Bodyguards did not see Nasheed pepper-sprayed: police

Former President Mohamed Nasheed’s bodyguards told an inquiry that they did not see police pepper spraying Nasheed’s face, police have said.

Police questioned the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) Special Protection Group (SPG) bodyguards assigned to Nasheed, after the media publicised video footage of a police officer pepper spraying Nasheed’s face while he was with a group of Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) supporters at a protest.

In a statement issued on Thursday, police said that Nasheed’s bodyguards said that while they were aware pepper spray was being used in the area, they could not identity the officer using it.

Police said officers that working that night to control the protest were also questioned, and said they had used pepper spray after protesters moved inside the cordoned area and refused to move back after police advised the protesters to do so.

Police said they did not spray at any individual, and that the pepper spray was targeted at the crowed, the police statement said.

In an earlier statement police strongly denied the MDP allegations of directly pepper spraying people at close range, and urged the party to “publish statements responsibly”.

In the statement, police admitted using the spray to control the crowd during their recovery of barricades removed by the demonstrators, but denied intentionally targeting the former President.

The Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) has recently said they will investigate the issue, although no one had formally filed the case in the commission.

The MDP’s Parliamentary group leader, MP Ibrahim Mohamed ‘Ibu’ Solih, has said that the party would submit the issue to parliament’s National Security Committee.

Last week the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has expressed concern over violent protests and use of “excessive force” against demonstrators.

At a press briefing last TuesdayTuesday, Spokesperson for High Commissioner Navi Pillay, Rupert Colville, observed that “instances of apparent brutality have been captured on camera. These include the seemingly deliberate and uncalled-for use of some kind of spray on former President [Mohamed] Nasheed, and the driving of police vehicles at high speed into crowds of protesters.”


EU concerned over escalating “political tension” while MDP commits to “direct action”

The EU has slammed an “escalation of political tension and violent protests” in the Maldives as police confirmed that 50 people – including a former cabinet minister – were arrested during the last two days during anti-government demonstrations.

However, with the arrest of 32 demonstrators in the last 24 hours, as well as a government decision to clear the MDP’s Usfasgandu protest site by July 30, some opposition figures have claimed the tension will likely intensify further.

Spokesperson for Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, has said there remained “deep concern” in Europe over the political unrest in the Maldives.

“The High Representative is convinced that continued political unrest, heavy-handed responses by security forces, and charges filed against political leaders will only lead to further deterioration of the political climate in the country and will adversely affect the lives of all Maldivian citizens,” stated the EU.

“The High Representative acknowledges the efforts of the Commonwealth Special Envoy, Sir Don McKinnon, to strengthen the Maldives Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) whose purpose it is to establish an objective account of the events which led to the resignation of President Nasheed and the transfer of power to the present Government on 7 February 2012. She appeals to all parties to refrain from any actions that could jeopardise completion of the Commission of National Inquiry’s work, including legal action against political leaders”.

The calls followed a statement released by the Commonwealth this week urging all parties to show “restraint and restore calm” as initiatives like the reconstituted Commission of National Inquiry (CNI).  The CNI, expected to be completed by next month, was  established to ascertain the truth between February’s controversial transfer of power.

In a statement released Tuesday (July 17), Commonwealth Secretary General’s Special Envoy to the Maldives, Sir Donald McKinnon called for dialogue among political leaders, urging all parties to show “restraint and restore calm.”

“Direct action”

During the last two weeks, the MDP has been carrying out what it has called “direct action” protests.

While the opposition party has continued to contend that its protests have been “largely peaceful”, the ongoing demonstrations have at times broken out into violent clashes. This violence has led to allegations of police brutality against demonstrators, and counter claims of protesters attacking reporters and security forces.

The MDP today said it expected its protests, stated to continue until the present government of Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan “topples” would continue indefinitely. The MDP alleges that the Waheed administration came to power in February through a “coup d’etat” and therefore had no legitimacy.

Party MP and Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor claimed that the MDP was committed to managing “peaceful, disciplined” protests, though he accepted that violent confrontations appeared to be increasing between police and protesters. He alleged that this violence was a result of law enforcement officials increasingly showing a “lack of discipline” on their part.

The Maldives Police Service has contended that to continues to use “minimum force” to protect its officers during the demonstrations.

Conversely, while police have said that none of its officers were hurt in the last 24 hours – there have been serious and minor injuries sustained by police during attacks by individuals suspected of being affiliated with anti-government demonstrators.

On July 12, an attack around Dhilbahaaru Magu in Male’ saw one officer having to fly to Sri Lanka for treatment for head injuries received from an assault with a pavement brick.

Minivan News has observed protests in recent weeks switching from heckling and mocking of officers at police barricades to violent confrontations as police have charged through protests lines, and demonstrators themselves broke through barricades to confront police.

Police have come under particular criticism by the MDP for using pepper spray directly in the faces of protesters – an accusation denied by law enforcement authorities.

“Maldives Police did not use any excessive force nor was pepper spray directed to anyone’s face,” police said in a statement at the time.

However a video released of the incident showed a riot police officer reaching over a crowd of people surrounding Nasheed and spraying him in the face. Nasheed turns away as the spray hits him, and is taken away by his supporters, but later returned to the protest.

In this environment, the government has itself called for “calm”, urging all political leaders to abandon the street protests, which have attracted international attention over the last few weeks, and sit down for “sincere dialogue”.

President’s Office Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza was not responding at time of press.

Amid the calls for an end to protests and fresh talks, the Ministry of Housing has issued an ultimatum for the MDP to vacate the Usfasgandu protest area in the next nine days.

Housing Minister Dr Mohamed Muiz claimed the decision to evict the MD from the site was not linked to the current anti-government protests, but rather a reaction to how the opposition had used their land for partisan purposes.

Muiz told Minivan News that the land, which had controversially been leased to the MDP Male’ City Council, an elected body with a majority representation for the opposition party, belonged to the government.

“As far as I’m concerned there is no doubt of the legality [of clearing the site],” he said.

Amidst the current political tension in the capital, Dr Muiz said that the timing of the decision had “nothing to do” with continued protests being carried out by the party.

“We have already handed in our development plans for the area,” he said. “There is a clear mandate of what should have been developed on [Usfasgandu]. The MDP have ignored these rules and have developed it into their own party property.”

MDP MP Ghafoor responded that “there was no doubt” that the Housing Ministry’s decision was in retaliation for continuing its protests in the capital.

“Judging from the current mood of the people, the [housing] minister’s threats will be taken as irrelevant now. People just aren’t listening any more to what they see as a coup government,” he claimed.

Ghafoor also alleged that all ministers aligned with the present government were viewed as having no legitimacy among MDP members, from the State Islamic minister up to President Waheed himself.

However, with international organisations including the UN, the EU and the Commonwealth all calling on politicians to adhere to a peaceful resolution to the nation’s political upheaval, Ghafoor said that protests would continue as previously pledged by the party.

“I do not think the issue here is whether our protests are sustainable, it is more about the fact the whole political situation in this country unsustainable,” he claimed.

Despite the alleged incidence of violence linked to police and protesters alike, Ghafoor contended that the MDP remained committed to “disciplined, peaceful” protests.

“As long as the party keeps the foresight to try and manage protests, we are trying to channel the energy and dissatisfaction of people into something more positive,” he claimed.

Ghafoor conceded that it was apparent that protests were becoming more violent as peoples’ frustrations grew, a sign he claimed that was reflected in the amount of footage and photos of protests that were being found on social media sites like Facebook depicting alleged acts of violence by authorities.

“I think that protests show a direct correlation between the level of oppression and the resultant uprisings,” he added. “If you look at Bahrain , they have lived with repression all their lives, so have we. But we are seeing the kids coming out on the streets to show their anger,” he said.

Ghafoor alleged that police were failing to keep control of the present situation and may be turning to young inexperienced officers to try and control it.


More than 50 people are believed to have been arrested during two nights of protests in the capital – 22 were said to have been arrested in the early hours of Friday (July 20) morning, the first day of Ramazan.

Among those arrested were former Transport Minister Adil Saleem, who was detained on Thursday evening but later released under house arrest, according to the MDP.

The MDP also alleged that Saleem had sustained “abdominal injuries” during his arrest as a result of “excessive force” used to detain him by police. Ghafoor claimed that Saleem was eventually taken to Hulhumale’ hospital for treatment, though was advised that he should be transferred to Indira Gandhi Memorial Hosptial (IGMH) in Male’. Police were then reported to have opted against returning the former minister to the capital.

The MDP has also claimed that the protesters who had been arrested were not given food during breakfast whilst being held.

“Legal necessities”

In response to the 32 people confirmed to have been arrested following this morning’s protests, police claimed that detentions were made after repeated warnings to not to cross the police lines and to not to obstruct police duty.

“The protesters who came into the ‘no protesting zone’ claimed that they were there to call for early elections and voice against the government. But the protesters that came into this zone had resorted to using foul language and harassment to the police officers” read the statement.

Following the confrontations, those that were arrested were given the opportunity to breakfast and all other legal necessities were provided to them, according to police.

Among the legal necessities provided to the arrestees were, having a medical check up to see if there is any sort of physical harm caused to the arrestee and providing the opportunity to seek assistance of a legal counsel. The families of the arrested were also contacted.

Police have claimed that among 32 arrested, four were tested positive for drugs. Those tested positive were Ismail Abdulla, Mohamed Sabah, Aishath Laisha Abdullah and Hussain Mufeedh, police said.

Police claimed that Aishath Laisha was the only female arrested in today’s protests.


Police deny pepper-spraying Nasheed, “urge MDP to publish statements responsibly”

The Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) is to investigate the pepper-spraying of former President Mohamed Nasheed by police during a protest on July 14.

A video of the incident shows a riot police officer reaching over a crowd of people surrounding Nasheed and spraying him in the face. Nasheed turns away as the spray hits him, and is taken away by his supporters, but later returned to the protest.

“Maldives Police did not use any excessive force nor was pepper spray directed to anyone’s face,” police said in a statement.

“The Maldives Police strongly denies MDP allegations of directly pepper spraying on individuals eyes at close range, especially ex-president Mohamed Nasheed, and urge the Maldivian Democratic Party to publish statements responsibly,” police said.

Police admitted using the spray to control the crowd during their recovery of barricades removed by the demonstrators, but have denied intentionally targeting the former President.

“Pepper spray was used to halt the charging demonstrators on July 14th night against police barricades set for security reasons. This spraying was never in any case directed to human eyes in close range but into the air to avert possible regulation violations by demonstrators,” the statement read.

“The allegations made by the Maldivian Democratic Party against Maldives Police pepper spraying directly on Ex-president Nasheed’s face is not true. The Maldives Police Service have no intentions on directly pepper spraying on Ex-President Mohamed Nasheed nor any other individuals; however, the incident is currently being looked into and necessary actions will be taken against any officer who uses excessive force.”

Police also appealed the demonstrators “not to rage in violence and not use any loudspeakers as the unfriendly circumstance by the demonstrators went deep into the night.”

Asked to clarify the circumstances under which pepper spray was used on demonstrators, Police Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef referred Minivan News to the police statement.

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) have meanwhile condemned the “cowardly” pepper spraying of their leader, alleging that the Special Operations officers sought out the former President and deliberately sprayed him.

“Nasheed is a former president and the security services are legally responsible for his security,” the party said in a statement.

The incident had “further destroyed public confidence in police”, the MDP stated, and was “an attempt to create chaos and incite protesters to violence.”

The MDP’s Parliamentary group leader, MP Ibrahim Mohamed ‘Ibu’ Solih, said the party would submit the matter to parliament’s national security committee.

“Police should be mindful of maintaining their authority and integrity at a time when confidence in the police institution has been undermined,” Solih told local media.

President’s Office Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza was not responding at time of press.


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.


Day of protests ends with pepper spraying of Umar Naseer

An opposition protest held last night near the artificial beach was dispersed by police after the group tried to make its way towards the intersection of Majeedhee Magu and Chandanee Magu, the focal point of last week’s violent demonstrations.

Earlier this week police had announced they were restricting protests to the artificial beach and tsunami monument areas, and have since quickly dispersed those conducted elsewhere.

Demonstrators at the artificial beach last night carried placards written in English reading “Remove sex offenders/drug addicts from government”, and “Resign now”.

As the demonstration took place, five rows of police and Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) personnel armed with heavy wooden batons stood between the 300-400 demonstrators and the route down Majeedhee Magu.

At around 11:30pm demonstrators, attempted to reach the intersection and were forced to split up by groups of police with interlocked arms.

Police eventually used pepper spray to subdue several protesters who attempted to force their way into the intersection, including dismissed Deputy Leader of the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Umar Naseer.

Placards at the artificial beach

“Five or six people who tried to force their way through our shield line were arrested and taken to police headquarters, and then released,” Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam said.

Minivan News observed a light police presence all over the city, with larger squads of riot police stationed near key locations such as the President’s Office and the Chandanee Magu intersection. Several MNDF troop trucks stood ready outside the MNDF headquarters, but the military presence appeared minimal.

Besides the opposition protest and groups of young men hanging around the intersection heckling police, Male’ was unusually quiet for late evening. Entire city blocks in the north-east of the city were closed off and Republican Square was deserted.

An opposition protest in the square that morning involving several hundred people was quickly dispersed by riot police, and covered by foreign media including Associated Press and Al-Jazeera. The protest was subsequently rescheduled for the evening.

Later in the afternoon, a somewhat carnival atmosphere descended over the city as the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) staged a flag-waving counter-protest of several thousand people near the tsunami monument, alongside a concert stage and a police road safety campaign consisting of upturned cars and burned motorcycles.

Five lines of police blocked off Majeedee Magu.

“Anti-government protesters claim the uprising is inspired by the Arab revolution, that people power is rising up,” reported Al-Jazeera. “But here on the other side of town are thousands of voicing pointing out that the revolution has already happened.”

In an interview with the news network, President Nasheed accused the opposition of trying to reinstate authoritarian rule.

“I don’t think these are spontaneous demonstrations. If you look at the events and incidents [this week] it is very easy to understand this is very well stage-managed and fairly well played,” he said.

Al-Jazeera observed that “while leading opposition figures are clearly at the forefront of these demonstrations, they deny this,” and interviewed DRP Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali.

“It is not attempt overthrow or change the government, it’s just raising voices,” Thasmeen told Al-Jazeera.

Note: Maldives coverage begins at 0:50