Comment: “Unprofessional police action” will not turn the tide of public resentment

Former Director of Police Intelligence Sabra Noordeen was arrested yesterday (March 16) upon arriving at Male’ International Airport. She was handcuffed for transportation to Dhonidhoo prison on charges of “inciting violence” against police officers on March 5 this year.

She was then taken to Male’ instead, and released “with no reason given at the time”. Her passport was confiscated. Here she shares her experience and concerns about “intimidation” of members of the public by the Maldives Police Service.

I arrived in Male’ at 9.35pm last night. I made my way to immigration and was glad to see a familiar face behind the counter, an immigration officer who I’d played football with occasionally. I handed over my passport for her to process and she scanned it through.

“I’ve been asked to stop you, it says I have to stop you,” she said to me.

“You’re joking,” I responded. With the recent political upheaval in the country.  I thought she was making fun of me.

She was in fact very serious. Another immigration officer came over, and responded to me about why I was being stopped and which watch list they were referring to. He said they had to confiscate my passport due to a court order, and that it was the Maldives Police Service’s request. He told me I could collect my bag and return to the counter.

It was then that I contacted my family about what was happening. I had been on the same flight as three lawyers and the head of [private broadcaster] Raajje TV. I requested their assistance from the arrivals terminal, and they immediately joined me at the counter, with the immigration officer and a police officer who was on duty at the airport.

The police officer said I had to accompany him to the Tourist Police station at the airport. At the station, they only had a court order to hold my passport. As we were getting ready to leave the station, we were told that a court order for my arrest was on the way, and we were asked to sit down.

When I was given the court order for my arrest, I think I laughed. The reason for the arrest was “inciting violence against the police and obstructing police duty”, on March 5 on Majeedee Magu.

They had also managed to incorrectly state my gender as male!

This very thorough court order was issued based on the evidence of a Police eyewitness and a Police officer’s statement.

I was told that female officers from Male’ were on their way to the airport to arrest me and escort me to Dhoonidhoo detention centre. We waited for 45 minutes. Despite the ‘change in leadership’ at the MPS, it seemed there were still only two functioning speedboats in Male’ atoll.

Two female Special Operations officers arrived in blue camouflage uniforms – both were without name tags.

I was handcuffed and made to walk through the airport to the jetty where the Police vessel was yet to arrive.

My loyalty to the institution that is the Maldives Police Service is hard to get rid of.  This is despite the direction that rogue officers forcefully took the institution in with the Police-led mutiny and coup d’etat on 7, February 2012.

One of the officers told me that it was procedure to be handcuffed while on the vessel on the way to Dhoonidhoo. I protested, trying to remember the procedures I had read while working in MPS.

They did not uncuff me, even when they put on the life jacket, which resulted in the life jacket not being fitted properly.

It was placed around my shoulders with the handcuffed arms awkwardly placed in one of the sleeves. I said to her, ‘if something happens, there’s no way I’ll survive like this’.

“We’ll save you,” the female officer replied.

Needless to say, I was not reassured.  On the boat, I was told that I was now being taken to MPS HQ in Male’ instead of Dhoonidhoo and that they were apparently going to release me. There was no reason given at the time.

I was taken into the waiting room in HQ. I was uncuffed, and asked to wait until my release chit and summons for questioning were prepared.

My release chit stated, that they no longer believed I needed to be kept under arrest. My summons to appear for questioning on Monday afternoon was also handed over to me.

I asked why they felt it was necessary to arrest and handcuff me when they could have just served me the summons, without all the dramatics the next morning at my home. I was not given an answer.

I quit the Maldives Police Service on 8 February 2012 with a profound sense of sadness for the institution and the colleagues I left behind. I do not believe that everyone in the MPS was involved in the mutiny or the coup and I do not believe in blaming everyone in a Police uniform. Many will disagree with me.

However, I do believe that MPS cannot fully gain the confidence of the public they claim to ‘protect and serve’, nor guarantee free and fair Presidential elections without significant reform.

This includes the dissolution of the Special Operations (SO) unit, holding all police officers accused of committing acts of police brutality and misconduct accountable for their actions. The removal of Commissioner of Police Abdulla Riyaz, Deputy Commissioner of Police Hussain Waheed, Assistant Commissioner of Police Abdulla Phairoosch and many other Commissioned officers who have disgraced the service is also needed right now.

Until then, unprofessional police action carried out purely for the purposes of intimidating members of the public that the political and politicised leadership of MPS feel threatened by is not going to turn the tide of public resentment against the police.

Sabra Noordeen was former Director of Police Intelligence during the Nasheed administration

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