“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.


Concerns grow over police abuse of May Day detainees

The human rights watchdog has launched an investigation into police brutality against protesters arrested from an anti-government rally on Friday amidst growing concern over custodial abuse.

The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) said its officials were denied access to detainees at the police headquarters on Friday night, but were able to visit the detainees the following morning at Dhoonidhoo.

The commission is now investigating three cases of apparent brutality, member Jeehan Mahmoud said.

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

Other sources say a 35-year-old man was arrested without a court warrant from his residence near the Henveiru stadium, on suspicion of beating a police officer at the protest. The source alleged the man was also beaten at the police headquarters, released the next day, and arrested again with a court warrant.

Jeehan said the HRCM is looking into the case as well.

Nearly 200 protesters were arrested from the opposition’s May Day rally after clashes with riot police. The numbers arrested are the highest from a single protest in a decade. Some 175 protesters are being held in remand detention for 15 days at the police custodial island of Dhoonidhoo near Malé.

Lawyers for the detainees and the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) have accused police of brutalising the protesters during and after arrest and holding them in inhumane conditions at the packed detention centre.

The MDP alleged in a statement today that Specialist Operations (SO) police officers kicked former MP Ahmed Easa on his spine and shoulders and hit him on the head with batons after hauling him onto a police vehicle.

Minivan News journalists at the scene heard Easa scream in apparent pain from inside the vehicle, which was packed with SO officers. Easa was limping when he appeared in court on Saturday.

The MDP said police officers threatened to torture Easa while he was waiting at the criminal court and have so far refused to bring the former MP to Malé for treatment. Lawyers said Easa and other detainees have been provided treatment by police doctors at Dhoonidhoo.

Easa and other detainees were kept 25 people to a cell, which were infested with mosquitos, the opposition party said. Police routinely whacked the bars of the cell to prevent Easa from sleeping, the MDP statement added.

Other detainees, including two pregnant women, have complained of being kept in overcrowded cells with no ventilation.

Lawyers said former MDP MP Ibrahim Rasheed ‘Bonda’ had a swollen eye while other detainees had sustained a range of injuries during their arrest.

A man and woman arrested from a protest pickup that had charged through police lines into the green zone at dusk on Friday were also severely beaten, lawyers said.

A police media official told Minivan News that all the detainees, including Easa, were arrested in full view of the media, who were free to observe and report police conduct.

Lawyers for the detainees have not lodged complaints of brutality with the police, the official noted, adding that cases could also filed with independent oversight bodies such as the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) and HRCM.

The head of the PIC was unavailable for comment at the time of publication.

Police said six people have been arrested so far in connection with assaulting the police officer on Friday night. Two men aged 35 and 49 were arrested on Saturday while a 30-year-old woman and three men aged 19, 48, and 28 were arrested on Sunday.

The criminal court has extended the remand detention of all six suspects to 15 days.

Lawyers told Minivan News that they have not had access to detainees held on suspicion of assaulting the police officer.

A seventh suspect has reportedly been arrested this evening. Local media said 19-year-old Mohamed Laban, the goalkeeper of football club Eagles, was arrested around 5:45pm upon his arrival for training at the Maafanu stadium.

Laban is accused of tripping an SO officer. Police have posted videos of the incident, which show protesters kick and severely beat him on the ground with his baton.

Eyewitnesses at the scene told Minivan News at the time that other protesters, including Easa, shoved off the violent protesters, helped the fallen officer to his feet, and took him back behind police lines.

In a report released yesterday after observing the May Day protest, human rights NGO Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) said protesters sustained injuries after police used their shields to push people back.

“The police were also heard using inappropriate and abusive language at the crowds, displaying acute hostility towards the people gathered. It was also observed that some individuals used hateful language and threw plastic bottles and stones at the police,” MDN said.

“Protesters who were arrested after police charged into the crowds were seen to have been pushed, forced to run with several policemen or carried by more than three or four policemen,” the observation briefing stated.

“It was noted that requests by these protesters to let them walk calmly was not respected by the police, and rough handling which led to individuals beings banged into the barricades, injuries and also for several individuals to lose their footwear or cause damage to clothes was observed.”

The MDN also noted that it was unclear whether the individuals arrested during periodic charges by SO officers were responsible for breaching barricades or were simply bystanders.

The MDN praised police personnel who assisted injured protesters and helped wash pepper spray from their eyes and attended to cuts and bruises.

Transparency Maldives has meanwhile condemned police for charging at “peaceful protesters” as well as the “mob attacks on police officers by protestors at the May Day protest.”


Maradhoo detainees allege physical abuse in police custody

Eight young men arrested on the island of Maradhoo in Addu City last week have alleged that they were physically abused by Special Operations (SO) officers while under police custody.

Police arrested the youth on Wednesday (May 15) for allegedly obstructing police duty outside a Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) campaign office, which prompted clashes between SO officers and members of the public.

Eyewitnesses told local media that the SO officers used pepper spray and excessive force to arrest the Maradhoo youth.

Former Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed – dismissed from the post earlier this month following his appointment as the running mate of PPM presidential candidate Abdulla Yameen – told local media that Maradhoo islanders have made a number of allegations concerning police brutality and the behaviour of SO officers during the arrests, including the use of foul language.

Dr Jameel reportedly met PPM members and families of the detainees in Addu City this weekend to gather information. The arrested youth included PPM members as well as Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) members.

Photo from MVYouth.com

Jameel told newspaper Haveeru that the party would provide legal assistance to the PPM members, whose detention was extended to 10 days by the Hithadhoo magistrate court on Thursday (May 16). One of the eight detainees was however released by the court.

The former home minister said he advised the families to file complaints with the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) for investigation.

Asked if he believed police could have been violent towards civilians, Jameel said he “could not say that such actions  would not be seen from police.”

Dr Jameel was not responding to calls at the time of press.

Commissioner of Police Abdulla Riyaz meanwhile tweeted on Saturday (May 18) that a Professional Standards Command (PSC) team was “already in Addu to investigate the complaints against police.”

Following the arrests last week, former President Mohamed Nasheed also took to twitter to condemn “the actions of a few policemen who’ve arrested members of pol parties, used excessive force, violated the sanctity of their premises.”

Nasheed resigned on February 7, 2012 in the wake of a violent mutiny by SO officers, who have since been accused of using excessive force against demonstrators.

Speaking at a campaign rally in Maradhoo on Friday night, MDP lawyer Ahmed Abdulla Afeef said he met the detainees  separately and all of them claimed to have been physically abused in custody.

The detainees said they were driven around in a police vehicle, taken to a bridge and beaten, Afeef said.

“For about half an hour, they were kept there and beaten with police ankle boots, police helmets and with their fists,” he said. “I did not see them being abused, but there are still fresh injuries on their bodies. So this has happened.”

They were then taken to the police station and stripped naked before being subjected to more physical abuse, Afeef continued.

The youth alleged that their hands were cuffed behind the back and police jumped on the handcuffs while the detainees were made to lie on the ground, Afeef said.

Photo from MVYouth.com

The detainees also claimed that the SO officers told them that they “toppled the government” and were untouchable, he added.

Afeef said he would file complaints at the PIC and Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) but doubted that any SO officer would be held accountable.

“The Police Integrity Commission will come here and taken statements. But in the end their report will say, ‘there are allegations of abuse but we cannot identify [the responsible officers], so we cannot take any action.’ That is how it has happened in the past,” Afeef said.

Afeef said the clashes with SO officers occurred after four police officers stopped in front of a young man sitting near the PPM office and demanded that he remove a necklace.

The young man had long hair that was dyed in the back, Afeef noted.

“In any case, when police started asking these questions and harassing him, he asked, ‘what’s the problem? am I not free to wear a necklace?'” Afeef recounted.

Police responded by dropping him to the ground and cuffing his hands, Afeef continued, which prompted his friends to intervene and clash with SO officers.

Afeef observed that individual liberty was guaranteed by article 19 of the Maldivian constitution, which states, “A citizen is free to engage in any conduct or activity that is not expressly prohibited by Islamic Shari’ah or by law. No control or restraint may be exercised against any person unless it is expressly authorised by law.”

Custodial abuse

Meanwhile, PPM-aligned news website MVYouth.com published an account yesterday of one of the young men arrested on Wednesday and released after 24 hours without being taken to court.

Mohamed Zaufnaz ‘Zauf’ Shinaz, an employee of a community news site called Maradhoolive.com, told MVYouth that he went to the area upon learning of a disturbance outside the PPM office.

Photo from Addu Online

Zauf said he saw two young men – currently in police custody – being manhandled by plainclothes police officers and was urged by the people there to take video footage of the incident.

More plainclothes officers soon arrived on a police vehicle, he recounted, and one of the officers grabbed Zauf by the neck and asked him if he had a media pass.

Zauf said he was hauled into the van before he could respond.

The police took off with Zauf and three others, he continued, noting that the police officers used obscene language inside the vehicle.

The officers tried to intimidate the detainees and threatened to smash Zauf’s camera, he added.

The four young men were taken to the Hithadhoo police station and shoved and pushed up the stairs, Zauf said.

They were taken inside a room and made to kneel down facing the wall, he said. Everyone except Zauf was in handuffs.

A police officer asked Zauf to delete the pictures and videos on his camera while the others were beaten for about 20 minutes by the officers in plainclothes, he continued.

A second group of detainees were soon brought in and Zauf learned from them later that they were taken to the Hankede bridge and beaten.

Shortly after their arrival, Zauf said he was taken to a room for interrogation. Two officers then took him inside another room and forced him to undress.

After he took off his boxers, the officers forced Zauf to walk naked around the room twice. He was then kept facing the wall while an officer took videos from a mobile phone.

Zauf said he heard the police officers sniggering behind his back.

“I heard the police mocking and laughing at me while I made the two rounds. But I hung my head down and did not look at them,” Zauf was quoted as saying.

After he was allowed to sit down again, Zauf said the officers made him lift his arms up and down three times. When he emerged after being frisked, a statement was prepared and he was made to sign it without reading its content.

Zauf was kept kneeling down again and heard the second group being beaten.

A plainclothes officer gave Zauf his camera back after deleting his photos and videos. An officer had bitten and damaged the memory card on the camera.

Zauf said he saw police officers jump on handcuffs while the others were kept on their knees. Zauf saw an officer smash Aafaq’s head against the wall.

Another officer told one of the young men to cut his hair and threatened that he would do so by force, Zauf said.

Zauf was then handcuffed and placed in a cell with the others. The detainees were given a meal at around 9:40pm. All eight men were forced to sleep in handcuffs.

The detainees complained of impurities in the drinking water and was promised clean water the next day, Zauf said, adding however that he was not given clean water when he was released in the late afternoon the following day (Thursday, May 16).

MVYouth reported today that Zauf’s family has decided to send him to Male’ for counselling as the young man appears to have been traumatised by the experience.