Tensions escalate as government accuse MDP, Raajje TV of “inciting hatred and violence against police”

Following the murder of Lance Corporal Ahmed Haleem on Sunday, the government has said deposed President Mohamed Nasheed, opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), and the opposition aligned Raajje TV are responsible for attacks on police, and have pledged to summon Nasheed for questioning over charges of inciting hatred and violence against police.

Superintendent of police Mohamed Riyaz at a press conference this evening publicised an audio conversation held between MDP MP Mariya Ahmed Didi and Nasheed on May 29, in which Nasheed allegedly told Mariya to find people to fight the police. Riyaz said the police would obtain a court order to summon Nasheed for questioning within the week.

A few hours later, former Deputy Home Minister Hassan Mahir was arrested under a court warrant on charges of inciting violence against the police during a speech given at the MDP’s protest camp at Usfasgandu.

Meanwhile, in a separate joint press conference held at noon at Iskandhar Koshi today, Home Minister Mohamed Jameel and Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz said Raajje TV had spread “baseless allegations” about police brutality and the police role in the controversial change of government on February 7, thereby inciting and encouraging violence against the police and their families. Further, deposed President Nasheed was directly responsible for planning and inciting violent attacks on police, Abdulla Riyaz said.

Nasheed had resigned from office on February 7, but later claimed he was ousted in a coup d’état, planned by the remnants of the former dictatorship, funded by resort interests, and carried out by mutinous elements of the police and military. The MDP has since held regular protests calling for early elections.

Attorney General Azima Shukoor has also told state broadcaster Television Maldives (TVM) that the government will take action against the Elections Commission and the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) for respectively failing to discipline Raajje TV and the MDP, claiming the two bodies must be held responsible for encouraging attacks on police and the death of Haleem.

Police have arrested Mohamed Samaah, 22, over Haleem’s death, but have declined to give any further details. The MDP have said Samaah belonged to government coalition member and former President of 30 years Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM).

Nasheed- Mariya conversation

Nasheed and Mariya’s leaked audio conversation appears to have been held during the police’s attempt to dismantle the MDP’s protest camp at Usfasgandu on May 29. Police had obtained a search warrant claiming MDP was performing black magic, conducting criminal activity and damaging public property in the area.

In the audio clip, Mariya says: “[Police] are forcing people back! They are using pepper spray! That is why we are unable to hold a national council meeting. And we have also received a second letter, ordering us to vacate the area by ten o’clock tonight. We cannot file an appeal at court or do anything. We cannot even hold the National Council meeting. We won’t have [enough members for] quorum. Shihab is here. But they are using pepper spray and forcing people back. Can only vacate the place if we could only get in there. This is all very unjust. What shall I do?”

Nasheed then replies, “There’s not much we can do. I don’t know. What is there to do? I think [we] need to get people out to fight if we can get them. If we can get people to fight, get them out. It’s very clear to me, I think we need to fight back. If we can get people to fight. Find kids from Male to fight the police,” Mariya laughs at this point, but Nasheed continues, “That is what I think. I don’t know if we can get people to fight. I want to fight against them.”

Amnesty International released a statement on June 11, alleging the police had used excessive force against protesters on May 29, by pepper spraying, beating and arresting peaceful protesters, bystanders and journalists. Police denied the allegations.

Superintendent of Police Mohamed Riyaz today said the police had decided to publicize the audio conversation “because we have no other choice.”

Riyaz said Mariya had been summoned for questioning over the audio clip on June 20, but the MDP had spread baseless allegations that the police were arresting and harrassing opposition politicians for no apparent reason. Hence, “the time has come to reveal the truth,” Riyaz said.

The audio clip was obtained legally through a court warrant, he added.

At approximately 9:00 pm this evening, former deputy Home Minister Hassan Mahir was arrested for comments made at Usfasgandu, in which he had allegedly incited violence against the police. Video footage of February 7 shows Mahir being attacked by men in civilians as police in riot gear watch outside the Police HQ and another man screams, “Kill him!”

The MDP has consistently raised concerns over new President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s failure to prosecute the police for brutality on February 7, 8 and at subsequent MDP demonstrations.

“Enemies of the state”

Speaking at a press conference at noon, Home Minister Jameel and Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz condemned MDP and Rajje TV’s alleged incitement of hatred and violence against police and their families.

Jameel described MDP and Raajje TV as “enemies of the state,” while Riyaz said Nasheed and senior MDP officials were behind the planning of psychological and physical attacks on the police.

“I note that former President Mohamed Nasheed is behind the planning of the attacks and damage caused to police property and repeated physical attacks on police officers.” Riyaz said.

Claiming Raajje TV’s reporting was “not responsible journalism,” Riyaz said that the station had spread baseless allegations regarding police brutality towards protesters and police role in the controversial change of government.

“Raajje TV has repeatedly attempted to defame and raise questions over police professionalism by broadcasting baseless allegations to create distrust towards the police,” he added.

He went on to refute a recent Raajje TV report that police had stolen fuel from parked motor cycles, claiming Raajje TV was attempting to falsely cast the entire police force as “brutal” and as “thieves.”

Earlier in the day, the Police released a satement saying they  will no longer cooperate with Raajje TV or provide protection to the station due to its attempts to defame the institution. The Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) subsequently told Raajje TV to issue an apology for the report on police officers stealing petrol.

Conversely, Raajje TV has also accused police of targeting, assaulting and harrasing its reporters during MDP’s protests.

A statement from Raajje TV on July 10 read: “Raajje TV journalists have been forced to live in fear as they have increasingly become targets of attacks by the national security forces, particularly the police service. The station also believes that these attacks and harassment has been the source of emotional distress and psychological damage to all Raajje TV employees.”

However, Riyaz stressed today that the police force did not discriminate.  “I believe the police are professional. I am not under any political influence,” he added

During MDP’s protest on February 8, 64 policemen had been injured while police stations had sustained over Rf 130,000 (US$ 8387) worth damages, Riyaz said. It was Raajje TV’s broadcasting of false reports that police had killed a man in Male’ that led to the vandalism and arson attacks on police stations and court buildings throughout the Maldives, Riyaz alleged.

“We will take action against whoever incites violence against the police, no matter who it is or what kind of position they hold or have held in the past,” Jameel said.

Police have already filed criminal charges against Nasheed for his alleged role in the detention of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed in January and the discovery of alcohol bottles at Nasheed’s residence following his resignation. The Prosecutor General (PG) this month filed charges against Nasheed at the Hulhumale’ Island Court over Abdulla’s detention, but the court has rejected the case claiming the case was outside its “jurisdiction.”

The Commonwealth’s Special Envoy to the Maldives Sir Donald McKinnon and the UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay have expressed concern over the state’s attempt to prosecute Nasheed.

Complaints against EC, MBC

Attorney General Azima Shukoor, speaking on TVM’s Raajje Miadhu programme, said the Elections Commission (EC) and the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) had failed to discipline Raajje TV and MDP for inciting violence despite the government filing numerous complaints.

Azima said MDP’s call for violence were “a fact. You cannot dispute this. Look at the tweets, the materials on Facebook, and the speeches at meetings and protests.”

However, the failure of independent oversight institutions to take action had put the democratic process in the Maldives in jeopardy, Azima claimed. “The country is not functioning when space is given for democracy,” she said.

“Institutions that must take responsibility are not doing their job. [We have] to take action against them. The executive will conduct necessary legal work to take such action. We will submit this case to the Majlis. We are also ready to take necessary action through the courts,” she stated.

In response, the Elections Commissioner Fuad Thawfeeq told TVM that the commission “will not yield to threats and intimidation.”

Regarding the MDP’s protests, he said: “The constitution guarantees freedom of assembly and speech. The elections commission cannot narrow such freedoms.” Thawfeeq said it was the executive’s resonsibility to investigate criminal activities.