Amnesty condemns use of excessive force on demonstrators, following police raid on protest

Amnesty International has condemned the use of excessive force by police against 300 Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) supporters in the Lonuziyaarai Kolhu (tsunami monument area) early on March 7.

The MDP yesterday accused police of attacking demostrators and vandalising the ongoing protest, after they pursued a group of youths to the area suspected of vandalism and threatening police.

During the raid on the MDP camp, “at least six protesters were injured, some seriously, when combined police and military officers attacked around 300 MDP protesters – part of a wider pattern of attacks, documented by Amnesty, on supporters of the political party of the ousted former President Mohamed Nasheed,” the human rights group said in a statement.

One of the victims told Amnesty “[the police] grabbed hold of my hair and pulled me up, shouting they would teach me a lesson for demonstrating against the new President.”

Among the six protesters injured was a 16 year-old boy who was placed in the custody of the Child Protection Unit, said Amnesty. The organisation was refused permission to visit him.

“People who were peacefully exercising their right to protest were beaten on the head with batons, kicked and sprayed with pepper spray. This use of excessive force violates human rights standards,” said Amnesty International’s researcher Abbas Faiz, who is documenting the human rights situation in Maldives.

“The Maldives authorities must clearly announce, and demonstrate, that they do not tolerate retaliatory raids by the police against protesters. Police and military must not act outside the law,” Faiz said.

“When police officers act like political opponents towards demonstrators, they erode respect for the rule of law and cast doubt on their impartiality as officers of justice,” he added.

Amnesty called on police to make public the number of people who had required medical treatment following their arrest.

“Credible sources have told Amnesty that the police and military arrested more than a dozen people during their raid on the MDP rally. They arrested some more people in the hospital after they had gone to receive medical treatment for their injuries. The detainees were taken to police detention centres in Malé, and were later transferred to Dhoonidhoo, an island close to Malé which is the main detention centre.”

Police Spokesperson Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam yesterday told Minivan News that police had pursued a group of young men armed with knives, who had vandalised police stations and threatened officers before retreating to the MDP protest area.

Police stopped at the edge of the open area and requested backup, but by the time it arrived word had spread that police were about to raid the protest site and MDP supporters had arrived to protect the area.

“When police entered the [camp] to arrest the suspects forcefully, everyone in the area became hostile to police. There was a huge confrontation,” Shiyam said added.

“This was a very serious thing and we are sad that it happened,” Shiyam said. “We have no interest in doing anything [to the MDP camp], and we don’t want to have a confrontation. But people are coming out of the area, committing acts of violence, and going back there to hide, which is not something to be accepted.”

Elements of the police and military were complicit in the ousting of former President Mohamed Nasheed, who contends that he was forced to resign by security forces “under duress” in a bloodless coup.