Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Nazim Rashad signed for the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) last night, becoming the third opposition MP to cross the floor since the parliamentary polls in March.
The addition of the MP for Baa Atoll Thulhaadhoo brings the PPM’s number of MPs in the 18th People’s Majlis to 42 – one short of a simple majority in the 85-member house. However, along with the five MPs of coalition partner Maldives Development Alliance (MDA), the ruling coalition now has 47 MPs.
The opposition MDP’s numbers are reduced to 23 while the Jumhooree Party (JP) has 13 MPs. The religious conservative Adhaalath Party has one MP while Madaveli MP Muaz Mohamed Rasheed remains the sole independent.
Following a signing ceremony at Muleeage last night where Rashad handed over his membership form to President Abdulla Yameen, MP Ahmed Nihan – parliamentary group leader of the PPM – took to social media to announce that the ruling party now has 50 percent of parliamentary seats.
Functions of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) held at the official presidential residence Muleeage are not funded from the state budget, President Abdulla Yameen has said.
Speaking to the press at a PPM event in Muleeage on Thursday night (June 5), President Yameen reportedly said he did not believe using the official residence for meetings or party activities amounted to misuse of state resources.
The president’s remarks followed Auditor General Niyaz Ibrahim’s insistance last week that state property could not be used for party activities.
Niyaz told local media that Muleeage could only be used either for functions held by the president or the first lady in their official capacity or for meeting invited guests.
Recent signing ceremonies to welcome high-profile new members to the ruling party – most recently Independent MP Abdulla Khaleel and Environment Minister Thoriq Ibrahim – have been held in Muleeage.
President Yameen told reporters Thursday night that while he respected the auditor general’s opinion he did not believe using Muleeage for party functions was a problem.
“No money from the government’s budget or Muleeage budget is spent for any work done here. If there’s a tea or anything else here, we make the expenses outside the budget. So this is not a resource that is consumed,” Yameen was quoted as saying by newspaper Haveeru.
Yameen said he meets members of the public as well as MPs at Muleeage, adding that meeting MPs at the President’s Office to discuss parliamentary affairs would be “too official.”
“If expenses are not made from the government budget, it would be best if the place [Muleeage] is not made too much of an issue,” he suggested.
After assuming office in November, President Yameen had announced that he would continue to live in his private residence. However, the budget allocated for the official residence was increased by MVR2 million (US$130,208) in the state budget for 2014 – rising to MVR19.1 million (US$1.2 million).
Meanwhile, the PPM also put out a press statement last week contending that the auditor general’s remarks were biased, misleading and politically motivated.
“This party’s activities have not been held in the president’s official residence Muleeage so far,” the party claimed.
The party also contended that the president holding meetings in Muleeage with various individuals could not be considered “a political party activity.”
Alleging that a number of party activities and functions – without the participation of the president – had been held in Muleeage during the administration of former President Mohamed Nasheed, the PPM noted that “the auditor general had not said anything about it” at the time.
The press release went on to criticise the auditor general for not objecting to political party activities allegedly held at the Malé City Council premises as well as the use of the Dharubaaruge convention centre by protesters of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) in the wake of the controversial transfer of power in February 2012.
“Therefore, as this party believes that the interviews given by the auditor general to the media saying that the president’s official residence is being used for this party’s activities were biased and political, we express deep concern about the matter,” the press release stated.
The statement concluded by calling on the auditor general not to make statements without “properly considering the truth of the matter.”
The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) began checking the inventory at the official residence of the vice president, Hilaaleege, this week, local media reports.
The vice presidential residence has been used by President Dr Mohamed Waheed since the controversial transfer of presidential power on February 7, 2012.
The ACC decided to check the inventory following a complaint alleging that assets were being removed from Hilaaleege before the end of the presidential term on November 11.
ACC Chair Hassan Luthfy told CNM that a complaint was also submitted alleging that the inventory did not include gifts from foreign dignitaries received during the administrations of former Presidents Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and Mohamed Nasheed.
Opposition-aligned Raajje TV meanwhile reported today that an ACC team was unable to check the inventory at the official presidential residence of Muleeage.
Staff at Muleeage alleged that the brother of President Waheed, Assad Waheed, had the key to the room where the gifts from the dignitaries were stored.
Assad however did not answer the phone when the ACC investigators attempted to contact him, the staff claimed.
Naushad Waheed, former Deputy High Commissioner to the UK and brother of President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan, has urged former President Mohamed Nasheed to “be strong” in a public message published yesterday (December 21).
The message came after Nasheed was prevented from the leaving the country to visit his ill father in Bangkok, Thailand.
“Be strong. Waheed will know you will be very sad when he stops you travelling [on] this trip,” he wrote.
While in jail under the autocratic rule of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Naushad noted that Gayoom had refused to allow him to attend his mother’s funeral.
“So Waheed is following all the footsteps from Golhaboa [derogatory term for Gayoom]. Revenge is the only word for them. Be strong,” Naushad wrote.
Naushad, a famous artist, was first arrested in 1999 following publication of a cartoon in a magazine called Hukuru. Two years later, he was arrested for criticism of the Gayoom administration and found guilty of treason.
He was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Naushad became Deputy High Commissioner to the UK following Gayoom’s defeat in the October 2008 presidential election.
He later resigned from the post following the transfer of presidential power on February 7 and called on his brother to follow suit.
Meanwhile, President Waheed met former President Gayoom at Muleeage on Wednesday night. Gayoom told local media that “nothing special” was discussed and that the meeting was “just a friendly visit.”
Gayoom reportedly claimed that the pair were “old friends.” PPM Deputy Leader Umar Naseer meanwhile said the party’s interim leader and figurehead met President Waheed “frequently” for “lunch or dinner.”
Speaking at an International Labor Day rally, ousted President Mohamed Nasheed raised fears over a military dictatorship emerging in the Maldives and vowed to see Defense Minister Mohamed Nazim and Commissioner of Police Abdulla Riyaz arrested.
Nasheed resigned from office on February 7, but later claimed he left office “under duress” in a coup d’état orchestrated by remnants of the former dictatorship, funded by several resort interests and carried out by mutinous police and military units.
Nasheed gave his speech in front of the historic shrine to Abu al-Barakath-ul Yoosuf al-Barbari on Medhuziyaaraiy Magu. The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) had gathered on Medhuziyaarai Magu after police and military blocked an MDP rally from marching towards the area encompassing the President’s Office, Republican Square and the police and military headquarters.
Dozens of police and military in riot gear watched Nasheed speak from behind barricades. Minivan News observed water cannons on standby.
“Do not worry. We will arrest traitor Nazim and Abdulla Riyaz. We will do it. Do not worry. It will be the Maldivian police and the military that will do it for us,” Nasheed told hundreds of supporters.
Video footage on February 7 show Nazim addressing mutinous police and military units gathered in Republican Square, saying he had delivered an ultimatum on their behalf demanding Nasheed’s resignation. Another clip shows Riyaz meeting senior politicians inside police headquarters to brief them on Nasheed’s resignation.
Former VP Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s first appointments as president included employing Nazim as Minister of Defense and Abdulla Riyaz as Commissioner of Police.
In his speech, Nasheed laid blame for the change of government on senior police and military officials, claiming they had accepted bribes from business tycoons and distributed bribes among the lower ranks.
“Even though senior police and military officials, specifically Abdulla Riyaz, Nazim and the Chief of Defense Forces Shiyam took bribes and sold their institutions, we, as citizens or as a responsible political party cannot declare the two institutions to hold no value,” he said.
The military as a 117 year old institution had not seen an internal attack on its leaders and barracks in all of its history until February 7, Nasheed claimed.
“We are in this situation today because very few senior military and police officers took bribes from the wealthy and distributed the money within the two institutions,” he alleged.
“They [security forces] will now have to sustain the coup. Because their leaders, in fear of what may happen to them if the coup ends, will until their dying breath force the lower ranks to maintain military rule,” Nasheed said.
Nasheed was summoned to the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) today to be interviewed about his treatment by police on February 8, during the police crackdown on MDP supporters that followed his resignation.
International partners have privately expressed concern over how a re-elected Nasheed administration would handle the police and armed forces, given their role in his ousting.
Nasheed raised concern over military rule in the Maldives and said “I call for an election in 2012 because I fear we may never hold an election again.”
“We learn from other countries’ experiences. When a middle-ranking military officer overthrows a civilian government, he will have to complete the revolution, the coup. The last colonel we saw was Colonel Gaddafi. Now we are seeing Colonel Nazim,” he continued.
“I note with concern that Nazim will try to complete his coup. Then, all political leaders including Abdulla Yameen, myself, and Thasmeen Ali will try to arrest him. Because [Nazim] will try to establish a military dictatorship. This is what we must be most concerned about. As long as our hearts continue to beat, we must not allow a military takeover of the Maldives. The police and military must not become political. They are technical staff,” he said.
Nasheed pledged to continue the MDP’s campaign for early elections in 2012. The Commonwealth and EU have supported the call.
“I feel pain when I get hit. I get scared when people come at me with anger. I get melancholic when I have to sit in a cell for long. I get sad when I have to leave my wife and children. But I will not give up. I will not step back,” Nasheed said.
Nazim today responded to Nasheed’s statements, claiming that the military was not empowered to arrest people.
“I always operate within the constitutional laws of this nation. I will not do anything that violates the laws governing this country. If and when an order to arrest political figures is issued, I will no longer remain in this position,” local media reported Nazim as saying.
Nazim and Riyaz had served in the security forces under former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, but resigned after Nasheed took office in 2008.
Yesterday’s large anti-government protests ended peacefully in the early hours of the morning, and look set to continue for a second day.
Demonstrators danced into the night as a bodu beru band played, and were joined by a number of elderly women. Police kept a low profile.
Amid the yellow banners, capes, badges and bandanas of former President Mohamed Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) supporters, were a noticeably large number of the formerly politically un-engaged, most of them young. Many said they were joining or had already joined the MDP, and there were reports that the party had temporarily run out of application forms.
“We never used to discuss politics around the dinner table,” one yellow-shirted demonstrator, previously unaffiliated with any political party, told Minivan News. “But after I was beaten [by police] on Wednesday, my whole family – sisters, cousins – have joined the MDP.”
Former President Mohamed Nasheed took the podium shortly after midnight, stating that all-party talks were scheduled for Sunday to decide a date for an early presidential election. He said he was confident a date would be set before Parliament resumed on March 1.
Nasheed – who said he was forced to resign under duress in a bloodless police and military coup d’état February 7 – said people had stood up against the 30 year regime of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom because of the inhumane treatment people suffered at its hands and had witnessed, a day after the first democratically-elected government was overthrown, a brutal police crackdown on the people who protested against the coup.
“I was repeatedly asked to unlock the arsenal and if so the mutinous police officers would have been easily arrested. But I was not elected to hurt the people of this country,” Nasheed said.
Nasheed explained that for a while after the coup he was “unable to get out of Muleeage [the President’s residence]” and was not able to call anyone to explain what had happened.
“The international community had not received word of the coup as I was unable to leave Muleeage,” he said. “It took some time for them to realised that the information they had been receiving was not genuine, and by then some had urged us to join this illegal government. But I have now informed them of the real situation.
“The coup leaders did not conceive of or anticipate the people’s reaction to the change in government,” Nasheed added.
They believed, he said, that they could consolidate their hold on power “by arresting me after the coup and beating members of the MDP and the Maldivian people into submission.”
He added the public, who had been “nurturing the country on the path to freedom”, were not willing to recognise as legitimate a government they did not elect.
The “peaceful political activity” would continue until a date for early elections was announced, Nasheed said, urging people to return the following day.
“People can swim, play sports, music and give political speeches here. Our aim is to gather people from all over the nation,” he said.
Following talks with India’s Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai on Thursday, Nasheed said Dr Mohamed Waheed’s government was supposed to announce early elections on Friday night, after which other parties, MDP and Nasheed were to welcome it.
The announcement did not come, except for a vague press conference by new Attorney General Azima Shukoor. The all-party discussions have been set for Sunday.
MDP’s President, former Fisheries Minister Dr Ibrahim Didi, said that Maldivians had voted for the MDP’s manifesto for five years, “and hence the rule of this party should remain even now. That is why we are pressing for an election and by the grace of God it will be achieved.”
Dr Didi claimed that Ahmed Thasmeen Ali’s Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DRP), the second largest party in the Maldives and the subject of an acrimonious split with Gayoom’s Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) last year, had “given the green light” for early elections.
A statement on the DRP website said the party “welcomes and supports this important initiative because we value the importance of strengthening the democratic foundations of the Maldives and the restoration of peace and calm amongst our people. We believe this initiative would help to further strengthen the role of independent institutions in the Maldives and prevent serious distruptions to economic development and prosperity.”
“In supporting this initiative the DRP is willing to participate in a dialogue among all relevant political parties regarding the holding of early elections as stipulated in the roadmap. The DRP would also extend its cooperation in carrying out any necessary amendments to the constitution in order to facilitate such an election.”
Dr Mustafa Lufty, Chancellor of the Maldives National University, former Education Minister and one of the founding members of President Waheed’s Gaumee Ittihad Party (GIP), also addressed the crowd.
“Pointing a gun at the head of our beloved president and forcing him to resign is the same as pointing a gun at all of us,” Luftee said. “If we give up now generations to come will have to live at gun point.”
“I came here today because I could no longer bear this travesty.”
“This has been carefully planned. One plan was to force Nasheed to resign and if he did not, then the arsenal would have been opened for the opposition. That would have meant major bloodshed and military rule – they would have kept the country under such rule for a long time. Nasheed was wise enough to step aside and save the country from a massive tragedy.
“The second plan was to arrest Nasheed when he resigned, which would prompt his supporters to take matters into their own hands giving an excuse to beat them down. They would have charged us under terrorism.
“Freedom is a god given right of every human being and must not be violated under any circumstances,” he said.
Mathai had endorsed a ‘road map’ backing early elections “as soon as feasible”, and said at a press conference that MDP had as a result been “reconsidering” Friday’s demonstrations.
In a statement yesterday from the President’s Office, Dr Waheed said he was “disappointed” with Nasheed’s decision “to go ahead with his demonstration in Male’ today despite assurances and promises that were given to the Indian Foreign Secretary Mathai yesterday that it would be cancelled and a smaller meeting will be held in its place.”
Dr Waheed said MDP’s claim that he had not respected agreements reached in the Indian-mediated negotiations was “a completely untrue and irresponsible suggestion”.
“I can understand whilst it is easy to march your forces to the top of the hill, it is much harder to march them down again. I also understand that at this critical juncture in our country’s history that showing strong leadership can be challenge. But I’m hopeful that Mr Nasheed can show the good judgement in the future that will be necessary to make the road map a reality. It’s the very least that the people of the Maldives deserve,” he said.
Meanwhile, a member of yesterday’s crowd told Minivan News that he was “proud of everyone who came today in spite of intimidation by the military and the PPM rumor mill warning of large-scale violence. Not to mention whatever lies the media axis of evil is spewing. A lot of people were apparently scared off.
“A friend I met there who had sat in the square with Anni in 2005 said he didn’t think we’d have to do it all over again. I always tell people that the post-2003 pro-democracy movement separated the conscience-challenged cowards from those who value justice and were willing to fight for it. People are clearly not scared anymore.
“It wasn’t that long ago that they got the courage to paint their houses yellow in defiance of Gayoom. Today they are willing to wave a yellow flag under a military government.”
Police with the Maldives’ Drug Enforcement Department (DED) this evening removed alcohol bottles and what they claimed was evidence of other illicit substances from the home of former President Mohamed Nasheed, shortly after his resignation in dramatic circumstances today.
Elements of the police joined opposition protests last night and this morning attacked the headquarters of the Maldivian National Defence Force (MNDF) this morning in Republic Square. A further 60-70 MNDF soldiers joined the protesters. Shortly afterwards, the state broadcaster MNBC was taken over by police and opposition protesters, and rebranded Television Maldives (TVM), the name of the institution under Gayoom’s government.
A spokesperson for Nasheed said earlier this evening that the former President is currently being detained against his will, and dismissed the discovery of the bottles and illicit substances as an attempt to discredit Nasheed and gain popular support for what he described as “a coup d’etat”.
As of 11:00pm, the spokesperson said Nasheed has been allowed to return home.
“Gayoom controls the judiciary, now the executive, the media, and in couple of weeks probably the parliament. One thing he cannot control is popular support for President Nasheed, so he needs to find a way to jail or discredit him ahead of the 2013 election,” the spokesperson said.
Several individuals connected with the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) were seriously injured during the unrest, while two sources told Minivan News that a party activist was killed today after a metal pole rammed upwards through his jaw. Minivan News is seeking confirmation.
At 3:00pm Vice President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan was sworn in as President. As per the constitution, Dr Waheed must now appoint a vice president to be approved by the Parliament. He may also reform the Cabinet.
Following his appointment Dr Waheed addressed the nation on TVM, and said he was grateful to the police and MNDF who had made “great sacrifices” to defend constitution.
“Today is the day the rule of law has been established in the country perfectly,” Dr Waheed said.
“I will not order the police, military or any person to do anything against the law – I promise it to the public. Everyone will have the protection of constitution and laws.”
According to Police Media Official Ahmed Shiyam, the DED investigation of the historical President’s Residence was prompted when a lorry emerged from the residence with “bags of trash”.
“Security stopped the vehicle and found a number of alcohol bottles in the bags. The police were notified of the situation and an investigation is underway,” Shiyam said.
While “there were many bottles,” Shiyam said the “investigation is ongoing.”
At 6:00pm this evening Minivan News observed Maldives National Defense Forces (MNDF) and police forces jointly guarding the left entrance to the residence from a crowd of approximately 500 members of the public, most of whom are affiliated with former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s opposition Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), according to onlookers. A police van was parked near the official entrance around the corner amidst throngs of people standing on the low walls to observe the event.
Minority opposition Dhivehi Quamee Party (DQP) MP Riyaz Rasheed and PPM MP Ilham Ahmed were also present at the scene, speaking with security forces and directing the crowds to clear the road and stay on the sidewalks.
From the upper level of a nearby building bags and boxes could be seen moved into a security van parked within the residence. While bottles were not clearly visible, the scent of alcohol could be detected when the lorry was moved closer to the residence gate.
When asked whether further demonstrations were planned for this evening, onlookers said they believed the biggest ordeal was over.
“It’s done now, tonight we are celebrating,” one of the people outside the President’s residence claimed.
When asked whether Nasheed had been arrested, Shiyam reported that he has been taken to a secure location by security services.
“[Nasheed] is being kept for his own safety now under the surveillance of Maldives National Security Forces, which includes police and MNDF,” Shiyam said. “He is the main concern, as is anything that might happen to his family. Police will take anything related to the family seriously.”
Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), which was brought to power in the country’s first democratic elections in 2008, appeared subdued today following clashes with police last night, injuries to key members, and the torching of the party’s headquarters this afternoon.
The party issued the following statement this evening:
“We strongly condemn the coup d’etat that has been brought against the constitutionally elected government of President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives. Last night rogue elements from the Maldives Police Service in conjunction with the supporters of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom overthrew the democratically elected government of President Nasheed.
“The overthrow occurred after small numbers of police and army personal, in response to a call from leading opposition figures, Abdulla Yameen (former President Gayoom’s half brother) and Umar Naseer (former security officer in the regime of President Gayoom), joined with a group of protesters in the centre of Male, protesting against the arrest and detention of a judge accused of corruption.
“These police and army personnel, especially those from the notorious Star Force established by former President Gayoom then, ignoring the chain of command, moved around the capital in full riot gear, attacking MDP headquarters and the houses of MDP MPs and government officials.
“Many MDP members and government officials were badly hurt. Some are unaccounted for. MDP-associated property continues to be attacked. In this climate of chaos and fear, the rogue elements of the police and army helped to take over the main national TV channel, MNBC, replacing it with President Gayoom’s old TV Maldives (TVM), and also moved to take control of key installations.
“During this time, ex President Gayoom’s allies moved to retake control of the army and police. The opposition, supported by the army and police, then offered an ultimatum to President Nasheed: step down or be faced with a bloodbath in the capital.
“President Nasheed thus resigned in order to protect the public from further violence. His resignation was involuntary in that he had no choice.”
“President Nasheed was taken to the President’s Office under the custody of the security forces and subsequently resigned.
“We also condemn the violent attacks carried out against our members by the Maldives Police Service including Member of Parliament and our former chairperson Mariya Didi and other MPs from the party.
“We call upon the international community to assist us in establishing democracy in the Maldives and protect the officials of the government of President Nasheed. We fear for the safety of President Nasheed and senior members of his government.”
The Maldives Police Service has issued a statement saying it will investigate “serious crimes” committed during the protest outside the president’s residence, Muleeage, and MNDF headquarters late on Thursday night.
The police statement also condemned comments made by opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Ali Waheed that police supported the protest, and accused him of “trying to take away the people’s trust in the police. Police will always be faithful to the government and fulfil their duty.”
The president’s press secretary, Mohamed Zuhair, said he believed Ali Waheed “may be right”.
“I believe the police force is largely composed of law abiding officers, but there is still a rogue element and this may be the element Ali Waheed is referring to,” Zuhair said.
“The [protest] coincided with the firing of several police including assistant commissioner Abdulla Riyaz,” he said.
“Not 24 hours after [the protest], police raided a premises (Marble apartments) where three state ministers were staying, after claims of a girl crying. They went through the apartments saying they were searching for forensic evidence that a girl had been raped. Three times they raided and the fourth time they came in plain clothes and were denied entry – I’m sure some of them were not comfortable with the recent changes in the Maldives and the fact that their former hero lost the election.”
Zuhair also claimed it “was within the resources of Riyaz to find out certain facts about the man who [allegedly] died in police custody, to try and rile up the crowd.”
“I suspect this was instigated [from within] the police. They were trying to make a similar situation to Evan Naseem.”
Riyaz was not responding to calls at time of press. Sub-inspector Ahmed Shiyam said police could not comment on the case during the investigation, but noted that the police operation to control the crowd had ultimately been successful “and police did not fail in any way.”
“People gathered at the artificial beach and proceeded to police headquarters,” Shiyam said. “Police tried to stop them but they broke police lines twice, before police reorganised and dispersed the crowd outside the president’s house.”
He noted that “senior parliament members broke police lines after police ordered them not to”, while in addition, “some people tried to enter the gate of MNDF headquarters, and MNDF has sent the case to the police. This is really serious to national security.”
DRP MP Ahmed Mahlouf, who acknowledged himself as one of the protest’s leaders, questioned police support for the government.
“We are sure that 90 per cent of the police and MNDF do not support the government’s policy or the president,” he said, adding that the police statement sounded “very pressured”.
“Statements on DhiFM that the protest was trying to overthrow the government were just not true,” he said. “We try to control our protests and ask people to not attack the police and be nice. I’ve watched MDP’s protests for almost five years, and they are very violent and they attack police.”
Despite accusations to the contrary, the protesters outside Muleeage did not throw stones into the compound, Mahlouf said, “as there were no rocks in the area”.
He acknowledged that some protesters had thrown sand in the faces of police officers – Zuhair accused “opposition” parties of “employing Indian and Bangladeshi expatriates” to throw the sand.
“I also saw that on the video,” Mahlouf said. “I do not support that, it was not something nice. But I believe that happened after police fired tear gas, while the crowd was very angry.”
He said claims that the protesters had tried to gain entry to the MNDF base and the president’s residence were “a joke”.
“Nobody would have gone inside, for sure. I was one of the people leading the protest and there was no plan to go inside the MNDF headquarters or the president’s residence,” he said.
“Saying that the DRP was trying to enter the MNDF headquarters is a joke. I am still mentally fit and would not walk into the MNDF base with guns [pointed at me].”
Mahlouf insisted that the protest “wasn’t organised by us” and it “never got out of hand. I was very happy with the way the police and MNDF treated us. We didn’t do anything against the law; we can protest where we want without informing the government. They can’t override the constitution.
“It is sad that Mohamed Nasheed’s government is investigating a protest when he is the president who gave Maldivians the right to protest,” he added.
Police have denied asking DhiFM to cease broadcasting live coverage of a protest that took place outside the president’s official residence on Thursday night, instead claiming officers requested the station stop airing interviews featuring people calling for the government to be toppled.
A large mob of protesters marched on Muleeage just before midnight, after rumours of a police death in custody circulated around a DRP rally being held at the artificial beach.
“People were already angry about the civil servant salary issue,” said DRP MP Ali Waheed, who joined the protest outside the president’s gate and was later hospitalised after he was hit in the head by a stone.
“This was not a planned protest,” he emphasised. “DRP MPs (including Ahmed Nihan and Ahmed Mahlouf) joined the protest on the way to the president’s residence because we feel very strongly about the issue.”
Police eventually dispersed the crowd using tear gas. Three people were arrested but were later released.
“We don’t care who was leading it or what the point was,” said Inspector Ahmed Shiyam, adding that despite the large number of people clamouring at the gates of Muleeage “at no time was security threatened. Police were backed up by the MNDF and very senior police [were in command].”
Several police were injured, he added, including one who was hit in the face by an object thrown from the crowd.
Shiyam explained that during the incident officers approached DhiFM and asked them to stop airing live interviews with people calling for others to join the protest and overthrow the government through violence.
“We sent officers to tell them, ‘please don’t do that’,” Shiyam said. “They misunderstood, and I called a senior member of DhiFM and managed to convince him.”
DhiFM CEO Maassoodh Hilmy said plain clothes police arrived at the studio at 1:51 on Friday morning, showed their idenification and demanded the station cease broadcasting.
“I said we were not stopping,” he said. “We had two reporters at Muleeage and they were calling out [what they were seeing].”
Shiyam said today that police had sent a letter of complaint alleging that DhiFM had overstepped its status as an observer by broadcasting “calls for violence”.
“That statement from police is not good. They are lying, which is very wrong,” said Hilmy.
The Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) today issued a statement strongly condemning the police attempt to “shut down [DhiFM’s] transmission while it was carrying out the live coverage of the protest,” calling it “a flagrant violation of the independence of the media and the freedoms ascribed in the Constitution.”
“We note that police also forced other media personnel to stop covering the incident and leave the scene, which can only mean that this is a deliberate attempt by the government to influence media content and subsequently, public perception,” the MJA said, expressing further concern about the police comments regarding DhiFM’s conduct, “which seem to imply that DhiFM’s live coverage could amount to inciting more people to violence and that DhiFM carrying out its duty as a media could pose a national security risk.”
“We condemn such attacks on democracy and Constitutional freedoms and call on all authorities not to engage in such appalling action in the future.”
Independent MP and former Information Minister Mohamed Nasheed said neither police nor defence personnel were allowed to walk into a station and ask it to stop broadcasting.
“They were asked to either put the request in writing or say it live on radio. They refused and returned to the police station,” Nasheed said.
“The next day they sent a document with a police letterhead that was not signed [by the relevant authority], claiming that DhiFM took part in an unlawful gathering calling for the removal of the existing government – this is very strong language from the police.”
Nasheed said Maldives’ broadcasting legislation contained details for disciplinary action but was intentionally designed to include hurdles to make it difficult for the government to close a station.
“Broadcast licences are issued for a year and come with 100 points for every six months, much like a driving licence,” he explained.
“[In the event of a complaint] an independent content committee appointed by the information ministry will act like jury – if the majority agree a maximum of 10 points can be deducated for an offence, and to terminate a broadcast licence the committee must be unanimous.
“Only then can the information ministry ask police or defence to enforce the order on behalf of the committee.”
Nasheed noted that police appeared to be “now varying their story” by stating that their request was regarding certain interviews rather than the live broadcast itself.
Police “strong denied” the rumour of a death in custody that triggered the protest, Shiyam said, identifying the subject as 32 year-old Mohamed Nooz of Gdh Thinadhoo.
Nooz was taken into police custody on Jan 15, Shiyam said, but was sent to hospital after he complained of “medical problems”.
“His family was informed and on the 26 Jan police heard his condition had become serious and that he had died that evening.”
Shiyam noted that no family members had filed a complaint about Nooz’s treatment by police, and that one family member had expressed concern that his death would “be used for political gain.”
Waheed said today that the DRP would be supporting an investigation into the matter after “the person who cleaned the body said he smelled something fishy about the case,” and expressed concern about what he claimed was police unwillingness to conduct an official autopsy. That person had gone to HRCM to make a complaint, he said. Waheed also noted the victim’s age as 24, differing from the police account.
He stressed he “was not saying people were killed in custody”, and added that the DRP “will never try to overthrow a legal government.”
“DRP MPs will only join reasonable protests,” he said, adding that he was not sure if similar incidents would occur.
“I wouldn’t know, that’s for the public to decide,” he said. “People are suffering from the reduced civil servant salaries and increased electricity prices, while President Nasheed is trying to take the tension out of these issues by focusing on global warming and the economic crisis.”