Government presses terrorism charges against 21 MDP protesters over February 8 unrest

The Prosecutor General has pressed Terrorism charges against 21 Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) protesters for damage to state property on February 8, for allegedly setting fire to the court and police station in Addu City.

Nationwide protests erupted on February 8 following the controversial transfer of power the previous day. Former President Mohamed Nasheed resigned amid a police and military mutiny, and later alleged this was under duress.

The protests were sparked after a brutal police crackdown on large numbers of demonstrators who attempted to enter Republic Square that afternoon, including the former President, MDP MPs and supporters.

Dramatic footage of the crackdown was filmed by international media outlets such as Al-Jazeera, while other footage shared on social media showed police kicking and beating protesters on the ground. Many of the injured were women.

A Minivan News reporter who was injured in a baton charge, at the time described the involvement of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s ‘Starforce’ officers: “They were beating old women with batons,” he said. “It was just like the old days.”

The protests spread across the country, with demonstrators targeting police and court buildings. Police officers were in some instances evicted from islands. The worst of the destruction occurred in Addu City, the country’s second most populated area after Male’, and an MDP stronghold.

A police crackdown followed in Addu, and was the subject of a report by international human rights organisation Amnesty International.

In one instance, security personnel “reportedly entered the MDP office in Hitadhoo, where more than a dozen women protesters had run for shelter. They chased the women into the storage room of the building and began to beat them,” Amnesty reported.

“Amnesty International learned that one woman had her arm twisted and sprained when MNDF soldiers grabbed her. They then took her glasses off, forced her to open her eye and sprayed it with pepper spray. She said they pressed her against the wall and kicked her with their boots.

“Another woman said that they began to beat her on her breast, repeatedly shouting they would see to it that she does not breast feed again. A third woman showed her badly bruised arm where she said that soldiers had severely and repeatedly beaten her.”

Amnesty noted that both sides had blamed each other for promoting violence, and that human rights in the Maldives “have become heavily politicised.”

In a statement today, the Criminal Court said the 21 protesters were accused of vandalising the Police Station at Addu, vandalising the Police School, the Addu City Court, and the Prosecutor General’s Office at Addu City on February 8.

The Criminal Court said that they were charged according to Anti-Terrorism Act article 2[f][g] and article 6[b].

On February 8, the [olice station on Milandhoo in Shaviyani Atoll and the station on Velidhoo in Noonu Atoll were reportedly taken over by MDP supporters.

In March, Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam confirmed the arrest of 17 people on Thinadhoo in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll, who were involved in vandalising property and creating unrest in the island on February 8.

‘’Those people are people whom we have pictures and video footage of their involvement in the incidents that day,’’ Shiyam said at the time.

In April, the President of the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) Shahindha Ismail told the Parliament’s Independent Institutions Oversight Committee that police actions on February 8 were unlawful, and that police officers had used undue force to disperse the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) demonstration.

In May police said they have concluded investigation into arson attacks against government offices and the police station on Thinadhoo in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll on February 8, and sent the names of 108 persons to the Prosecutor General’s Office.