Protests to continue as police threaten zero-tolerance

Maldives Police Services has said it will adopt a zero-tolerance policy during protests if opposition demonstrators continue their current, increasingly violent trajectory which has sent four police officers to the hospital in the past two days.

Citing protesters’ recent use of fireballs, petrol bombs and bricks, police have said they will exercise full legal authority to prevent the ongoing anti-government protests from developing into acts of terrorism.

Opposition rotesters have demonstrated every night since January 16, when Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed was arrested by military forces and detained at a training facility in Kaafu Atoll Girifushi. Opposition party members have drawn crowds of approximately 200 to 300 nightly to the area in front of the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) near the Male’ fish market, while ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) members have taken to gathering at their party camp on the other side of the island.

Police and military forces have patrolled key areas of the island on a regular basis, nightly arresting individuals for violent activities.

Speaking of last night’s demonstration, Sub-Inspector Hussain Haneef said 37 individuals were arrested “for violence and acting against police orders.” He added that nine individuals have been released.

Mohamed Haisham, a protest coordinator and member of opposition Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), said most individuals arrested last night were women and blamed any violent agitation on MDP, “who is giving money, drugs, alcohol and knives to gangs who are causing the problems.”

Haisham said protesters are undeterred by the police warnings. “Tonight’s protest will be very strong,” he informed Minivan News, adding that protests will continue until “the biggest one”, a rally scheduled for February 24.

Last night’s unrest also led to the breaking of windows at MDP headquarters and the Finance Ministry, as well as the windshield of a city bus.

Police have also launched an investigation into a Henveiru ward fire which broke out last night in the home of musician Ibra Rasheed, destroying a majority of the musical equipment belonging to himself and his son.

Rasheed, who claims not to belong to any party, has been producing music against the former government since the 1980s; between 1988 and 2003 he was arrested, jailed and banished to an island. “They arrested me for drugs, but everybody knows I don’t use drugs. They really arrested me for my music,” he said.

Since the current government came to power in 2008 Rasheed has been able to produce and sell six albums, however he claims being hassled by supporters of the former government for his work.

In 2010 Rasheed released the song “Black 30 Years” criticising the lifestyle of Abdulla Hameed, former Atolls Minister and half-brother to former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. “After that I was walking by the postal building and saw Shaheem Hameed [his son]. He refused to shake my hand and said he would sue me for what I did to his father,” Rasheed said. Soon after he was beaten up in the street, he said.

In the past several weeks, the threats have become more frequent.

“There are guys who come around on their motorbikes and tell me they are going to beat me and kill me. With these protests now they are coming more often, I am scared anything might happen to me so I stay at home. I think they were the ones who started the fire [in my son’s room].”

Rasheed said the door to his son’s room was locked and vacant when smoke began pouring out. House residents forced open the door and put out the flame, however all of the equipment inside was destroyed. “We kept my son’s computer for mixing and the guitars and most recording stuff in there,” he explained. “Someone told me the Islamic Bank can provide financial support, but I haven’t talked to the bank yet.” Rasheed said the damages amounted to Rf80,000 (US$5,200).