PIC investigating police handling of MDP protest

The Police Integrity Commission (PIC) is investigating police handling of a ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) protest on October 20 outside the Supreme Court that spread to the residence of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Speaking at a press conference today, PIC Chair Shahinda Ismail revealed that four people lodged complaints with the commission after the disturbances outside Gayoom’s residence Endherimaage.

“While protests around the area of the Supreme Court are definitely prohibited, I believe that police failed to carry out their responsibilities by allowing people to gather there,” she said.

In a press statement last week, the PIC questioned whether police had done enough to control the protest and prevent damages to private property. The commission said it would investigate the events of the day and recommend legal action.

After a wooden plank allegedly thrown from Gayoom’s residence critically injured a 17-year-old, MDP activists threw rocks at the building, clashed with Gayoom supporters blocking the entrance and tried to knock down the door of adjoining residence Maafanu Endherigas.

Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam explained last week that demonstrations in certain areas, including courts and army gates, are prohibited by the Regulation on Assembly, put in place by executive decree under the previous government.

“Members of the Maldivian Democratic Party and Dhivehi Rayithunge Party (DRP) have both gathered in these areas though, even though we have requested them not to. Some of them have gone to the army gates and the President’s gate as well, so occasionally we have to address the issue,” he said.

Police meanwhile issued a press statement last night defending its actions on the day of the MDP protest, claiming that “some people are trying to blame police and relentlessly spreading misinformation to mislead the public.”

Prior to the protest, which was announced to begin at 3.30pm, the statement noted that police put up security lines and road blocks at 2.45pm around the Supreme Court and cordoned off the area.

“The area was closed off to prevent people from gathering there and to ensure there was no hindrance to the hearing to be conducted at the Supreme Court,” the police statement said.

However, while police made way for MP Mohamed Musthafa to enter the Supreme Court, “others entered into the cordoned area saying they had registered for the hearing.”

“As police had not been provided with information about those authorised to observe the hearing, while they entered the area others who had not been registered also came in,” police said.

As the Supreme Court had requested security and police believed that attempts to arrest protesters and disperse the crowd could have led to disturbances and affected the hearing, “police tried to control the protest and prevent more people from coming into [the cordoned area] until the hearing was concluded.”

The statement noted that in similar circumstances police used its discretion to restrain from using force to ensure that “the work of state institutions are not disrupted.”

When the crowd marched to Endherimaage after Musthafa emerged from court, police officers remained outside the Supreme Court.

Police officers were dispatched to the area around Endherimaage shortly after clashes erupted, the statement noted, and the officers were able to control the disturbances and disperse the crowd.

Minivan News journalists at the scene noted that police arrived after several MDP activists attempted to knock down the door of Endherigas and Endherimaage. Some protesters had briefly entered Endherigas but were kept out by a young man wielding a metal cone.

Police officers however blocked the entrance of both houses after they arrived at the scene, some 10 or 15 minutes after the violence erupted.

The police statement meanwhile criticised the PIC for putting out its statement last week allegedly without clarifying the matter with police.

“As the Police Integrity Commission is a commission formed to investigate with fairness complaints against police, this service deeply regrets [the commission] releasing such statements based on false information being spread in the media by political parties for political reasons without completing its investigation and unlike how it acts in similar cases,” it reads.

The statement alleged that individual police officers were facing intimidation from politicians, which was “unacceptable.”

At today’s PIC conference, Shahinda however denied that the commission acted any differently in the wake of the controversial MDP protest.

The purpose of the statement was to assure the public that it was investigating the incidents, she continued, noting that the four complainants were not all political parties with a political motivation.

“We have released statements regarding other serious cases as well where we wanted to appeal to the police,” she said.

Asked if police were subject to undue political influence, Shahinda said she could not comment on the present case before the inquiry was over, “but generally I don’t believe there is political influence over police.”

Shahinda also said that the police explanation for not dispersing the crowd was not a valid reason.

“After people had already gathered, not dispersing the crowd saying the hearing could be affected is not an acceptable excuse,” she said. “I don’t believe people should have been allowed to gather there in the first place.”