Police Superintendent Abdulla Nawaz has defended the import of of over US$100,000 (MVR1.5million) worth of crowd control equipment from the UK’s Survitec Group.
The shipment of items – including various types of tear gas grenades and ‘rubber projectiles’ – was revealed by the UK’s Guardian newspaper yesterday.
“It’s not that the police are going to use each and every shell that has been brought to Maldives. The intention is very clear, it’s not that we intend to use it every time people come out onto the streets,” Nawaz told Minivan News today.
“Anything can be controversial if people try to make it a controversial issue.”
The Guardian quoted the UK Government as saying that it had would have blocked any such exports from within the country.
“We have not issued any licences for the export or trade of crowd control equipment to the Maldives in at least the last year. Under current circumstances, we would not do so,” the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills told the Guardian.
“The British government remains deeply concerned about the ongoing political situation in Maldives, including the reports of intimidation, violence and arrests that have taken place in recent months.”
The items evaded such scrutiny as they were shipped from Brazil after being sold by a Singapore based subsidiary of the company.
The itinerary – shipped at a further cost of US$40,000 – has been leaked via social media, and includes tear gas and tear gas grenades costing US$46,632 (MVR718,132).
When asked if the police had been able to procure such equipment from other countries, or on other occasions since the controversial transfer of power last year, Nawaz said that he did not know and would need to gain further clarification.
The Guardian’s article quoted both Amnesty International and Friends of Maldives as being used for political repression, particularly following the police’s integral role in the delay of the rescheduled elections on October 19.
“It’s tempting to think this consignment looks like a case of pre-emptive stockpiling by the MPS, forewarning a possible crackdown if the elections process continues in a manner not to its liking,” Friends of Maldives’ Dave Hardingham told the Guardian.
Nawaz today argued that the equipment listed was perfectly ordinary for any police force to have, urging that people instead focus on the way in which the equipment was used.
“Even though there is tear gas, we should look into how police have reacted. I believe that during the past 18-19 months, the force actually used against protests was very minimum. Very rare occasions,” he said.
“I believe that police forces across the globe have such things – it’s not that this is happening for the first time in the Maldives.”
“I can guarantee that the police service itself would not get into an illegal act to use excessive force against a citizen of the republic of maldives.”
Nawaz said that the police would do everything it could to look into any cases of excessive force by police, and urged independent authorities such as the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) and the Human Rights Commission to do the same.
The police played a key role in the contested resignation of former President Mohamed Nasheed on February 7 2012.
Anti-government protests led by then-opposition political parties and religious scholars resulted in a mutiny by a segments of both police and military officers against Nasheed, resulting in his premature departure from office.
The following day, Nasheed along with the MDP and thousands of people, took to the streets in protest claiming that he had been ousted in a bloodless coup d’état.
The demonstration were soon met, however, with a brutal crackdown from both police and military officers during which MDP MPs and members of the public sustained injuries.
The Commonwealth backed inquiry into the events of February 7, although claiming that the day’s events had not amounted to a coup, urged reform of the police force.
During a parliamentary inquiry by the Parliament’s Executive Oversight Committee (EOC) twelve months on, the PIC claimed that actions by police were unlawful and amounted to crimes worthy of prosecution by the state.
After concluding its investigations last June, President of the PIC Abdulla Waheed said the commission had investigated a total of 20 cases of police misconduct that took place on February 6,7 and 8.
Out of the 20 cases, 12 concerned police brutality during the crackdown on protests and during the events that unfolded, while eight concerned issuance of unlawful orders, obeying unlawful orders and officers failing to comply with the law while on duty, said Waheed.
The police’s handling of anti-government protests in the months following the transfer of power were also chronicled by Amnesty International which urged the government to “remove any bias in the police force, so they act as officers of law without prejudice, and do not take sides politically.”