HRCM condemns attacks against demonstrators as Male’ gears up for “huge” rally

The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) has condemned police for carrying out acts of violence against civilians participating in a demonstration organised by Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) on February 8. HRCM has also condemned acts carried out against police property in the southern islands of Addu City Gan, Fuvahmulah, Raa atoll Dhuvaafaru, and Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll Thinadhoo, among others.

“We highlight the fact that a lot of civilians and police officers have inflicted injuries of varying degrees during the demonstrations organised by the MDP, which became a confrontation between police and protesters,” a statement read. “With regard to the demonstration, this commission is in the process of investigating the matters under its mandate.”

Regarding the destruction in the Maldives’ south, the commission has requested the public “not to repeat such actions in the future.” The commission’s statement did not address allegations that residents on those islands have been beaten and arrested without charges following the events of February 8.

Addressing police forces and the public, the commission requested both parties to safely support the rights beholden in Article 32 of the constitution, which provides for the freedom of assembly.

“We also advise the police to maintain their actions to standards that would not lose the public trust on the police service and we call the public to support and assist the police in executing their duties,” reads the statement.

The European Union Heads of Mission (HoMs) to the Maldives, based in Colombo, have further warned that provocation of or use of excessive force by law enforcement agencies in the Maldives during the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) rally scheduled for Friday, February 17 “would be completely unacceptable at this point.”

Former president Mohamed Nasheed resigned on February 7 under conditions his government has called a “coup d’état.” Video footage of events that day indicate that he left office under military pressure while a rogue faction of the police service turned against the military and MDP supporters in the streets of capital Male’.

In the days following the change of power, security officials have allegedly beaten and detained MDP members and supporters in various parts of the archipelago.

“There must be an end to violence and no political retribution,” the HoMs stated today.

In January the MDP’s National Committee selected February 17 for a political rally to address judicial reform. Previously, rumors maintained that islanders would be coming to Male’ for the event. Rather than deter the public, last week’s dramatic change of power appears to have further motivated the Maldivian population.

“It’s going to be huge, the biggest ever on Male’,” said MDP MP Imthiyaz Fahmy. “People are in fear to some extent because of the police, but they are still willing to come out,” he added.

Addu resident Mohamed Yooshau pointed out that half of the Maldives 350,000 citizens do not live on Male’. “We elected [Nasheed], and when we woke up the next day it was like Male’ had brought down our president,” he said, adding that “the concept of a democracy is having a say.”

Although the political situation has changed, Fahmy said Friday’s rally “will stay on track” with its calls for judicial reform.

Squeezed by growing public and international pressure, and adjusting to the new leadership of commissioner Abdulla Riyaz who has been criticised for his lack of experience, the police are attempting to maintain a strict order.

“Police will take necessary actions, responding according to intelligence and our understanding of the motives behind public actions,” said police media official Ahmed Shiyam.

He did not specify if security forces are taking unique measures to secure Male’ during the upcoming demonstrations.

The face of public security has however been tainted by recent aggressive behavior towards members of the public.

One individual who requested anonymity reports being verbally harassed by police officers while walking on the street the day after Nasheed’s resignation.

“One of my friends was wearing a yellow tee shirt [MDP party color] by chance, not for any political reason, and these cops say, ‘Miaathun nah eves kameh nuvaane,’ or ‘these people can’t do anything’, but in a rude way,” said the source.

Within an hour of that incident, police attacked a non-violent MDP demonstration outside of the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA), sending over 50 individuals to the hospital and MDP party chairperson and MP ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik to Sri Lanka for medical treatment.

This week, demonstrators have begun mocking police as the paid servants of Maamigili MP and Jumhoree Party (JP) leader Gasim Ibrahim, who also owns the Villa Hotels chain. Prior to the official re-opening of MDP’s camp (haruge) yesterday, gathering party members taunted two police officers driving by at separate times with cries of “Villa police! Lari lari lari!” A lari is a fraction of the Maldivian currency rufiya, akin to a US cent.

While some police officers have told Minivan News on condition of anonymity that they regret the negative impact the actions of a reported few has had on their image, police Media Official Ahmed Shiyam today stated that “police are well-trained for anything that comes along and will act professionally.”

When asked whether the public should be more mindful, Shiyam said, “there’s no need for that. We know who is doing this, and it’s not all of the MDP nor is it always MDP who are harassing the police.”

Meanwhile, Friday’s rally will be preceded by a Silent White Movement on Thursday afternoon, calling for peace during protests and for justice for those security officials who have committed violations in the line of duty.

“Our concern is the current injustice that we are facing today as Maldivians, for not having the right to gather in peace and to raise our voice for freedom of speech,” reads the movement’s statement on its Facebook page.

“We demand the government to do a thorough investigation with the help of the international community, and seek the root cause of violence created among the civilians of this country. We believe this is a civil movement that supports justice and non- violation of human rights in the norms of international standards.”

Participants are requested to wear white or change their Facebook profile pictures to white color blocks in support. Approximately 2,000 people have confirmed their attendance.

A spokesperson from the movement emphasised that all members of the public of any party or organisation are welcome to join the event.

A separate demonstration calling for prompt elections has teamed up with the movement. To avoid any confrontation with the Gaumee Itthihaad party, which is today protesting against violent acts carried out by MDP members last week, the elections group is coordinating its efforts with the Silent White Movement’s event tomorrow.

The party of President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik, Gaumee Itthihaad currently has approximately 2,600 members- 400 short of the 3,000 members required for registration and only 0.007 percent of the Maldives population.

Silent White Movement observed that demonstrations in the Maldives have a rocky track record, due in part to still-young democracy. Noting that protesting first began after prison guards killed Evan Naseem in 2003, the source said “it began as violent but after the new government came to power in 2008 protest became peaceful. But around 2010 protests became violent again with the opposition, probably because they had a political motive.”