Four minors from the island of Thinadhoo in Gaaf Dhaalu atoll charged with terrorism over arson attacks on February 8, 2012 were acquitted by the Juvenile Court today.
The minors were accused of setting fire to the Thinadhoo police station during protests that erupted across the country in the wake of a brutal police crackdown on a Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) march in the capital Malé.
MDP supporters took to the streets after former President Mohamed Nasheed declared that his resignation the previous day was “under duress” in a “coup d’etat” instigated by mutinous elements of the security forces in collusion with the then-opposition.
A Juvenile Court official told local media today that the minors were found not guilty as the prosecution was unable to prove their culpability based on the testimony of witnesses at the trial.
Witnesses had testified that they saw the minors throwing rocks at the police station and helping to set fire to a police motorcycle. The verdict however noted that none of the witnesses saw any of the rocks hit either a police officer or the station.
Witnesses for the defence insisted that the minors did not participate in the arson attacks although they were present in the area at the time.
The Juvenile Court judge stated in the verdict that the prosecution’s witness testimonies established that the minors were guilty of obstructing the police. However, the judge noted, the court could not alter the charges pressed against the accused for sentencing.
Today’s verdict was delivered more than a year after the terrorism trial began with two recent hearings postponed or canceled.
On February 8, protesters in Thinadhoo – an MDP stronghold in the south – set fire to the island’s police station, magistrate court, atoll council office and all police vehicles.
Nine policemen were assaulted and subsequently treated at the Thinadhoo regional hospital. Police declared at the time that the island was unsafe for police personnel, claiming “MDP supporters have threatened to attack residences of policemen”.
Following its investigation into the nationwide unrest and violence on February 8, the police forwarded over 100 cases to the Prosecutor General’s (PG) office, requesting that 108 individuals be charged with terrorism.
Acts of arson are considered terrorism under the Terrorism Prevention Act enacted by the administration of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. The offence carries a jail term of between 10 to 15 years.
While more than 100 persons were charged with terrorism, most cases currently remain stalled at the Criminal Court.
Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s daughter and current Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Dunya Maumoon, in a press conference today dismissed the international human rights NGO Amnesty International’s report on the Maldives.
The report detailed a number of incidents of police brutality on February 8, including attacks on Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MPs Eva Abdulla and Mariya Didi.
“The overall objective of these violent attacks has been to silence peaceful government critics and stifle public debate about the current political situation,” said the report.
“Based on Amnesty International’s interviews with survivors of these violent attacks, it appears that many were targeted by security forces because they were MDP ministers, parliamentarians or supporters,” it read.
The report recommended that the Maldivian government “ensure prompt, independent, impartial and effective investigations into allegations of violence by officials.”
“Those suspected of offences involving such violations, irrespective of rank or status, must be prosecuted in proceedings which meet international standards of fairness,” the report read.
Speaking to members of the press – who did not include opposition-aligned Raajje TV – Dunya stated that the majority of the allegations stated in the “heavily biased” report were not true
“I am not saying that nothing happened. There were incidents that took place. But the report did not highlight on the arson attacks that took place in Addu City on February 8,” she said.
She further went on to stress that Amnesty must verify information that they receive before deciding its factual accuracy.
“Instead of just listening to just one party, Amnesty must thoroughly observe the happenings that take place in the Maldives,” she stressed.
Furthermore, the state minister stated that it was not the government’s wish to comment on “reports like that”, but “said it does not mean that government is dismissing all the reports that came out, concerning human rights abuses in the country”.
However, Amnesty’s researcher in the Maldives, Abbas Faiz, had a dissenting view.
“Without an end to – and accountability for – these human rights violations, any attempt at political reconciliation in the Maldives will be meaningless,” he said
Meanwhile, Minister of Home Affairs, Mohamed Jameel Ahmed earlier made similar remarks on the report as Dunya, criticising Amnesty International for failing to seek the comments from the government.
“They had not sought any comments from the Maldives government. I’m extremely disappointed that a group advocating for fairness and equal treatment had released a report based on just one side of the story,” Jameel told local media at the time.
“An international group of the caliber of Amnesty should have heard the other side as well. But they had failed to obtain our comments,” Jameel said.
The Amnesty report recounts sustained and pre-meditated beatings of protesters with a variety of weapons during the violent crackdown.
Some of those interviewed reported people being attacked in their hospital beds, whilst others recalled torture and further degradation whilst in detention.
Whilst Amnesty stated that several of its human rights recommendations were reflected in the Commission of National Inquiry’s (CNI) report, which was released on August 30, but Jameel argued that the CNI had highlighted misdemeanors of protesters which did not make it into the Amnesty report.
“CNI (Commission of National Inquiry) report had clearly highlighted the actions of demonstrators during protests in the Maldives. The foreign observers labelled the actions of demonstrators as cowboy tactics,” Jameel told Haveeru.
In their closing observations, Professor John Packer and Sir Bruce Robertson, advisers to CNI appeared critical of the anti-government protesters.
“Some would want to call an example of the rights of freedom of expression and assembly. In reality it is rather more bully boy tactics involving actual and threatened intimidation by a violent mob,” reported Packer and Robertson.
“The demonstrators undermine the peace and stability, carry out attacks while being inebriated, carry out attacks with sharp objects and damage private property. Even internationally such actions are regarded as violence. However, the Amnesty report has ignored all such things. It is extremely one sided and unjust,” said Jameel.
However, in relation to Jameel’s remarks, Amnesty International’s spokesperson rebutted the claims contesting its impartiality.
“Amnesty International is an independent and impartial human rights organisation without any political affiliation. We are not alone in highlighting the human rights violations since the transfer of power this year,” he said.
He also dismissed Home Minister’s remarks that the NGO had failed in getting the remarks of the government.
“In compiling our report we talked at length with government and police officials in Malé and Addu during our visit to the country in late February and early March. On the occasions they responded we have included their comments in our documents,” he said.
A police crackdown on a Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) march across Male’ on February 8 that left dozens of demonstrators injured was “brutal” and “without prior warning,” the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) concluded in an investigative report (Dhivehi) made public yesterday.
Based on its findings, the HRCM recommended that the Maldives Police Service (MPS) and Police Integrity Commission (PIC) should investigate the “disproportionate” use of force in violation of police regulations authorising use of less-lethal weapons. Legal action should be taken against the officers responsible for any such offences, the commission concluded.
“This commission notes that the human rights of a number of people were violated as a result of police using disproportionate force in violation of the constitution, the Police Act and regulations, and international conventions the Maldives is signatory to in dispersing a gathering of MDP supporters at the MMA [Maldives Monetary Authority] area on 8 February 2012 ,” the HRCM report concluded.
“The commission believes that those who carried out these acts must bear responsibility.”
On February 8, thousands of MDP supporters took to the streets after former President Mohamed Nasheed declared that his resignation the previous day was “under duress” in a “coup d’etat” instigated by mutinying Special Operations (SO) police officers.
The HRCM report on the human rights violations that occurred on February 8 was compiled based on interviews with senior MDP leaders who participated in the walk, police commanders, senior military officers, eyewitnesses, victims of police brutality and media personnel as well as photo and video evidence.
While 32 people filed complaints with the commission concerning varying degrees of injuries sustained in the crackdown, 20 people submitted medical documents of their treatment of injuries.
Among the injuries caused by the police baton charge, the HRCM report noted that several people were bruised and battered, one person fractured a bone in his leg, one person was left with a broken arm and six people sustained head wounds.
Two fingers on the left hand of one demonstrator were crushed, the report noted, and the victim had to undergo treatment at the operating theatre.
The former ruling party meanwhile informed HRCM that the march across Male’ was spontaneous and that the party had not planned to stage any protests on the day.
According to the MDP, participants of the walk were sitting down at the MMA area when the police charged without warning and caused serious injuries, noting that most people were attacked from behind.
Senior members of the party told the commission that police were asked to let MDP supporters continue their march along the outer ring road of Boduthakurufaanumagu.
MDP claimed that police refused to transport victims of the alleged brutality to the hospital and that former President Nasheed’s military bodyguards left the area before the baton charge.
In interviews with senior police officers and commanders in the field on February 8, the HRCM was told that police intelligence had learned that the MDP supporters were planning to “confront” police officers.
Participants of the MDP walk “attempted to cause damage” to the Family and Child Protection Unit building and Galolhu police station, the officers claimed, at which point they determined that the gathering was not peaceful.
Police did not allow the march to continue because participants could have entered the Republic Square or green zone, where gatherings are prohibited under freedom of assembly regulations.
Police further claimed that protesters hit police shields and that armed gangs “under the influence of drugs” were part of the crowd.
While protesters did not cross the police line, the senior officers said that rocks were thrown at the police. About 30 riot police and plain-clothed officers from other departments were in the area at the time, police said.
While police conceded that “a large number of civilians were injured by police officers” on February 8, senior officers interviewed by the HRCM revealed that the riot police were not acting on commands.
The violence occurred “because individual police officers were too emotionally charged at the time,” the senior officers said.
“And when civilians were getting injured by individual police officers, [they said] senior police officers went to the area and attempted to gather all police officers in one place,” the report stated.
The senior police officers further claimed that police were “very psychologically weakened” due to the events of February 7.
Following the crackdown, police admitted that “use of force” forms were not filled out and an “after action review report” was not drafted as was required under normal procedure.
Meanwhile, the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) informed HRCM that about 15 soldiers were active in the area during the crackdown, but claimed that military personnel did not witness police brutality.
When the protesters reached the MMA junction, they began striking the MNDF riot shields and throwing water bottles. They were then pushed back about 20 feet, where they sat down, the MNDF explained.
Contrary to the HRCM’s findings, the MNDF claimed that police advised the protesters to disperse and issued warnings before advancing with riot shields.
Military personnel used coloured smoke “to minimize damage and for ease of controlling those gathered,” the MNDF informed the commission.
Opposition-aligned private broadcaster Raajje TV meanwhile provided video footage to HRCM showing the arrest of MDP MPs ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik, Mariya Ahmed Didi, Imthiyaz Fahmy and Ibrahim Rasheed.
An HRCM team that visited Dhoonidhoo detention centre observed “bruises all over the body” of one of the MPs, while her eyes were bloodied and swollen.
The commission noted in its concluding observations that police officers “acted very harshly” towards the politicians “in ways that could cause physical and psychological harm” even though they showed “no resistance.”
While the Raajje TV cameraman was shooting the arrest of MDP Chairperson Reeko Moosa Manik, HRCM was told that two plain-clothed officers “pushed and shoved” Raajje TV reporters to the Republic Square and severed the camera cable, ending the station’s live feed.
However, in its concluding observation, the commission reprimanded the private broadcaster for their coverage of the events, which “incited fear and hatred among citizens, instilled a spirit of vengeance and caused serious damage to private and public property.”
Conversely, the commission noted that reporters from private broadcasters DhiTV and Villa TV – alleged by the MDP to have incited hatred against the administration of former President Nasheed and promoted the “coup d’etat” – were “threatened and intimidated” by MDP supporters and were consequently prevented from covering the march.
The HRCM also noted that students at Immadhudeen School during the afternoon session were adversely affected by the MDP supporters gathering outside the party’s Haruge camp on the afternoon of February 8. The party’s gathering area was ransacked by rogue riot police and army officers prior to President Nasheed’s resignation.
The commission contended that MDP supporters were loud and used obscene language outside Haruge, which was reclaimed by supporters led by President Nasheed to the area after the MDP national council meeting earlier in the day.
Citing article 72(b)(1) of the Police Act, which prohibits “commission of an act that could obstruct the execution of any of the police powers and discretions, or plotting to commit such an act, or participate in the commission of such an act, or call for or encourage or assist others to commit such an act,” the HRCM claimed that MDP supporters who participated in the walk “obstructed the performance of police duties.”
Moreover, the commission noted that patients and staff at hospitals ADK and IGMH faced “serious difficulties and inconveniences” due to MDP supporters gathering outside both hospitals following the police crackdown.
However, the BBC reported “a baton charge by police on crowds gathered outside one of the main hospitals.”
“People scattered as officers sprinted towards them silhouetted against the lights of passing traffic,” the BBC’s Andrew North reported from Male’. “Inside the hospital, dozens of Mr Nasheed’s supporters are still being treated for injuries, following earlier scuffles in the main square. Among them is Reeko Moosa Maniku, chairman of Mr Nasheed’s Maldives Democratic Party – who was with the former president when the clashes broke out. With a large head bandage and his shirt bloodied, he regained consciousness as we arrived. The police said they would kill me, he told us, as they beat me. Another MP was still unconscious in another ward.”
While riot police baton charged the front of the protest march on February 8, Minivan News observed riot police officers charging the crowd from a narrow alley leading to the MMA area.
The Special Operations officers used obscene language, pointed to and chased after individual MDP activists and severely beat unarmed civilians.
Parts of the attack from the rear were filmed by Al Jazeera, which reported on February 8 that “police and military charged, beating demonstrators as they ran – women, the elderly, dozens left nursing their wounds.”
Amid the clashes, a group of opposition demonstrators infiltrated the crowds, attacking MDP supporters, according to witnesses.
Former President Nasheed was reported among the injured, and received head injuries during the clashes. He was briefly taken under police custody before being released back into the crowd.
One young woman who had gone to IGMH with her sister was being treated for a head wound. A gauze wrapped around her head was spotted with blood, and she claimed the wound was still bleeding as she went in for an X-ray.
“The police were just standing there and suddenly we were being beaten with batons and pepper spray was thrown in our face. They threw us to the ground and kept beating us,” she said.
Explaining that she, her sister and most women had joined the party’s “walk around Male” because they understood it was not a violent protest, the young woman said she had never seen indiscriminate beating of men and women on Male’ under Mohamed Nasheed.
“It was just supposed to be a peaceful walk. That’s why we went, and why more women than usual went. But there was no warning of the attack, no announcements, we were all beaten even after we began retreating. My sister was almost trampled,” she said. “I just think it’s disgusting that the police could beat so many unarmed women.”