Additional reporting by Mariyath Mohamed and Daniel Bosley
Hundreds of protesters gathered near the President’s Office in Male’ on Monday night as close family and legal representatives of former President Mohamed Nasheed left to visit him at the Dhoonidhoo detention facility, where he is being kept ahead of his trial on Tuesday afternoon.
The country’s first democratically elected president was taken into police custody yesterday on the island of Fares-Mathoda in Gaaf Dhaal Atoll after the Hulhumale Magistrate Court issued a warrant for his arrest and presentation in court on Tuesday October 9.
The issuing of the warrant – exactly seven months after Nasheed’s ousting – follows his defiance of a court-ordered travel ban outside the capital Male’, and two court summons.
The Maldives Police Service confirmed to Minivan News that it had been ordered to detain Nasheed and present him at his trial in Male’ at 4:00pm today, but added that no order had been received to keep him in custody beyond the hearing so far.
Leaving to meet Nasheed last night, his wife Laila Ali, several close family members, and a handful of legal advisers travelled to Dhoonidhoo at 10:15pm to cheers and chanting from a vocal group of around 500 to 600 supporters. The demonstrators had gathered behind temporary police barricades set up by the main Bank of Maldives building in the capital.
Demonstrators had been gathering since about 9:30pm as police set up blockades around the roads surrounding the President’s Office building on Boduthakurufaanu Magu.
Tensions during the evening were mostly evident in vocal exchanges between protesters on the front line and the 20 to 30 police officers assigned to man the blockades, who faced heckling and jeering from the crowds.
“You are only protecting certain individuals in this country,” one protester shouted angrily.
An police officer on the front lines responded that he was there to protect everyone. The jeering and chanting continued throughout the evening.
By 10:30pm, Minivan News observed some minor scuffles as police attempted to force the several hundred demonstrators back behind temporary barriers to chants of “free Nasheed” by the gathered crowd. However, violent clashes with authorities were minimal during the gathering.
Senior officials of MDP were among the demonstrators, with MDP MP Imthiyaz Fahmy and parliamentary group leader Ibrahim Mohamed Solih on the front-lines of the gathering.
Police Spokesperson Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef said the demonstrations, which concluded at around midnight, were conducted peacefully and without any arrests.
“There were three barricades that were thrown into the water by the Bank of Maldives building, but no one had been arrested as a result,” he said.
Minivan News observed a small number of riot police in helmets later gathering behind police lines, but these officers were not deployed, as protests died down soon after midnight.
Also present earlier in the evening was former Minister of Environment Mohamed Aslam, who had travelled with Nasheed during the day after he had been detained by police.
Speaking to Minivan News, Aslam said Nasheed had requested he be returned to his home in Male’ under police custody ahead of his trial, rather than the detention centre at Dhoonidhoo.
The request was rejected by authorities, with Nasheed being dropped off at Dhoonidhoo, where representatives from the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) were said to be present.
While being returned to the capital yesterday, Aslam alleged that a foreign national, whom he believed to be from the India, was also travelling with police, saying he had requested to be transported back to Male’.
“I would say it is highly irregular to have a foreign person on a police boat in such a situation,” he claimed.
Discussing Nasheed’s arrest, Aslam said that after meeting with members of the public on Fares-Mathoda, Nasheed and his entourage returned to the former environment chief’s home on the island after it had been confirmed that a police force had landed nearby.
“These were police armed with riot guns gathered by my home,” he said.
Upon requesting entry to the building and showing an arrest warrant for Nasheed, Aslam said he had asked officers for a few minutes to discuss the situation with the former president.
“As soon as I turned around they had forced their way into the building and begun shoving us around,” he said. “As they forced there way in they also pushed me onto a glass table that broke, fortunately I wasn’t badly hurt from this.”
As police forced themselves into several rooms before locating Nasheed, Aslam claimed that the former president did not resist arrest. The former environment minister said that he was however unable to confirm reports that Nasheed had been pepper sprayed by officers, adding that he did not see such an incident at the time. He claimed to have seen some form of unidentified firearms being packed away by police after they left Fares-Mathoda.
Aslam said he had opted to travel with Nasheed they were transported to larger boat off the island to return to Male’. Along the way he added they had stopped for lunch, at which point it was announced that Nasheed was to be taken to the Dhoonidhoo detention facility.
Speaking to Minivan News yesterday, President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad said the government had wished to avoid any direct involvement in Nasheed’s detention and trial, referring any requests on the matter to police and judicial authorities.
“We have asked the Maldives Police Service to notify media of any developments. The President’s Office wishes to stay clear of this matter,” he said at the time. ”We know as much as the [media] about developments right now.”
Masood added that, despite allegations raised by the MDP concerning alleged use of excessive force to seize the former president, police authorities had insisted officers had acted with restraint.
“I’m told [Nasheed] asked for a box of cigarettes, a request that [officers] granted. He was given Benson and Hedges as I understand,” Masood said.