Protests to continue as police threaten zero-tolerance

Maldives Police Services has said it will adopt a zero-tolerance policy during protests if opposition demonstrators continue their current, increasingly violent trajectory which has sent four police officers to the hospital in the past two days.

Citing protesters’ recent use of fireballs, petrol bombs and bricks, police have said they will exercise full legal authority to prevent the ongoing anti-government protests from developing into acts of terrorism.

Opposition rotesters have demonstrated every night since January 16, when Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed was arrested by military forces and detained at a training facility in Kaafu Atoll Girifushi. Opposition party members have drawn crowds of approximately 200 to 300 nightly to the area in front of the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) near the Male’ fish market, while ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) members have taken to gathering at their party camp on the other side of the island.

Police and military forces have patrolled key areas of the island on a regular basis, nightly arresting individuals for violent activities.

Speaking of last night’s demonstration, Sub-Inspector Hussain Haneef said 37 individuals were arrested “for violence and acting against police orders.” He added that nine individuals have been released.

Mohamed Haisham, a protest coordinator and member of opposition Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), said most individuals arrested last night were women and blamed any violent agitation on MDP, “who is giving money, drugs, alcohol and knives to gangs who are causing the problems.”

Haisham said protesters are undeterred by the police warnings. “Tonight’s protest will be very strong,” he informed Minivan News, adding that protests will continue until “the biggest one”, a rally scheduled for February 24.

Last night’s unrest also led to the breaking of windows at MDP headquarters and the Finance Ministry, as well as the windshield of a city bus.

Police have also launched an investigation into a Henveiru ward fire which broke out last night in the home of musician Ibra Rasheed, destroying a majority of the musical equipment belonging to himself and his son.

Rasheed, who claims not to belong to any party, has been producing music against the former government since the 1980s; between 1988 and 2003 he was arrested, jailed and banished to an island. “They arrested me for drugs, but everybody knows I don’t use drugs. They really arrested me for my music,” he said.

Since the current government came to power in 2008 Rasheed has been able to produce and sell six albums, however he claims being hassled by supporters of the former government for his work.

In 2010 Rasheed released the song “Black 30 Years” criticising the lifestyle of Abdulla Hameed, former Atolls Minister and half-brother to former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. “After that I was walking by the postal building and saw Shaheem Hameed [his son]. He refused to shake my hand and said he would sue me for what I did to his father,” Rasheed said. Soon after he was beaten up in the street, he said.

In the past several weeks, the threats have become more frequent.

“There are guys who come around on their motorbikes and tell me they are going to beat me and kill me. With these protests now they are coming more often, I am scared anything might happen to me so I stay at home. I think they were the ones who started the fire [in my son’s room].”

Rasheed said the door to his son’s room was locked and vacant when smoke began pouring out. House residents forced open the door and put out the flame, however all of the equipment inside was destroyed. “We kept my son’s computer for mixing and the guitars and most recording stuff in there,” he explained. “Someone told me the Islamic Bank can provide financial support, but I haven’t talked to the bank yet.” Rasheed said the damages amounted to Rf80,000 (US$5,200).


Police officer burned by flaming ball as protests persist

A police officer was hospitalised last night after being struck by a ball set on fire and hurled during night’s protest outside Male’s fish market, where opposition party members have been rallying crowds since January 16 calling for the release of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed from military detention.

According to police parts of the officer’s uniform were burnt along with some of the weapons he was carrying at the time. The officer also sustained injuries to his neck, chin and ears.

The officer was immediately taken to ADK hospital, police said. Two other police officers injured during the confrontation have been admitted to hospital as well.

Police said they are currently investigating the attack. No other arrests or injuries were reported.

During the opposition-led protest, which began at approximately 9:00pm last evening, a group of 200 active participants charged police blockades in an effort to enter the off-limits Republic Square. Between 10:30pm and 11:30pm protesters and police advanced and retreated along the jetty near the fish market several times. Various glass objects as well as empty bottles, stones, eggs, young coconuts and flares were thrown by protesters into the police zone, occasionally falling short of their marks and landing among the protesting crowd.

Police retaliated by pushing back the crowd, eventually deploying tear gas and pepper spray.

A woman who was sprayed following a near-hysterical confrontation with police was treated and calmed by a group of protesters on the side lines before rejoining the crowd.

Meanwhile, approximately 200 bystanders observed the commotion from the upper levels of nearby boats and the fish market opposite, some laughing, some shouting, and some simply watching.

Yesterday afternoon, activists and Parliament members from the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) marched up the island’s central road of  Majeedhee Magu, past the tsunami memorial and down Ameenee Magu to the party camp, calling for all judges to be arrested and for Male’ city “to be calm.” At the party camp activists announced their intention to advance on the protesters that evening at 8:30pm, before dispersing for prayer and dinner.

The previous evening, protest leaders went to the house of Vice President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan to request an immediate meeting. The Vice President reportedly welcomed them inside, and at 1:00am opposition leaders emerged pledging allegiance to the Vice President and urging him to assume control of the executive.

The government maintained that it had not lost confidence in the Vice President, discounting his decision to meet with the protesters as a diplomatic courtesy and reaffirmed its faith in his allegiance. During the protest the following evening, however, protesters maintained that the Vice President was on their side.

“He wants the judge free, he has said he shares our interests,” an opposition protester told Minivan News.

Party members from both sides of the political aisle gathered at their respective locales last night. MDP activists reportedly urged an advance on the fish market, however MDP Chairman and MP ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik instructed those assembled to wait for official party orders, according to sources.

Although the crowd vocally supported an advance, no official decision was made and members of the crowd did not initiate a mass movement.

A protest coordinator and opposition party member meanwhile told Minivan News that a number of protesters were harmed during last night’s protest at the fish market in a clash with the MDP.

“It is the [MDP] activists who are doing and throwing these things,” he claimed. “They are the ones causing all the damage.”

Other protesters acknowledged that gang members are known to be participating in the demonstrations, sometimes after taking drugs or alcohol, however they would not provide further details.

Protests are expected to continue through February 24, the opposition protest coordinator said.


PPM still asking for Chief Judge’s release as violent protests continue

Police and Maldives National Defence Forces (MNDF) last night arrested 19 people during a violent protest outside the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) building near Republic Square, in which four police officers received minor injuries.

“The protest became violent when people started throwing bricks and other things,” said police Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef. “We tried to disperse them, and the protest spread throughout Male’ city.” Haneef said the protests continued until 1:25 am on Monday morning.

‘Sandhaanu’ Ahmed Ibrahim Didi, a council member of minority opposition Dhivehi Quamee Party (DQP), has been released. The other 18 individuals remain in custody.

However, Mulaku MP Abdulla Yameen was summoned to police headquarters this morning for questioning in regards in to an ongoing investigation. Local media reports that Yameen was due to leave for Sri Lanka this evening to meet foreign diplomats.

Police officials estimated that between 300 and 400 individuals associated with political opposition parties participated in last night’s protest, part of a trend which began when several opposition figures were detained for “hate speech” against the government nine days ago. Opposition-led protests demanding freedom of expression escalated when Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed was arrested by military forces seven days ago, shortly after he declared the arrest of the politicians unlawful.

Sub-Inspector Haneef said the protests were “of a high concern to the Male’ police service”, observing that last night’s protest was part of a developing trend of increasingly violent demonstrations.

Stating that military forces are prepared to assist police upon request, MNDF spokesperson Major Abdul Raheem added that “anytime there is violence it is a big concern of ours. We are always on alert and want to make sure Male’ is safe for residents.”

Meanwhile, the Security Services Committee (241 Committee) questioned MNDF Chief Major General Moosa Ali Jaleel and Police Commissioner Ahmed Faseeh  regarding the detention of the chief judge and the string of protests.

Local media reported that further hearings will be held. However, Minivan was unable to confirm the report with members of the 241 Committee at time of press.

Concerns about the protests were raised at Parliament’s National Security Committee last week by PPM MP Ahmed Mahlouf.

According to Committee Chair and MDP MP Ali Waheed, Mahlouf subsequently withdrew the case “because he didn’t want (MDP MP) ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik to be involved, and he didn’t like the way the investigation was going.”

“We offered dialogue, because we don’t want to stop work, we want to be democratic. In a committee we should be able to have dialogue and make a solution. But the opposition is trying to disrupt the process and make trouble everywhere in the country so the government can’t focus,” Waheed claimed.

Stating that the protests “are an issue of national security”, Waheed warned that disrupting committee procedures were “a means to an end.”

“Right now there are many ways to terrorise a country. Some use guns and bombs, some use language, and even now the way [former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s Progressive Party of the Maldives] is acting is a type of terrorism – they are trying to stop the whole system”, he said, observing that as the protests carry on with blocked roads and vandalised homes, “Male’s roads should not be used only by PPM.”

PPM MP Mahlouf had not responded to phone calls at time of press. However, party member Abdul Rasheed Nafiz said he understood that Mahlouf’s case was voted down during a committee session when MP Yameen was absent, and did not believe that the National Security Committee had the mandate to address the protests.

Nafiz said the protests were important for public expression however he believed the response was overblown.

“Police and military forces are both involved, which is a concern. Force is not required, when these people are gathering they keep silent until the police decide to disperse the crowd,” he claimed.

Acknowledging that a regulation prohibits demonstrations after midnight and at certain locations – such as Republic Square, located next to the MMA building – Nafiz pointed out that “neither side has obeyed that regulation, and even a small regulation can’t limit the freedoms granted in the Constitution.”

During his time as a Parliament member, Nafiz said, he suggested regulations on public protests “because Male’ is a small place and people are saying things that are hard for families and small children to hear. We have a culture and a religion to respect as well. But at the time the proposal was attacked and now people can hold protests when and where they like.”

Nafiz said he believed restoring peace “depends on the chief judge’s release.”

“Opposition parties are willing to bring an end to the protests through negotiation, but the government should release the judge first,” he said, noting that a group of lawyers had today forwarded the case to the International Criminal Court (ICC), of which the Maldives recently became a member.

“This is really a legal issue, and a mediator is needed. The question is ‘who’. Now is the time for the international community to get involved”, he said.

Yesterday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that it had requested an international legal delegation from the United Nations’ Human Rights Commission to assist the Maldives.


MBC requests police protection for media personnel and property

The Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) has requested police protection for broadcasting stations, media equipment and journalists following recent attacks during political protests on capital Male’.

MBC has discussed the issue directly with police officials and has submitted an official letter detailing the request, reports local media.

MBC President Badhuruh Naseer condemned the threats and attacks made on media personnel last weekend, citing the rights of journalists as guaranteed under Article 28 of the Constitution in defense.

Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation (MNBC) staff and property were also attacked during the protests.

A press release from the President’s Office today declared the government’s commitment to a free media “absolute and unwavering”.

Last week, Maldives media authorities raised alarms when the Minister of Transport and Communication Adhil Saleem claimed that broadcasting licences of media stations “misleading the public” would be revoked.

Adhil later said he only meant to advise the media on the matter, not to issue a threat.

Rejecting accusations that the “advice” was a threat, President’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair noted that Saleem merely pointed out that certain TV news channels had acted unprofessionally when airing footage of recent protests.

“President Nasheed’s administration never has and never will do anything to undermine the independence, integrity or professionalism of the media,” he said.