Two arrested for assaulting police officer during protest

Two men have been arrested for assaulting a Specialist Operation (SO) police officer during the May Day opposition protest on Friday.

The first suspect was taken into custody on Friday night while the second suspect was arrested with a court warrant yesterday, reports online news outlet CNM.

CNM identified the suspects as Abdulla Rasheed, 49, from Galolhu Keema in Malé, and Moosa Sharmeel, 35, from the Malé special registry.

Police had appealed for public assistance in identifying and locating suspects seen in video footage.

The police officer, identified as corporal Ismail Basheer, was flown to Sri Lanka for further treatment. However, officials from the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital had said the injuries were not severe.

Police have since posted a second video of the assault. Eyewitnesses told Minivan News that several protesters, including former opposition MP Ahmed Easa, protected the fallen police officer, helped him to his feet, and took him back behind police lines.


Fear and festivity in Malé on the eve of May Day protest

With additional reporting by Ismail Humaam Hamid and Zaheena Rasheed.

The Maldives’ capital city Malé is gearing up for a mass anti-government rally tomorrow. The day will kick off with prayers at dawn and at noon. Protesters have been told to wear comfortable shoes and clothes for the official demonstration, which will start from the Artificial Beach at 3:30pm.

Supporters from Maldives’ remote atolls are continuing to arrive by the thousands, and the opposition has set hashtags #EkehFaheh15 (OneFive15) and #AniyaaverikanNinmman (To end tyranny) for the day, and started circulating leaflets on how to reduce the effects of pepper spray and tear gas.

Supporters say they are determined to “end the government’s tyranny” and free imprisoned ex president Mohamed Nasheed and former defence minister Mohamed Nazim.

Meanwhile, tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb has accused the opposition of plotting to overthrow President Abdulla Yameen’s government as the police continued riot control exercises on Malé’s streets.

“We expect the security forces to confront us, but we have no fear,” a smiling Khadeeja Ibrahim, 49, told Minivan News outside the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) offices at noon today.

She was among a group of MDP members who were about to deliver tens of thousands of petitions calling for Nasheed’s freedom to the president’s office. The police turned them back.

Across town, Ibrahim Nadheem, 26, who works in a grocery shop and is studying to become a Quran teacher said Nasheed “brought me hope, he had a vision for the youth, that we should grow up to be skilled and educated citizens.”

Nadheem’s face is disfigured by a broken nose after a police officer punched him during a protest in 2012.

At the airport, Mohamed Zubair, who suffered serious head injuries in a brutal police crackdown in February 2012, says he is ready to sacrifice again for Nasheed’s freedom. “Today I am hopeful.”

Nasheed and Nazim’s imprisonment has united former bitter rivals, the Adhaalath Party, the Jumhooree Party and the MDP, who now say President Yameen is out to silence all dissent.

The opposition called for the demonstration when Yameen turned down repeated calls for dialogue despite months of nationwide protests. The president made a record number of public appearances this week and has appealed to the armed forces to defend his administration.

Among government employees, paranoia and fear is high. Employees at the state-owned electricity company, STELCO, the Maldives Ports Limited (MPL) and the immigration department say their superiors have threatened them with dismissal if they are seen at the protests.

“We are all afraid, I can’t go. I don’t want to lose my job, I have to pay rent and take care of my family,” one 43-year-old man, who works in STELCO, told Minivan News.

The MPL has meanwhile arranged a BBQ at 1:30pm and a dinner for all of its employees tomorrow, in a move opposition supporting workers say is aimed at keeping them away from the protest.

“We’ve also been told if anyone of us is seen at the protests, we will be dismissed immediately,” an employee who wished to remain anonymous said.

The home ministry this week said it has received reports that dozens of island council members are traveling to Malé on state expenses to take part in the protests, and has asked the anti-corruption watchdog to take action.

The department of judicial administration has also demanded island offices to provide information on magistrates and judicial sector employees who have traveled to the capital this week.

Meanwhile, a website set up for the Mayday protest was hacked and a photo of president Yameen and the PPM logo was put up with the words: “Go back to your homes if you want peaceful Maldives.”

On social media, opposition supporters called for revolution.

Elsewhere, supporters shared advice on how to mitigate the effects of pepper spray and tear gas and how to act in the event of a charge by the police.

Some proposed home made plastic masks for for pepper spray.

The police have also raised concerns over violence, saying they have received reports protesters will harm police officers and attack the residences of cabinet ministers. Tonight, they issued a statement telling protesters to suspend activities for the hour between the dusk and evening prayers and said the demonstration must end by midnight.

Adhaalath Party (AP) president Sheikh Imran Abdulla said last night that protesters will perform the evening prayers on the street after a special prayer at sunset, advising protesters to bring prayer mats.

The police have released several photos and videos of protest control trainings this week.

The AP, which has claimed responsibility for organising the protest, must bear legal costs for any unlawful activities that may take place before or after protests, the police said.

Some opposition supporters fears of attacks by gangs, who are allegedly controlled by tourism minister Adeeb. Gangsters have attacked protesters in recent months with knives and vandalised their equipment.

Individuals who said they will not attend the protests cited concern over a possible confrontation between police and protesters.

“I am not happy with the idea of protesting, it creates too much conflict. The end result will not be good,” said 49-year-old Maryam Waheedha.

A fisherman who wished to remain anonymous “for the safety of his family” told Minivan News that he was unhappy with the government, but did not like to protest.

“I used to make 3,000 rufiyaa a week from two baskets of fish before Yameen came to power. But now I am not able to make that in a month even with a ton of fish,” he claimed.

Pro-government supporters denounced the opposition as power-hungry, but said they expect tomorrow’s turnout to be high.

Mohamed Waheed, 36, said; “We will not go to the protest, we will be sleeping on May 1. I do think there will be a good turn out at the protest, big enough to pressure the government.”


Three arrested at opposition protest

Three people were arrested from last night’s opposition protest in Malé for “obstructing police duty,” according to local media.

The opposition Alliance Against Brutality, made up of the Maldivian Democratic Party, Adhaalath Party and senior members of the Jumhooree Party, has been protesting daily in the capital since the conviction of former President Mohamed Nasheed on terrorism charges last month.

Protesters stopped using loudspeakers or megaphones after 11:00pm and ended the protest at 12:00am to comply with police regulations, CNM reported.

Police said the three arrested last night would be taken to court today for a remand hearing.


State companies accused of dismissing, suspending opposition supporters

Several employees have accused three state-owned companies of firing opposition supporters for participating in anti-government protests.

Since March 1, at least four employees of State Electric Company Limited (STELCO) and one from Malé Water and Sewerage Company (MSWC) were dismissed, and at least five were suspended from Maldives Ports Limited (MPL).

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and Jumhooree Party (JP) on February 27 held a 10,000-strong protest march calling for President Abdulla Yameen’s resignation. Since then, the MDP continued daily protests over the imprisonment of former President Mohamed Nasheed.

The opposition leader was convicted of terrorism on March 13 and jailed for 13 years.

Speaking to Minivan News, Ahmed ‘Andha’ Saleem, 37, said he was dismissed from STELCO on March 12 despite 17 years of service because of his political views.

Saleem said his colleagues first told him to stop posting anti-government comments on social media or sharing photos of opposition protests. He complied, but was later told to resign when he was seen at an MDP protest on March 6.

At the time, STELCO offered him a MVR 300,000 (US$19,455) retirement package, but he declined the offer. Soon afterwards, he received a letter informing him of his dismissal, he said.

“I received a double promotion just three months back. This is an injustice. I will appeal this case at the Employment Tribunal,” he said.

Ali Farhad, dismissed from STELCO on March 10, claimed the President’s Office was directly responsible for his dismissal.

Several employees who attended the March 6 protests were asked to write apology letters to First Lady Fathimath Ibrahim or Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb, the 43-year old claimed. He was dismissed when he refused to write the letter.

“I love STELCO. I have worked there for 30 years. Even though I’ve been dismissed and my fundamental rights violated, I will continue to participate in protests,” he said.

STELCO’s Assistant Director Abdulla Nazir dismissed claims of forced resignation and said the four employees were retired voluntarily and afforded full retirement benefits.

“The dismissals went according to company procedures,” he said.

Condemning the dismissals, MDP Spokesperson and MP Imthiyaz Fahmy said the party would assist employees in contesting any unfair dismissal, suspension or incidents of harassment at the Employment Tribunal.

“The government is ordering civil servants and state company employees to attend pro-government rallies, I have seen the texts, the letters ordering their attendance. Opposition supporters are getting sacked for exercising their right to assembly and free speech even as board members and managerial staff lead pro-government rallies,” he alleged.

At MPL, a spokesperson said at least five workers had been suspended since March 1 for alleged misconduct.

However, employees claimed 18 staff were suspended for participating in the February 27 mass rally.

Administrative Officer Miusam Abbas said he received a letter on March 1 informing him he had been suspended for misconduct. He was summoned to a disciplinary committee last week and questioned on his participation in the February 27 rally, as well as his support for the government.

Two additional MPL staffs who wished to remain anonymous confirmed they, too, had been suspended for their anti-government views and support for the opposition.

“I don’t depend on Gayoom for my sustenance. I will continue protesting,” one 35-year-old told Minivan News.

The pair confirmed MPL staff regularly received text messages from the company requesting their attendance at ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives rallies.

Both said they had been summoned to a disciplinary committee and asked if they had gone to opposition protests. Attending protests calling for the president’s resignation while employed in a state-owned company was unacceptable, the pair were told.

MPL Media Coordinator Ahmed Athif declined to comment on the suspensions, claiming it was an ongoing case.

Meanwhile, a procurement assistant at MWSC, Ibrahim Ismail, 20, was dismissed on March 12 after he participated in a boat protest near Dhoonidhoo Island on March 6.

“I knew this was bound to happen. Firing government employees who support the opposition has become common practice. But my dismissal came without warning, it was very sudden,” he said.

The reasons for his dismissal remain unclear, Ismail said.

The MWSC was not responding to calls at the time of press.


Related to this story

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14 MDP women arrested from “last warning” protest at airport

10,000 protest in Malé, call for President Yameen’s resignation


Opposition protests continue as President calls for return to article 285

Opposition protests on Male’ continued over the weekend against the military’s detention of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed, and a proposal to withold lower court salaries until the judiciary is lawfully appointed in accordance with Article 285 of the Constitution.

Judge Abdulla Mohamed was arrested by the military on January 16 after he attempted to block his own police summons. Charges against him include 14 counts of obstructing police duty, “hijacking the court” and other corrupt professional dealings.

For the past two weeks opposition-led demonstrations have taken place outside the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) building, the closest point to the no-protest zone surrounding Republic Square, the President’s Office and other official buildings. After attempting to advance on Republic Square around midnight, smaller protests have spread to other parts of the city.

Activities this weekend have ceased by 1:30 am each evening, Police Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef said.

On Thursday evening opposition leaders including Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) Vice President Umar Naseer addressed an attentive crowd – approximately 200 young and old men and a few older women – from atop a van parked outside the MMA building. Starting at 9:00pm, speakers listed their concerns, made allegations against the current government and requested a fair trial for the judge.

“This is a dictatorship, this here, it is all dictatorship,” several protesters told Minivan News, while another claimed “the President is a drunkard and a [drug] addict.”

After a group prayer the crowd retreated in preparation for an advance on Republic Square. Following a swift surge from behind the fish market to the police barricade in front of the MMA building, protesters were held at bay by police forces armed with body-length plastic shields. Civilians shouted, criticised and laughed from nearby alleys as police and protesters retreated from the no-protest zone.

Around 12:30 am police used pepper spray to disperse the crowd, following violent scuffles.

During a clash in which protesters allegedly hurled pavement bricks, Haveeru photographer Ibrahim ‘Dodi’ Faid sustained a blow to his head. He was treated at ADK hospital.

PPM activist Ahmed ‘Maaz’ Saleem was taken to Indira Ghandi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) following a blow to his leg, local media reported.

By the end of Thursday evening police had arrested 22 individuals including PPM MP Ahmed Nihan Hussain Manik and former SAARC Secretary General Dhiyana Saeed, who recently resigned from her SAARC post after criticising the government’s order to detain Judge Abdulla Mohamed.

As the protestors dispersed, Saeed and two unidentified women sat in Republic Square, Haneef said. After refusing to leave the three women were taken into police custody for approximately five minutes before being released.

Of the 22 individuals arrested 17 were transferred to Dhoonidhoo Detention Centre. All were released on Friday, Haneef said.

Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) also arrested an individual from Henveiru ward carrying a large knife after the protests on Thursday night. Minivan News was informed that the knife was an ornate “war” knife approximately one and a half feet long.

Haneef confirmed that the individual was in custody and an investigation was underway.

On Friday the protests continued in the same location while ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) rallied at party headquarters on Ameenee Magu.

According to local media, PPM MP Saleem returned to the MMA building area in a wheelchair to join protestors who broke through police barricades and sat in an open area nearby.

PPM MPs Riyaz Rasheed and Ilham Ahmed meanwhile were allowed into police headquarters where they requested a meeting with Police Commissioner Ahmed Faseeh, local media reported. An appointment has not been set.

Police report no violence or use of pepper spray during Friday’s protest, however four individuals were arrested and are currently being held at Dhoonidhoo.

As the protests look to stretch into their third week, Haneef said police are “still doing our duties as usual. We are not fatigued.”

He added that MNDF will maintain its position outside state television station Maldives National Broadcasting Company (MNBC), following targeted attacks last week in which journalists were beaten and tasered by protesters. The journalist who was beaten, Moosa Naushad, has been sent for medical treatment in India following injuries to his back and hand.

Protest leaders have pledged to continue the street demonstrations if their demands are not met. On January 26 MNDF rejected a High Court order to produce the judge.