Police ‘arrest’ MDP petition table

The police today confiscated a table set up by the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party to gather signatures for a petition to free jailed former president Mohamed Nasheed, claiming the furniture obstructed pedestrians and traffic.

The move sparked outrage and a flood of mockery on social media, with some calling for a new petition to free the table, while others questioned the police response to rising violence in Malé City, which has seen four murders in two months and continued stabbings.

A 32-year-old man was knifed in the capital last night, police said. Local media reported that he was not seriously injured.

The removal of the table comes as authorities crack down on opposition activities including anti-government protests. It also apparently fell foul of a power struggle between the housing ministry and opposition-dominated Malé City Council over who can grant permission for the use of public spaces.

One social media user, @sofwath, said: “Stop brutalizing the table. Free the table now!”

The MDP continued collecting signatures outside its offices on Malé’s Sosunmagu, despite the confiscation of the table. The petition urges President Abdulla Yameen to free Nasheed, who was sentenced last month to 13 years in jail on terrorism charges.

Translation: the collection of signatures on the petition has resumed at the MDP’s office.

A police media official said that the MDP had not sought the required permission from the housing ministry to set up tables on the pavement.

The housing ministry last year announced that it had the power to approve use of public land and roads in the capital, in an apparent removal of these powers from Malé city council.

But Malé City councillor Shamau Shareef said he did not recognise the housing ministry’s authority in this area, as its regulations usurped the opposition-dominated city council’s powers under the Decentralisation Act.

Several prominent individuals, including former president of the Elections Commission Fuwad Thowfeek and former environment minister Ahmed Abdulla, have now signed the petition.

The opposition Alliance Against Brutality last week brought in a power generator for a mass gathering at the Artificial Beach when the state-run electricity company refused to allow them to pay for the use of power lines.

STELCO reportedly said it could only power housing ministry approved events.


Police arrest six protesters from Kudahuvadhoo during President’s visit

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has condemned the arrest of six protesters from Kudahuvadhoo in Dhaal Atoll during President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s visit to the island on Sunday.

In a press release last night, the former ruling party condemned “in the harshest terms” the arrest of “participants of a peaceful protest” against Dr Waheed’s government and called for their “immediate release”.

Police made the arrests “brutally and with no prior warning,” the MDP statement alleged.

The party also expressed concern over the alleged use of pepper spray and “disproportionate force” to take the protesters into custody as well as the use of obscene language towards demonstrators.

The MDP statement concluded by calling on the Human Rights Commission, Police Integrity Commission and the Prosecutor General’s Office to investigate and take legal action concerning the “illegal arrest of peaceful protesters and efforts by the police to restrict freedom of expression.”

Speaking to Minivan News, a police media official confirmed that six people were arrested from the island on Sunday but noted that only one person was arrested during Dr Waheed’s visit.

Three men were arrested around 11:00am for “obstructing police duty” during security preparations for the President’s visit.

One of the men allegedly assaulted a police officer while the other two were arrested for “obstructing police duty,” the media official explained.

A police officer sustained minor injuries during the confrontation, the official said, but the injuries were “not too serious.”

A woman was arrested at the time when President Waheed alighted on the island but has since been released.

Two men arrested during a protest outside the Kudahuvadhoo police station after President Waheed left the island have also been released, the media official said.

Of the six arrested during the day, only the three men arrested before noon were still in custody, the official said.

On the allegations concerning excessive use of force, the police media official insisted that no force was used when President Waheed alighted on the island.

However, he added that police used force earlier in the day to control a disturbance that followed the arrest of the individual who allegedly assaulted a police officer.

Banners taken down

Meanwhile, Shathir Abdul Rahman, head of the MDP Kudahuvadhoo branch, told private broadcaster Raajje TV yesterday that a large number of police from other stations in the atoll arrived ahead of the President and took down anti-government banners.

The police media official confirmed that police took down banners put up at the harbour area.

Dhaal Meedhoo
Protest preparation in Dhaal Meedhoo

The banners were put up at a cordoned off area “closed for security reasons” and were taken down as they were put up by islanders who “broke through the police lines”, the media official said.

Meanwhile, a protest also took place at Dhaal Meedhoo on Saturday to coincide with the former vice president’s visit.

President Waheed left Male’ on Friday for Faafu Nilandhoo and some islands of Dhaalu atoll.

Private broadcaster Villa Television – owned by Jumhoree Party (JP) leader and business magnate MP Gasim Ibrahim – reported Dr Waheed as saying in his speech at Kudahuvadhoo yesterday that his government would be “harsh” towards those who attack senior government officials and create unrest.

A bottle was reportedly thrown at Housing Minister Dr Mohamed Muiz at Dhaal Meedhoo during the President’s visit.

Referring to the incident during his speech at Kudahuvadhoo yesterday, Dr Waheed reportedly characterised it as “an act of terrorism” and promised “harsh action” against those responsible.

Meanwhile, according to MDP officials on social media, two men were arrested today from Dhaal Hulhudheli during a protest greeting President Waheed’s arrival on the island. Both men have however been released after the President’s departure.

Since the controversial transfer of presidential power on February 7, visits by President Waheed to islands have been marked by protests calling him a “traitor” and demonstrators clashing with police.

Following reports released by Amnesty International alleging police brutality since February’s transfer of power, police in June this year denied “use of excessive force” against demonstrators.


Criminal Court begins hearing VTV vandalism case

The Criminal Court has commenced the trial of five men accused of vandalising the offices of private broadcaster Villa Television (VTV) during protests held in Male’, on the day President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik delivered his inaugural Presidential Speech.

VTV is owned by Jumhoree Party (JP) Leader Gasim Ibrahim, which is represented in President Waheed’s coalition government.

The Prosecutor General (PG) has pressed charges against Ismail Hammaadh of Maduvvari in Raa Atoll, Ahmed Hameeed and Hussein Hameed of Alifushi in Raa Atoll, Ahmed Naeem of Henveiru Ladhumaageaage, Hussein Shifau Jameel of Maafannu Nooruzeyru, Aanim Hassan of Ferishoo in North Ali Atoll, Ahmed Muheen of Galolhu Haalam and Mohamed Hameed.

Newspaper ‘Haveeru’ reported that a lawyer representing the PG’s Office pressed charges against the five suspects for their alleged violation of legislation banning threatening behaviour and the possession of sharp weapons.

All of the respondents have denied the charges against them.

Local media reported that the PG’s Office lawyer was given the opportunity to produce evidence including witness statements, pictures and video footage provided by VTV staff present at the area when the incident occurred.  Police and MNDF officers were also produced to the court for their accounts.

On March 19, President Dr Waheed Hassan Manik delivered his opening address to parliament amid widespread anti-government demonstrations, after the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) took to the street to prevent him from giving the speech. Violent clashes between police and protesters and sparked major unrest in the capital Male’.

Following violent confrontations between civilians and security forces during the day, 99 people were arrested, with a number of security officers and protesters reported injured.

Police Superintendent Ahmed Mohamed previously said that the attack on VTV was itself an act of terrorism and that those involved should receive “the harshest punishment possible”.


PIC runs breathalyser tests following allegations of drunken police: results negative

The Police Integrity Commission (PIC) has revealed that a team from the commission recently visited the Maldives Police Service (MPS) headquarters to run breathalyser tests on some police officers involved in controlling the ongoing Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) protests.

The MDP has been protesting in the streets of Malé for a fifth consecutive day, vowing to continue demonstrating until President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s administration is overthrown.

The party has alleged that the controversial transfer of power that took place on February 7 was an unlawful toppling of its government and described it as a coup d’état.

The PIC in a statement said that the commission visited the police headquarters following a report alleging that the police were acting in a “drunken” state while controlling the MDP Protests.

“Breathalyser tests are carried out to identify whether a person is in a state of intoxication or not. The report that we received regarding the allegations did not specify a number [of policemen who had consumed alcohol]. We want to release the details of this along with the test results,” said PIC President Shahinda Ismail.

Local media also quoted police media official confirming the PIC visit to police headquarters, but refused to reveal any further details.

“[PIC] are currently doing the tests. The tests are being carried out on 35 officers currently involved in operational level,” he said at the time.

Following the PIC’s breathalyser tests, Commissioner of Police Abdulla Riyaz in a statement to local newspaper Haveeru called on the commission to release the details of the tests as soon as possible.

He also told the newspaper that he believed that the commission should have released the results last night following the tests claiming that it was something the commission is “supposed to do”.

Regarding Commissioner Riyaz’s comments, PIC president Shahinda stated in the newspaper that the results would be released after a meeting with the commission members.

“We will reveal the results most likely in a press statement. We haven’t still been able to hold a meeting of the commission,” she said.

The PIC this morning released the results of the tests, refuting the allegations the police were in an intoxicated state during the protests.

The Commission said it had conducted breath analysis tests on all Specialist Operation (SO) police officers, none of whom tested positive for intoxication or alcohol consumption.

Speaking to Minivan News, PIC President Shahinda said the commission carried out the tests following a report saying that the police was “acting drunkenly during the protests” and that there was “the smell of alcohol coming from them”.

“We ran tests on the SO police officers. I think it there were about 37 or 38,” she said.

She also stated that none of the officers tested positive and that the allegations were false.

Asked if there were reports of alleged misconduct of police during the dismantling of MDP protests, she said that the commission had been receiving complaints and would be looking into it as per its daily routine.

She further stated that the commission was currently preparing a press statement asking the general public to provide any information on police misconduct following the events that unfolded on February 6, 7 and 8.

She also added that investigations are ongoing into allegations of police misconduct in Addu City on February 9.

PIC proves we are innocent: Police Media official

Speaking to Minivan News, Police Media Official Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef said that the MPS welcomed the PIC statement, stating that it had proved their innocence.

He also said that some of the protesters were spreading false information and baseless allegations about the institution, and that the police were saddened to see such actions.

“We have noticed that some of the participants in the protests are spreading false information and making baseless allegations about the Maldives Police Service. We are very saddened to see such actions and we do condemn such actions,” Haneef said.

“It is a good thing that they filed the case with the PIC. That is the way  things actually should be,” he said, regarding the report.

Haneef also denied allegations that the police were targeting opposition aligned media outlets, stating that the police treated all media “equally and fairly”

“There is a cordon when police are trying to control protests. We always ask [media] to stay behind it and we will assure their safety and security. But when they go out of the cordon how can we identify them from the protesters when there are violence going on?” he questioned.

Asked about the issue of lack of coverage of the events if journalists stayed behind the cordon, he stated that the media should look into “alternative” ways of reporting.

“The media should seek alternative ways of covering the protests. We cannot guarantee their security when they are outside the police cordon.  Maybe they could get cameras with powerful zoom capacity to cover the protests from a distance,” he suggested.

Haneef stated that the police always approached the media in a “very friendly” manner and stated that no police officer would deliberately hurt a journalist.

Minivan News also tried contacting Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz but he had not respond at time of press.


High Court verdict on Usfasgandu case to be issued Tuesday

The High Court today held hearings on the Usfasgandu dismantling case after the government appealed the matter, following a Civil Court injunction to halt the dismantling operation.

The government appealed to cancel the Civil Court order to stop dismantling of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) protest site, and to return all items confiscated from the area by security forces.

Attorney for the State Ahmed Usham contended that the Civil Court’s order was completely in favour of the MDP, and also contradicted normal procedures for issuing court orders. He further said the Civil Court had not granted sufficient time and opportunity for the State to respond to the court order.

In response, MDP lawyer Abdulla Afeef said the Civil Court gave the State ample time to respond considering the situation at the time.

A verdict on the case will be issued tomorrow, said High Court Judge Abdul Rauf.


MDP launches website for former President Nasheed

The former ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) launched websites for President Mohamed Nasheed and the party’s ‘Kula Yellow’ facebook page at last night’s gathering at the ‘Usfasgadu’ protest site.

The Kula Yellow website was inaugurated by MP Ibrahim Rasheed while President Nasheed’s website was brought online by MP Ahmed Rasheed.

According to the party website, RaeesNasheed.com was created by MDP’s youth supporters and offers aggregated news stories and picture galleries of the deposed ruler as well as videos of speeches and public addresses.

Last night’s rally meanwhile featured Boduberu from the ‘Dhanmaanu Group.’ The former ruling party has been conducting nightly protest rallies and marches calling for early presidential elections to resolve the ongoing political strife in the wake of the controversial transfer of power on February 7, 2012.


Defiant Male’ City Council refuses to hand over second MDP protest site

Male’ City Council has refused to comply with a cabinet decision last week authorising the Housing Ministry to take control of the ousted Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) second protest site before May 14.

In a letter informing the ministry of its decision today, the city council insisted that the ‘Usfasgandu’ area was “temporarily leased” to the former ruling party in accordance with the Decentralisation Act, contending that the ministry did not have legal authority to reclaim council property.

The land plot behind Dharubaaruge (convention center) was leased to MDP in light of the current state of affairs, the letter explained, as there was “a need to find a way for large numbers of people to gather and conduct political activities” without inconveniencing residents of Male’ City.

As plans were in the pipeline to seek interested parties to develop the area, including “a swimming pool”, the letter continued, reclaiming the property, which was among 32 plots of land under council authority, would be “irresponsible”.

If criminal or unlawful activity was going on at the site as alleged by the government, the council suggested an investigation by the relevant authorities or litigation to resolve the issue.

The city council also sent letters to the Maldives Police Service and Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) requesting that no action be taken to evict the protesters pending a ruling or judgment by a court of law.

Meanwhile, Deputy Housing Minister Abdul Muttalib told local media today that a decision had not been made over reclaiming the area as Housing Minister Dr Mohamed Muizz was presently overseas.

The ousted MDP’s first protest site at the tsunami memorial area was controversially cleared out by the security forces on March 19.

Two days later, the city council leased the Usfasgandu area to MDP until the end of June. However on April 10, the Housing Ministry informed the council of its intention to remove the party from its new base.

The government contends that the council was in breach of its parent legislation in leasing the land to MDP. In a statement last week, the President’s Office said cabinet deliberations concerned “the breach of agreement by the Male’ City Council (MCC) in utilising the land plots and other properties handed over to the City Council by the Ministry of Housing and Environment.”

The cabinet had therefore decided “to entrust the Minister of Housing and Environment with the authority to reclaim the properties from the City Council when required.”


MDP supporters march through Male’, condemn Speaker’s inaction

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) on Friday marched through the streets of Male’ in support of this week’s Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) statement.

Former Tourism Minister Mariyam Zulfa said the march was intended to show that the people of the Commonwealth are ‘standing shoulder to shoulder’ in support of CMAG. The march was intended to demonstrate that the government’s claims the CMAG did not truly represent the people of the Commonwealth was incorrect.

CMAG met last Monday, calling again for early elections and threatening stronger measures should the government fail to improve the impartiality Committee of National Inquiry (CNI) the body assigned to investigate February’s transfer of power.

Zulfa reported that a group of around 10,000 people left the Usfangandu area at around 4:30pm yesterday, picking up more supporters as it progressed. The marchers were said to have returned to the Usfangandu area at around 6:45pm. Zulfa also reported simultaneous protests across the country.

At the start of the march, the group is reported to have headed towards the residence of the Speaker of the House Abdullah Shahid, where there was a brief pause while the protesters called for Shahid’s resignation. The group then continued past the Majlis, also stopping outside the residence of the Minister of Defence, Mohamed Nazim.

The MDP representation in the Majlis submitted a no-confidence motion against the speaker this week, arguing that Shahid had failed to follow parliamentary regulations consistently, and also that he had made decisions without adequately consulting all of the parties in the Majlis.

Zulfa explained the MDP’s belief that the speaker should have taken a leading role in pushing for fresh elections, citing the recent example of the coup in Mali, after which the speaker of the country’s legislature Dioncounda Traore assumed power and promised new polls.

“We have been very patient [with Shahid]. Now, instead of asking him for his leadership, we are asking him to resign,” said Zulfa. Responding to the president’s claim this week that early elections could be held in July 2013, Zulfa said: “We don’t call that early at all.”

“From the examples of other coup governments, we know that this is a stalling tactic,” said Zulfa.

July represents the earliest point that the president can move the elections forward under the current rules of the constitution.


“Government cannot be hijacked by taking over army headquarters”: MDP protest enters day five

The government of the Maldives can no longer be “hijacked” by taking over the army headquarters and arresting or assassinating the incumbent ruler as in centuries past, deposed President Mohamed Nasheed said on Sunday night.

Addressing supporters on the third night of the ongoing Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) ‘Journey to Justice’ protest, Nasheed explained that “the days when this country was ruled by the might of the forearm has been relegated to the past.”

“What we are seeing today is that the Maldivian people will not idly sit by and watch the flame of freedom flicker out,” he said.

He added that taking control of the army headquarters to assume executive power was “an outdated and antiquated way of thinking” in the 21st century.

“The secret or essence behind this is that the government of this country is not the property of the ruler,” he continued. “The government of this country belongs to its people. It can only be stolen from the people after arresting all of them or when there are no longer any people left in this country.”

A Maldivian government could no longer rule over the populace without their consent and respect, he added.

“The days when the Maldivian people could be beaten into submission with electric batons, pepper spray or sticks are long past,” he asserted, adding that “most Maldivians value freedom and despise brutality.”

Nasheed expressed concern with the continued arrest and detention of elected councillors and MDP supporters across the country.

In contrast to fiery speeches by MDP MPs threatening to march the crowd to “reclaim what was stolen,” Nasheed insisted that violent confrontations or the use of force would not be necessary.

He went on to congratulate the protesters for “showing an example to the world” of a peaceful demonstration.

“Shedding a single drop of blood from any Maldivian” would be unacceptable, he added, advising protesters to act “with wisdom and patience.”

Nasheed also urged speakers who take the stage to not abuse the right to free expression by using indecent or “obscene language” or resorting to personal attacks.

Day four

On the following night, former TV presenter Miqdad Adam hosted a panel discussion with former ministers Hassan Latheef and Hassan Afeef along with lawyer Ahmed Abdulla Afeef focusing on the legal issues surrounding the transfer of power.

Hassan Afeef,  former home minister, explained that the coup started with “rebelling or mutinying officers” refusing to obey orders from the former Commissioner of Police and his deputies on the night of February 6.

Shortly before beginning their protest at the Republic Square in the early hours of February 7, a rogue group of riot police attacked the MDP Haruge (headquarters), assaulted former State Minister for Home Affairs, Mohamed ‘Monaza’ Naeem and ransacked the place.

According to eyewitnesses, a police officer hit an elderly man on the head with a chair. Haruge was attacked for a second time after a group of soldiers and police assisted by gang members took over the state broadcaster.

Afeef added that a number of army officers also refused to obey orders from either the Commander-in-Chief or Chief of Defence Forces Brigadier General Moosa Ali Jaleel.

If police officers believed they were given an unlawful order, Afeef continued, they should complain through the proper channels.

Afeef noted that current Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz, Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim and State Minister for Home Affairs Mohamed Fayaz ‘FA’ had “no legal status” to enter army barracks, negotiate on behalf of the mutinying police or relay demands to President Nasheed.

Local media reported on the morning of February 7, between 10am and 11am, ex-Colonel Nazim addressing the crowd and informing them that President Nasheed had been told to “immediately and unconditionally resign” before 1.30pm.

Afeef claimed that Nazim told President Nasheed that “his life could be in danger” if he refused to comply with demands from mutinying police and army officers.

Former Youth Minister Hassan Latheef referred to opposition politicians meeting then-Vice President Dr Mohamed Waheed at 1:00am at his official residence following a night of roving protests.  He added that Dr Waheed evaded questions from cabinet members the next day.

Lawyer Ahmed Abdulla Afeef meanwhile criticised Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz for administering the oath of office on February 7 without looking into whether President Nasheed resigned under duress or not.

Ahmed also noted that the resignation letter was snatched by “the three men with no legal status” who entered the President’s Office with a number of army officers and took the letter to parliament.

Calling for an independent inquiry, Ahmed argued that compromising President Nasheed’s volition or discretion at any point of the process would render the resignation unlawful.

The former ministers also contended that opposition parties resorted to a violent takeover because they were convinced MDP would have won the 2013 presidential election based on delivery of campaign pledges, such as free universal healthcare, housing programmes and a nationwide transport network.