Police arrested 10 people last night following a protest near the main Bank of Maldives (BML) branch, during which protesters tied their hands together with cable ties and demanded they be arrested.
“The marchers, who had symbolically bound their hands together with cable ties, were making their way to police headquarters to present themselves for arrest. However, they were blocked near the President’s Office by riot police and army personnel, and the participants – whose actions had been entirely peaceful – were violently dispersed with salt-water cannons and pepper spray,” Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor said in a statement.
Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam said police only used water cannon to disperse the crowd, and that the 10 were arrested for breaching the police cordon near the Bank of Maldives, and going near the President’s Office.
“When police asked them to go back, they did not obey police orders,” Shiyam said.
A visiting German medical student taking photos of the protest, identified as Patrick Crilly, was also taken into police custody prior to the dispersal of the protesters. A video of the arrest showed a policeman in riot gear taking Crilly by the arm and marching him through the police barricade.
“I was told on my release form that the reason for my detention was ‘not following a police order’, but no order was issued for me to follow,” Crilly told Minivan News, following his four hour detention.
“It was very strange, I’m not sure why it happened. It was not something I had planned to experience in the Maldives,” he said.
Crilly said he was on a visa run from Sri Lanka, where he has spent the past three months working as a medical intern at Kalapitiya Hospital in Galle.
“I’m quite familiar with the Maldives – this is my sixth visit,” he said. “I have some good friends here, and I’m very attached to it. I’m not the kind of tourist to just sit on a resort beach sipping drinks. I’m of course interested in what’s going on, and trying to understand what happened. But I had no intention of getting arrested.”
Crilly said he was walked along the road facing the sea near the BML building, and came across the crowd “of about 150 people, protesting loudly and asking the military forces why they were supporting the regime. I was interested to see what was happening, so I took pictures of the scene,” he said.
Initially the crowd had been blocked by defence personnel, he said. “But then a squad of police arrived and took over the scene, and the mood changed. I was in the second row from the front taking pictures, and within 3-4 minutes I was taken away. I don’t know if there was a order in Dhivehi, nobody was speaking any English,” he said.
“I didn’t have long to figure it out, because an officer grabbed my arm and took me away. I did not resist or struggle, but I was irritated. I stayed calm and kept asking the reason why I was being taken away. I must have asked 20 times, but he ignored me. I asked him if he understood English, and he nodded.
“He took me halfway down the road to the police station where another police officer took over, and continued to ignore me, saying only that I would find out at police headquarters. I asked him how the people at police headquarters would know, because they weren’t there, but he ignored me.
“I sat in the front room of the police building for several hours, until eventually I was questioned by two officers in civilian clothes. They said I was charged with disobeying police orders and resisting arrest. I said those allegations were not true, and that no order had been issued for me to disobey.
“He seemed to acknowledge that – they were not unreasonable. He went on to ask why I was in the Maldives.
“I was asked to sit and wait for two hours with no explanation as whether I’d been arrested. Eventually it turned out that they had been writing my release form in English – it took 2.5 hours.
“Eventually I got the paper – It only had my given name, not my surname, which they seemed to have missed from my passport. It said that I had been arrested near the bank for not following police orders, and was released four hours later. It also had the details of the arresting officer.
“While I was in there I saw a steady stream of other detainees brought in, some of them screaming and kicking. I can say I smelled fear – it’s the same smell I must have smelt at least 150 times working at the hospital in Sri Lanka.
‘People were agitated, worried, and an old man was crying. One person brought in by four officers seemed really agitated, and in pain. I did not see anyone physically hurt in the police station,” Crilly said.
Expecting police to be concerned about the contents of his camera, Crilly said he had taken out the chip and put it in his pocket. “They didn’t seem interested, and I didn’t have any pictures of police violence – I was arrested before that happened. Two of my friends were pepper sprayed and if I’d been there of course I would have taken pictures of it.”
Shiyam told Minivan News that Crilly had not been arrested, but confirmed he was taken to police headquarters “where the situation was explained to him in case he was new to the Maldives. For whatever reason he did not obey the order [to leave the cordoned area]. He was not detained long.”