The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) has alleged that the police are attempting to intimidate commission staff members following the start of its investigations into what they maintain is police obstruction of the October 19 presidential election.
“The commission believes that what we are facing now is serious, unprecedented and unjustifiable intimidation from the police. We will continue the investigation, while also ensuring that we continue protecting every one of our team members,” HRCM member Jeehan Mahmoodh has told Minivan News.
Jeehan stated that, after criticising the police for acting outside of their mandate when obstructing the Elections Commissions (EC) efforts to conduct the presidential election on October 19, they have been facing what the commission believes to be attempts by the police to intimidate its staff.
Jeehan said that the police had requested the HRCM provide “complete details” of the staff members who witnessed the police’s actions outside of the EC on the morning of October 19.
“In the history of HRCM, we have never before had such a request, where details of individual staff are asked for in relation to an investigation. This just cannot be done,” Jeehan said.
“We responded, invoking Article 27 of the HRCM Act and informed the police that the commission will not compromise the safety of any of our staff members. We also explained that as this is an ongoing investigation we cannot compromise it by providing detailed information regarding the matter,” she continued.
Article 27 of the HRCM Act has two parts, with part (a) stating that, “No criminal or civil suit shall be filed against the President or Vice- President or a member of the Commission in relation to committing or omitting an act in good faith whilst undertaking responsibilities of the commission or exercising the powers of the Commission or the powers conferred to the Commission by a law”.
Part (b) of the same article says “The Commission can only be questioned or a suit can be filed against the Commission in court regarding a component in a report published by the Commission following an inquiry, should sufficient evidence be available to prove the component is false”.
Speaking out on human rights violation is our duty: HRCM
After Commissioner of Police Abdulla Riyaz tweeted saying, “HRCM to seek information after findings revealed!!”, Jeehan’s response echoed the HRCM statement released following the police’s initial suggestions that the HRCM had not made a balanced assessment.
“This is definitely not the first time HRCM has made comments in the instance that we observe a breach of human rights, regardless of who the instigators are. If a human rights violation becomes apparent to the commission, then we have both the right and the responsibility to promptly share this with the general public,” she said.
“For instance, after the events of February 8, 2012, HRCM immediately made a public initial statement on the matter…The police are well aware this is the norm,” she continued.
“Putting it in a different context, let’s say the police see a crime being committed, and arrests a person red-handed at the crime scene. They don’t wait for their full investigation to end, and nor does their investigation end there. But since they saw it happen, they get to make a stand. Similarly, when it is evident that a human rights violation has been committed, the commission will take a stand,” she said.
Jeehan also spoke to Minivan News about the HRCM’s work on October 19, the date intended for a fresh round of elections after the initial September 7 poll was annulled by the Supreme Court.
“Our team – it’s full strength including the commissioners – was on duty by 5:30am on October 19, as we were ready to carry out election observation. We then received reports of police obstructing EC officials, and immediately dispatched investigators to the EC offices. Our staff spoke with the EC Secretary General Asim Abdul Sattar, as well as a number of police officers there. Thereby, our staff are witnesses to the events that took place that day,” she explained.
“HRCM Vice President Tholal was in charge as Commission President Azra was away on hajj pilgrimage. Tholal tried multiple times to reach the police focal point – incidentally the same as the focal point for the EC – Assistance Commissioner of Police Ali Rasheed by phone, and finally sent a text message. ACP Rasheed did not respond to even the text until nearly midnight,” Jeehan continued.
“Tholal then called the Acting Home Minister [Ahmed Shafeeu], who is in effect the oversight over the police force. He asked the minister, and I quote, “why have police obstructed elections?”. The Minister informed us that the obstruction is not a police initiative or decision, and that they are following orders after much deliberation. Contrary to some media reports, the Home Ministry’s statement did not deny our claims that we contacted him and got this response, but rather confirms it,” Jeehan said.
“Police did not act in their own accord”: Home Minister
A press statement of the Home Ministry reads, “As the letter sent by the HRCM to the Police alleging that the police obstructed the elections scheduled for October 19 reveals that when they contacted the Acting Home Minister via phone and asked him why police had obstructed elections, he responded that the police had not acted out of their own accord but on orders that they had received, this ministry feels we must clarify what happened.”
“On the 19th of this month, in a phone conversation, Vice President of HRCM Ahmed Tholal asked why the police had acted in a manner against the government’s statement that it will provide cooperation to holding the election.”
“In response, the Minister had said that the police had not acted on their own accord, and that it had been in accordance with the advice of the relevant government bodies which was based on the verdict of the Supreme Court,” the statement concluded.
Police asks HRCM to identify officers they spoke with on October 19
Jeehan said that the police had also requested the HRCM provide identification details of the police officers that the commission’s investigators had spoken with on the morning of October 19.
“This is information that the police must have. They ought to know which of their officers they dispatched there, and what they did in their line of duty. That was the commission’s response to them, shouldn’t they know who it was?” Jeehan asked.
Jeehan also said that the commission has requested the police to provide an incident report on the events of October 19, as well as copies of all communication they have exchanged with any other institution after the date of the initial annulled election.
“It isn’t at all like the police are claiming on various media. We are not asking for information after reaching a conclusion. We made that initial statement that police obstructed elections based on our observations, and the fact that our staff were witness to it. We are now conducting a procedural investigation of the matter,” Jeehan explained.
“Furthermore, we have asked for copies of any communication between the police and any other institution from beyond the date of the obstructed election for an investigation that is based on other additional information we have received. We cannot yet reveal the details of this as it may compromise the investigation, but it will be made public upon completion,” she continued.