Fresh protests erupt after police dismantle MDP camp at Usfasgandu

Police cracked down on a fresh wave of demonstrations that erupted in Male’ on Tuesday, after police raided the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)’s protest camp ‘Usfasgandu’ and later began dismantling it.

The demonstrations were sparked following a MDP National Council meeting held right next to the police barricades near the swimming tracks. The clustered meeting of 43 members of the council took the stand that “enough was enough” and that party should take  to the streets to get their constitutional rights.

Immediately, 400 protesters gathered in the area to challenge the legitimacy of police and demand the return of Usfasgandu, saying that they had not done anything violent. Minivan News observed objects thrown at police barricades, which triggered a brutal police crackdown leading to arrests and injuries.

Minivan News observed one protester sustain a head injury after he was hit in the head by a police baton, and was taken to the hospital in a pickup truck refueling at the nearby petrol shed.

Minivan News also observed a cameraman from local TV station Raajje TV being pepper-sprayed by police while he was attempting to film police arresting a protester.

The confrontations between the police and the protesters continued up until around 6:45pm whereupon the protesters made several attempts to cross the police barricades towards Usfasgandu. The frustrated protesters threw two police barricades into the swimming tracks.

At around 8:45 pm the protesters left the area and headed towards the junction of Majeedhee Magu and Chaandhanee Magu in the centre of Male’.

Protesters gathered in the intersection calling for an end to police brutality and for the resignation of President Mohamed Waheed Hassan and senior officials of the government, including Home Minister Mohamed Jameel and Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim, claiming that that the government came to power by a coup d’état. The protesters also called for early elections.

Soon after the protesters gathered, a lorry arrived with a sound system and participants began chanting over a mega phone.

The protesters said they had gathered in the area because the police had taken over their protest camp at Usfasgandu, and called on police to leave the camp.

At about 10:00pm, two vehicles containing police in riot gear arrived at the protesting area and began dispersing the crowd, which lead to heated confrontations between the police and the protesters. The police resorted to tear gas and pepper spray, and more protesters were arrested.

During the confrontations, the window of a shop in Majeedhee Magu was smashed after it was hit by an by an object thrown during the confrontations.

During the crackdown, police were seen using pepper spray on several bystanders who were standing in front of their houses on Majeedhee Magu who had not taken part in the protest.

At about 11:30pm, an injured young protester was taken into a nearby house, and then to hospital.

At the same time, some protesters again began gathering near the swimming track and the petrol sheds on Boduthakurufaanu Magu, where the protests earlier began.

Earlier at about 9:30 pm, the Civil Court issued a temporary injunction ordering the police and the military to stop dismantling the protest camp at Usfasgandu. The Criminal Court had earlier issued police only a search warrant.

The police let two protesters inside the police barricades near Usfasgandu after they produced a copy of the court order.

At about 12:10am, a group of pro-government supporters arrived and confronted the protesters, leading to heated arguments.

The protests ended at about 12:40am in the morning. Police revealed that 56 arrests had been made during the clashes, out of which two had been released at time of press. Those arrested included MDP MP and Spokesperson Imthiyaz Fahmy, the wife of former Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem, and two MDP councilors.

Confronted on twitter about the arrest of Naseem’s wife, President Mohamed Waheed tweeted back: “I am sorry to hear about Mana. I did all I can to expedite her release.”

Speaking to Minivan News, Police Media Official Sub Inspector Hassan Haneef confirmed that a total of 56 protesters were arrested. He confirmed that out of the 56 arrestees, two had been released.

During the skirmishes, Minivan News observed a 17 year-old boy being arrested by police. Police Spokesperson Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef said that police had no record of the arrest of a minor.

“Even though it is not on our records, there may have been an arrest made, but he was not taken into custody,” said Haneef.

Minivan News understands the boy’s name is Hamdhaan Mohamed, who is at time of press was summoned to Criminal Court for extension of his detention period.

When Minivan News asked about the pepper spraying of Raajje TV Journalist, Haneef said that police would not have done it deliberately, and the cameraman may have been the unfortunate recipient of a pepper spraying that targeted at protesters.

“The police during such a time would not be able to distinguish between innocent observers and violent protesters. So there are chances that even someone who was observing might get pepper sprayed,” he explained.

“That is why we issue a warning before we begin dismantling the crowds. No one is supposed to stay after the warning is issued,” he added.

A photo of the incident on Sun Online appeared to show the cameraman was wearing a media pass and was directly targeted with the spray. Haneef maintained that it was difficult to identify a person.

“How can we see whether he had a MDP pass or DRP pass or a DhiTV pass?” he questioned.

He maintained that he was certain that the “boys” would not do such a thing deliberately, but he said if such a thing had happened, there was a mechanism to file a complaint.

“I am not saying such a thing happened but if it did, the person can lodge a complaint with Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM), the Police Intergrity Commission or even us, we would then look into it,” he added.

Not a good sign: MDP

Speaking to Minivan News, MDP Spokesperson MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor alleged that the police were cooperating with “thugs from the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM)”, accusing them of infiltrating the peaceful protests to incite violent responses from the police.

“We have experienced all this in 2005, we have dealt with this mentality before, but now a large section of the population is aware of their rights and the stage is huge,” he warned.

“Tensions are high because of frustrations around the party talks and the commission of national inquiry, and that the administration is fragmented and not in control – this could be headed to a fist fight,” he added.

Ghafoor claimed in addition that a number of people in the national council had decided that they would no longer recognise the authority of the police as they had mutinied, and that some people had walked through the barricades.

“Lots of people were very angry [over the police actions],” he remarked.

He said that the police were “not acting like police”.

“The institution has broken down so much that people are having trouble believing there are innocent police out there on the street. Police are acting with impunity and clearly breaking the law, by sealing off the Usfasgandu area,” he said.

“People are talking about standing up to police and this is not a good sign.”

A female protester told Minivan News that the actions of the police were “animalistic” and “barbarian”.

“They were like animals at that time. Brutality has gone way out of control. They would stay at a distance and then they would barge in like barbarians and take away those that even were not a part of the protests,” she said.

The protester alleged that police had pre-identified political targets and sought to arrest them in the chaos.

Police crackdown on demonstrators near the Usfasgandu barricades:


HRCM condemns police attack on media

The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) has condemned the police reaction towards journalists who were injured while attempting to cover the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) led protest on Monday night.

Several journalists from different media organisations have reported violent police attacks on journalists covering the opposition protest.

A journalist from Miadhu, Three journalists from DhiTV, two journalists from VillaTV, one from newspaper Miadhu and a photographer from Haveeru reported they were attacked by the police.

The two journalists from VillaTV were also arrested, handcuffed, and released the same evening.

‘’As the media is a pillar that plays an important role in democracy, the freedom of media is a right guaranteed under the constitution which cannot be restricted under any circumstances,’’ said the HRCM in a statement. ‘’Persons active in the media have to be given freedom and protection.’’

The HRCM claimed some of the journalists working there were obstructed from conducting their work by using force, and ‘’therefore we condemn these actions.’’

The freedom of gathering shall also be conducted peacefully in a way that it would not be an obstacle for other peoples’ rights.

The commission advised the protesters to pay attention to these issues and  “to keep their actions in accordance with the rules and regulations.”

“And in a situation where gatherings have to dispersed for security reasons, the chance of causing disruption narrows if it is conducted in accordance to the established procedures,’’ the commission said. ‘’We are now investigating the concerning issues raised after the riot.’’

The HRCM called on the police to use methods “that will not injure people and cause disturbance to citizens” when dispersing riots in the future.


President concerned over police clash with journalists

President Mohamed Nasheed has expressed concern over the clash between journalists and police during the opposition led-protest on Monday night.

Several journalists from different media organisations have reported violent police attacks on journalists covering the riot.

The protest began as a gathering in front of party’s head office, but degenerated into a riot when protesters marched to the President’s official residence of Muleeage.

A journalist from Miadhu, three journalists from DhiTV, two journalists from VillaTV, one from newspaper Miadhu and a photographer from Haveeru reported they were attacked by police.

President’s Office issued a statement saying that it had received reports that journalists covering the opposition protest were injured by police officers who tried to control the situation.

The statement said the President’s office held a meeting yesterday to discuss the issue with the Maldives Journalists Association (MJA), Maldives National Journalists Association (MNJA) and the Maldives Media Council.

Special Envoy to the President Ibrahim Hussein Zaki, Press Secretary for the President Mohamed Zuhair, Deputy Under Secretary of the President’s office Aishath Shuweykara, Communications Coordinator Husham Mohamed and a police media official sat in the meeting with the media representatives.

The statement acknowledged complaints received from NGOs claiming that journalists were injured during police attempts to control the area, that they were deliberately targeted, that police forced journalists to move too far away from the area, and referred to journalists rudely.

The statement also acknowledged complaints that pepper spray and tear gas was sprayed into the area without warning, according to the NGOs.

Zaki told the delegates that the Maldives Media Council was establishing policies for journalists on how to cover riots and protests, and called on all concerned authorities to cooperate with the council.

Zaki said he do not believe that there was any hostility between journalists and police.

Opposition DRP MP Ahmed Nihan said that the reputation and dignity of the country was lifted among the international community after the press freedom was offered in the new constitution, and that the incident that occurred that night was disgraceful.

”The police acted upon orders from the President, they obstructed the work of the journalists while they were trying to broadcast the riot on air,” said Nihan. ”I strongly condemn the police actions.”

Nihan said the President was liable for the police action.

”It is against the words of the President – media is the fourth pillar of democracy, we will demand their freedom,” Nihan said. ”Police reactions were quick and very violent that night.”

He alleged that the attack on the media was given upon a request by Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Moosa Manik.

”It was not even 48 hours after Moosa warned that he would ‘show some of the media what I’ve got’. He has also warned that action would be taken against Villa TV and DhiTV,” Nihan claimed.

He also regretted that international organisations such as Reporters Without Borders did “not appear to care” about this incident.