Police Commissioner challenges Parliament Committee to Supreme Court battle

Commissioner of Police Abdulla Riyaz has declared that police officers will appear before parliament’s Executive Oversight Committee (EOC) only if the Supreme Court orders police to do so.

Riyaz made the remarks in an interview given to local newspaper Haveeru.

On Tuesday, ]Riyaz sent a letter to parliament stating that he will not appear before the EOC – which has an opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) majority – claiming that he had received advice from Attorney General Azima Shukoor not to do so.

In the letter, the commissioner contended that it was not in the mandate of the committee to hold police accountable. Instead, this was the responsibility of parliament’s National Security Committee – known as the 241 Committee – established under article 241 of the constitution.

Riyaz repeated his claim that the parliamentary committee was attempting to discredit the police. He alleged that the committee members were employing ‘bully-boy’ tactics rather than holding the institution accountable.

He also expressed disappointment over the committee’s decision to summon the police officer who struck a fleeing suspect on a motorbike, that led to the death of bystander Abdulla Gasim, 43.

A leaked CCTV footage showed a police officer stepping in front of the speeding motorcycle and appearing to hit the rider on the head with a baton.

The driver loses control and collides with Gasim sitting on his motorcycle just in front of the Justice Building entry, causing both to fly off their vehicles. The police officer retrieves an object from the ground and wanders away, as other police and a military officer rush to the scene. Gasim died of his injuries.

The initial police statement made no mention of police involvement in the crash.

Speaking to Haveeru, Riyaz questioned as to why the negligent officer should be summoned when Riyaz had appeared before the committee on his behalf.

“I have already appeared before the committee and had answered all the questions on behalf of the police, and even the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) has released its report on the incident. What is the purpose of summoning the officer who used the baton?” he questioned. “The purpose is very clear. The purpose, I believe, is to discredit the police institution. They can’t do that under my watch. I am sorry,”

Riyaz claimed that the decision not to cooperate with the parliamentary select committee was made after he observed members of the committee using “foul language” towards police, calling them “unpleasant names” and asking them “unnecessary questions”.

He added that  advice from the attorney general was sought after the committee had turned itself into “a platform to harass the police”.

“After we got the advise from the attorney general, myself and other police officers have now decided not to appear before this committee. If [the committee members] want to change that, they would have to go to the Supreme Court,” he claimed.

Riyaz stated that if the Supreme Court ordered police to appear before the committee, they would adhere to the order.

“My responsibility is to assure the safety and protection to the people. That responsibility falls onto the shoulders of the police. I will not give the opportunity to anyone to harass and intimidate police officers of different ranks. That is why we sought a legal mandate to not appear before the committee,” he explained.

Meanwhile, chair of the EOC Ali Waheed said that even if the commissioner had decided to boycott the committee using the attorney general’s advice as an excuse, the committee did not feel obligated to seek counter-advice.

The Thoddoo MP noted that the Supreme Court had previously ruled that  parliament committees can summon anyone and that until now, Riyaz and other government officials had accepted this fact and attended parliament committees as requested.

In March 2011, the Supreme Court ruled both the Police and the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) should be answerable to parliament and its National Security Committee whenever requested.

The Supreme Court in the ruling stated that, according to article 99 (a) and (b) of the constitution, it was clear that parliament was obliged to supervise every action of the security services and ensure their actions are within the constitution and law.

Article 99(a) of the constitution states – “[The People’s Majlis or any of its committees has the power to] summon any person to appear before it to give evidence under oath, or to produce documents. Any person who is questioned by the People’s Majlis as provided for in this Article shall answer to the best of his knowledge and ability”.

Article 99(b) states – “[The People’s Majlis or any of its committees has the power to] require any person or institution to report to it”.

However, the police commissioner contended that the Supreme Court’s ruling stated that the police should only appear before a “relevant committee” and he did not believe that police could be summoned by “just any committee”.

Speaking to Minivan News, EOC member MP Ahmed Easa dismissed Riyaz’s claims, stating that police had already lost the public’s respect and the confidence once held in the institution, and that there was “no point Riyaz talking about it now.”

“The police lost credibility among the public the day they came out on the streets, toppled an elected democratic government and brutalised the people they were supposed to defend and uphold,” he said at the time.

He also contended that the EOC had the mandate to summon any individual from the executive branch for questioning, and that this was very clearly mentioned in the parliament’s regulations and the constitution.

“If he does not believe what has been clearly set out in the laws of this country, that means he is no longer fit to be commissioner of police,” Easa said.

Abdulla Riyaz’s number was temporarily disconnected when Minivan News called for comment.