detainees were still wearing the same clothes from Friday, lawyers said.


MDP calls on PG to drop charges against CNM journalist Haseen

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has called on Prosecutor General (PG) Muhthaz Muhsin as well as the government to drop charges against Channel News Maldives’ (CNM) senior journalist Abdulla Haseen.

“We note with regret that this is the first criminal prosecution of a journalist since the adoption of a democratic constitution in 2008,” the main opposition party said in a press release on Wednesday night (September 3).

Haseen is currently on trial at the Criminal Court on charges of obstructing police duty during an MDP demonstration on July 21, 2012.

The former Minivan Daily reporter is accused of shoving police barricades at the Chandanee Magu-Orchid Magu junction and using obscene language to address riot police officers.

At the first hearing of the trial last week, Haseen pleaded not guilty and noted that he attended political rallies and street protests to cover them as a journalist.

“This is a charge raised deliberately by the state against press freedom,” Haseen told reporters after the hearing.

“And this is an opportunity to experience for myself how the Maldivian criminal justice system functions.”

The court granted a five-day period for Haseen to hire a lawyer.

In addition to Haseen, Abdulla Idrees of Gulfaamuge in Laamu Maavah and former opposition MDP MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor are also facing similar charges. The cases were conducted concurrently during the trial.

The next hearing of the case has been scheduled for September 28.

Press freedom

The MDP expressed concern with the filing of charges over two years after the incident allegedly occurred, noting that obstructing police duty was the most common charge pressed by the state.

“And we note with concern that Abdulla Haseen is being prosecuted at a time when the media in the Maldives is facing serious challenges with journalists assaulted, television stations torched, death threats made against journalists, personal safety of journalists lost, and a journalist believed to have been abducted,” the press statement read.

The party added that the Maldives has plummeted in press freedom indexes of international media organisations and called on the state to ensure security for media personnel.

The Maldives dropped to 108th place in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Press Freedom Index for 2014, marking a decline in press freedom for the third consecutive year.

In February 2013, opposition-aligned private broadcaster Raajje TV reporter Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed was nearly beaten to death, while the station’s offices and equipment were destroyed in an arson attack in October.

In June 2012, two men slashed the throat of freelance journalist and blogger Ismail Hilath Rasheed with a box cutter.

Prior to the country’s first multi-party democratic election in 2008, the Maldives was ranked 104th – an improvement on its 2007 ranking of 129th. The country’s ranking in 2009 and 2010 reflected dramatic improvements in press freedom – including decriminalisation of defamation,  rising to 51st and 52nd respectively.


Court delays Humam’s hearing in Dr Afrasheem murder trial

The Criminal Court has delayed the hearing in to the trial of Dr Afrasheem Ali’s murder case scheduled for today, after Humam’s defense lawyer claimed he had not received the police forensic report.

According to local media, the hearing started today as scheduled, to hear forensic experts on the forensic report police had prepared.

However, as the hearing started Humam’s lawyer Abdulla Haseen told the judge that he had not received the forensic report and asked the judge if he could give him a two day period to review the report, to which the judge replied that the court could only give him 10 minutes as it was the duty of the lawyer to obtain the forensic report earlier.

After giving him a 10 minute break to review the forensic report, the judge began the hearing and told that the court was unable to provide the report to the lawyer because it contained names of people that the Prosecutor General had requested to hide.

Concluding the hearing today, the judge announced that today’s hearing would be delayed to tomorrow for this reason.

Dr Afrasheem was a well-known religious scholar and the MP for Ungoofaaru constituency. He was stabbed to death on the night of October 1, on the staircase of his home.

State prosecutors accused Humam, along with Ali Shan – who is also facing the same charges – and a minor identified as ‘Nangi’, of going to the residence of Dr Afrasheem and murdering him with a machete and a bayonet knife.

Humam initially confessed to the murder, but later withdraw his statement claiming it had been extracted under police duress.


Chief suspect in Afrasheem murder case retracts confession, claims to have been coerced

The chief suspect alleged to have murder parliament member and prominent religious scholar Dr Afrasheem Ali, Hussain Humam, has retracted his previous confession to the crime, claiming it was obtained by police through coercive means.

Humam – who has been linked with smuggling drugs, gang violence and several other high profile crimes – confessed to the killing on May 22, answering “yes” in court when state prosecutors produced a statement detailing the murder and asked him if it was his.

According to that statement, Humam claimed the idea of killing Dr Afrasheem was given to him by Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) officer Azleef Rauf, whom he met at a baibalaa tournament held in 2012.

The pair later met in person again at a coffee, according to the statement, along with two other individuals Humam identified as Abdulla ‘Jaa’ Javid (son-in-law of opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Chairperson ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik) and his brother ‘Jana’.

According to the prosecutor’s statement, Humam was promised a sum of MVR 4 million (US$260,000) for murdering the religious scholar. The statement said Humam later asked Azleef Rauf why Afrasheem was to be murdered, and was told that one of the reasons were Afrasheem’s remarks during the day former President Mohamed Nasheed controversially resigned.

State prosecutors accused Humam, along with Ali Shan – who is also facing the same charges – and a minor identified as ‘Nangi’, of going to the residence of Dr Afrasheem and murdering him with a machete and a bayonet knife.

Humam’s retraction of his statement during yesterday’s court hearing is the second time he has denied committing the murder.

Court denies request for psychological testing

During the hearings, Humam’s defence lawyer requested the judge allow Humam’s sanity and mental stability be tested, claiming that Humam’s father had told him that the suspect had a mental disorder. He stressed that Humam himself had told Haseen that he wanted to consult a psychologist.

Haseen also took an oath swearing that he had never asked Humam to deny the charges levied against him, in response to ongoing public rumour that Haseen was behind Humam’s new denial.

Responding to the request made by Haseen, Judge Abdulla Didi denied the request for psychological testing, stating that Humam’s lawyer had not mentioned such a psychological disorder during the hearings held to extend Humam’s detention.

The judge further claimed Humam had pleaded with him to continue the trial behind closed doors.

Humam’s defence lawyer was allowed to enter the court only after Humam stood up without the permission of the judge and requested that his lawyer be present , and that he wished to proceed with his lawyer.

Speaking in the defence of the accused, Haseen contended that Humam had told him that the confession that he had given during the previous hearing was a result of threats by police.

His lawyer said Humam was warned that should he fail to comply with the deal offered by the police, they would charge him with other crimes of which he was accused.

The police also assured Humam that he would not be sentenced to death should he confess to the crime, Haseen alleged.

Witness’s narrative of the incident

During Saturday’s hearing the state presented two witnesses, included a minor alleged to have gone with Humam to Afrasheem’s residence, and the doctor who inspected the body.

The minor, who gave evidence over a distorted audio link and responded to questions from Humam’s defense lawyer Abdulla Haseen, said he knew Humam even before the events that led to the murder of the MP.

According to the minor, Humam had called him and told him that there was a ‘mission’. On the day the murder was carried out, Humam called him and requested him to meet up at Usfasgandu, while informing him that he had received briefings of what they needed to do to complete the said mission.

The witness told the court that he had gone to Usfasgandu, where he met with Humam and Ali Shan. After meeting up, the three then headed to ‘pad-park’ near Usfasgandu, where he claimed he saw Shan wielding a knife.

The witness told the court that they left the park and headed to ‘Kuda Kudhinge Bageecha’ – a children’s park located in front of Dr Afrasheem’s house. He claimed that Humam entered the residence and seconds later, a man carrying a stack of books entered into the same house, followed by Ali Shaan.

After a short while, Shaan called him. When he had entered the premises, he told the court he saw the man with the books brutally injured, lying on the floor.

The witness claimed that Humam was wielding a bloody knife and holding the hand of the injured man, which was also covered in blood. He also claimed that Ali Shan too had a knife.

Responding to the questions posed by Humam’s defence lawyer, the witness claimed  he had given evidence to the court on different occasions during November 2012.

When Haseen questioned whether the witness had been involved with previous criminal activities carried out by Humam, he answered stating that he had not, but said he had knowledge of what Humam had been doing.

As soon as Haseen began questioning the witness about his own criminal records, Judge Abdulla Didi stopped him stating that the questions did not have any relevance to the case at hand.

The doctor who had inspected the body of the deceased Afrasheem told the court through the assistance of a translator that there was no sign of life in Afrasheem’s body when he was brought to the hospital.

Explaining his observations, the doctor said that Afrasheem’s body had suffered severe injuries of the kind which could lead to death.

Next hearing

State prosecutors argued that Humam had confessed to the crime during the last hearing, as well as during a hearing held to determine the extension of his custody.

Therefore, the prosecution contested that it was a legitimate confession according to the constitution, that that therefore they felt that the court could issue a verdict based on the confession.

The judge concluded the hearing without announcing the date for a next hearing.


Supreme Court concludes hearing concerning MP Abdul Hameed’s disqualification from public office

The Supreme Court has concluded hearings of a suit filed by Presidential Commission member Abdulla Haseen, to determine whether independent MP Abdul Hameed’s seat in the parliament is vacant.

The Criminal Court has previously ruled that MP Abdul Hameed was guilty of corruption, a verdict that disqualifies him from holding public office as an MP.

According to the constitution, any MP sentenced to a term longer than one year will be disqualified and his seat will be vacant. Hameed was sentenced to 18 months banishment.

Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) MP Ilham Ahmed, Jumhoory Party (JP) Youth Wing Leader Moosa Anwar, Adam Asif of Laamu Atoll Gan, and Hameed requested the court authorise them to speak in the hearing and were granted permission.

Speaking in the court, Hameed’s lawyer said that he still had a right to appeal any decision, and requested the Supreme Court declare that such a suit could be conducted.

Ilham’s lawyer said that following the ruling of Criminal Court, Hameed’s seat was vacant, and claimed that the parliament was deadlocked because of Hameed’s attempt to sit and take part in the parliament sessions.

He also requested the Supreme Court declare that Hameed could not attend parliament sittings prior to the conclusion of the case.

Asif’s lawyer also contested  that Hameed’s seat was now vacant, adding that after the Criminal Court’s ruling, Hameed did not qualify to be an MP.

Concluding the hearing, Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz said that there will no more hearings of the suit and that the court will now conclude the case.