Police accused of false testimony against May Day detainees

First came a deafening shot. Then, police in riot gear charged into the crowd, shoving and pushing protesters back. But Hamid Shafeeu and his friends did not run. They were arrested in front of Minivan News journalists. Now a police officer has sworn Hamid threw bottles and stones at the riot police.

Some 193 protesters were arrested on May 1 when violent clashes broke out after a historic antigovernment protest. Scores were injured.

Protesters threw glass and plastic bottles, lead balls and rocks. Police used tear gas, pepper spray, stun grenades and made indiscriminate arrests.

The next day, the criminal court granted a blanket 15-day remand for 173 of the 193 detainees.

Hamid was held in police custody for 15 days in cramped conditions, and then transferred to house arrest for five days. He was released only today.

The high court, relying on police statements, previously rejected an appeal contesting the detention.

The 39-year-old businessman says he believes police are providing false testimony to jail him because of his vocal criticism of the government on Twitter.

Many others who were arrested at random or arrested for simply going to the protest now say police officers have accused them of assault.

The initial charges of disobedience to order carries a MVR3000 fine or six months in jail or house arrest or banishment, but attacking a police officer carries a MVR12, 000 fine and six months in jail.

It is not yet clear if the prosecutor general will file charges.

A police spokesperson has denied allegations of false testimony, but lawyers who have represented individuals arrested from past protests say the police routinely lie to keep dissidents in custody. Others have supported the claim, with the former chair of the police integrity watchdog saying several officers lied in the investigation into the transfer of power in February 7, 2012, and the brutal crackdown on protesters the next day.

A former policeman, meanwhile, said false testimony is indicative of the politicization of the force and the impunity riot police hold as very few are penalized for unlawful activities.


Testifying before a Commonwealth backed inquiry into the 2012 transfer of power, ex-police chief Ahmed Faseeh described the riot police’s tactics in controlling protests: “Their language was filthy, their vocabulary was obscene. If they got hold of someone, they hit them.”

The riot police, known as Specialist Operations or SO officers, were created by former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom to quell pro-democracy protests in the mid 2000s. The hostility between SO officers and protesters continues to this day.

May Day detainees have reported verbal and physical abuse, while several individuals arrested on suspicion of assaulting a police officer on May Day said police cheered on as others beat them at the headquarters and threatened to kill them.

The police, however, have denied brutality and urged any victims to file complaints with oversight bodies.

Blogger Yameen Rasheed’s arrest was caught on camera. He was picked up on Chaandhanee Magu with several others at about 9pm, but the police are now accused him of throwing rocks and have placed him under house arrest. Yameen says he was walking to the Somerset Hotel in the area to meet a foreign journalist at the time of his arrest. The Indian reporter corroborates Yameen’s account.

Ahmed Naeem, a 25-year-old political science student, was arrested when he reportedly stepped in front of a police van. Of the 193 detainees, he is the only one remaining in police custody.

Lawyers say the police are now accusing him of breaking the van’s windows. According to his cellmates, police beat Ahmed severely at the time of his arrest, and his face was bruised and swollen for days.

Judges can only hold people in custody if further interrogation is needed, or if they are a danger to society, or if they may influence witnesses.

But lawyers claims judges remand dissidents for long periods of time to intimidate and harass them. The criminal court often holds protesters in custody for lengthier periods than those arrested for violent crimes, including murder, they said.

Lawyer Abdulla Haseen, who represented a close aide of ex-president Nasheed following her arrest from a protest in July 2012, said the police claimed in court that they had witnessed her throwing rocks. But Shauna Aminath’s arrest, which was broadcast live on television, showed the police drag her away without any provocation.

“An individual can be held in remand for a month, two months. Judges must verify and check police’s claims before approving long remands. Who will bear responsibility for all those lost weeks?” Haseen said.


The ex chair of the police integrity commission (PIC), Shahindha Ismail, said police officers had provided strikingly similar statements to the commission’s investigation into the February 8, 2012 crackdown “with the same phrases and words as if they were reading from a pre-prepared document.”

Although four of the five members of the then-PIC ruled police actions on February 8 as lawful, Shahindha said officers had “targeted attacks to cause immense harm to specific individuals.”

She said the squad must be disbanded and punished for unlawful behavior. She urged judges to verify police claims with photos and videos or statements by unbiased witnesses before approving requests for lengthy detentions.

In October, SO officers were accused of cutting down all of Malé City’s Areca palms. In January, they were accused of planting weapons at the ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim’s apartment. The retired colonel was sentenced to 11 years in prison based on anonymized witness statements, which Nazim’s lawyers argue, were fabricated.

The prosecutor general’s office said it has not received complaints of false testimony by police or noticed any attempts at framing individuals.

Meanwhile, noting the role SO officers played in ex-president Mohamed Nasheed’s ouster, a former senior police officer said the squad was politically biased and “enjoy complete impunity, now to the point they feel they can do whatever they want.”

He, too, supported disbanding the SO, saying they regard routine police work as outside their duties. Faseeh had said the same in his statement.

The ex-officer said maintaining public order or riot control must be integrated into regular policing: “That way officers get to work together with people every day and will be more sensitive towards rights,” he said.

Photo by Shaari


Comment: “Unprofessional police action” will not turn the tide of public resentment

Former Director of Police Intelligence Sabra Noordeen was arrested yesterday (March 16) upon arriving at Male’ International Airport. She was handcuffed for transportation to Dhonidhoo prison on charges of “inciting violence” against police officers on March 5 this year.

She was then taken to Male’ instead, and released “with no reason given at the time”. Her passport was confiscated. Here she shares her experience and concerns about “intimidation” of members of the public by the Maldives Police Service.

I arrived in Male’ at 9.35pm last night. I made my way to immigration and was glad to see a familiar face behind the counter, an immigration officer who I’d played football with occasionally. I handed over my passport for her to process and she scanned it through.

“I’ve been asked to stop you, it says I have to stop you,” she said to me.

“You’re joking,” I responded. With the recent political upheaval in the country.  I thought she was making fun of me.

She was in fact very serious. Another immigration officer came over, and responded to me about why I was being stopped and which watch list they were referring to. He said they had to confiscate my passport due to a court order, and that it was the Maldives Police Service’s request. He told me I could collect my bag and return to the counter.

It was then that I contacted my family about what was happening. I had been on the same flight as three lawyers and the head of [private broadcaster] Raajje TV. I requested their assistance from the arrivals terminal, and they immediately joined me at the counter, with the immigration officer and a police officer who was on duty at the airport.

The police officer said I had to accompany him to the Tourist Police station at the airport. At the station, they only had a court order to hold my passport. As we were getting ready to leave the station, we were told that a court order for my arrest was on the way, and we were asked to sit down.

When I was given the court order for my arrest, I think I laughed. The reason for the arrest was “inciting violence against the police and obstructing police duty”, on March 5 on Majeedee Magu.

They had also managed to incorrectly state my gender as male!

This very thorough court order was issued based on the evidence of a Police eyewitness and a Police officer’s statement.

I was told that female officers from Male’ were on their way to the airport to arrest me and escort me to Dhoonidhoo detention centre. We waited for 45 minutes. Despite the ‘change in leadership’ at the MPS, it seemed there were still only two functioning speedboats in Male’ atoll.

Two female Special Operations officers arrived in blue camouflage uniforms – both were without name tags.

I was handcuffed and made to walk through the airport to the jetty where the Police vessel was yet to arrive.

My loyalty to the institution that is the Maldives Police Service is hard to get rid of.  This is despite the direction that rogue officers forcefully took the institution in with the Police-led mutiny and coup d’etat on 7, February 2012.

One of the officers told me that it was procedure to be handcuffed while on the vessel on the way to Dhoonidhoo. I protested, trying to remember the procedures I had read while working in MPS.

They did not uncuff me, even when they put on the life jacket, which resulted in the life jacket not being fitted properly.

It was placed around my shoulders with the handcuffed arms awkwardly placed in one of the sleeves. I said to her, ‘if something happens, there’s no way I’ll survive like this’.

“We’ll save you,” the female officer replied.

Needless to say, I was not reassured.  On the boat, I was told that I was now being taken to MPS HQ in Male’ instead of Dhoonidhoo and that they were apparently going to release me. There was no reason given at the time.

I was taken into the waiting room in HQ. I was uncuffed, and asked to wait until my release chit and summons for questioning were prepared.

My release chit stated, that they no longer believed I needed to be kept under arrest. My summons to appear for questioning on Monday afternoon was also handed over to me.

I asked why they felt it was necessary to arrest and handcuff me when they could have just served me the summons, without all the dramatics the next morning at my home. I was not given an answer.

I quit the Maldives Police Service on 8 February 2012 with a profound sense of sadness for the institution and the colleagues I left behind. I do not believe that everyone in the MPS was involved in the mutiny or the coup and I do not believe in blaming everyone in a Police uniform. Many will disagree with me.

However, I do believe that MPS cannot fully gain the confidence of the public they claim to ‘protect and serve’, nor guarantee free and fair Presidential elections without significant reform.

This includes the dissolution of the Special Operations (SO) unit, holding all police officers accused of committing acts of police brutality and misconduct accountable for their actions. The removal of Commissioner of Police Abdulla Riyaz, Deputy Commissioner of Police Hussain Waheed, Assistant Commissioner of Police Abdulla Phairoosch and many other Commissioned officers who have disgraced the service is also needed right now.

Until then, unprofessional police action carried out purely for the purposes of intimidating members of the public that the political and politicised leadership of MPS feel threatened by is not going to turn the tide of public resentment against the police.

Sabra Noordeen was former Director of Police Intelligence during the Nasheed administration

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


UK Foreign Office to “pressure” Maldives over tackling police abuse allegations: The Guardian

UK Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Alistair Burt is expected to “pressure” the Maldives government to tackle alleged abuses conducted by police during a visit to the country next month.

The UK-based Guardian newspaper reported today that Burt would be asking the government of President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan about efforts being undertaken to tackle “serious and persistent abuses” alleged to have been carried out by police – claims backed in reports on the country by a number of international NGOs.

These alleged abuses are reported to include: “attacks on opposition MPs, torture and mass detentions of democracy activists,” according to the paper.

President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad and Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed were not responding to calls from Minivan News at the time of press concerning the upcoming UK FCO visit.

However, the government and police authorities in the Maldives have previously questioned findings by a number of international NGOs, accusing their individual authors of acting with bias in favour of former President Nasheed and the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

Police probe

Reports of Burt’s visit follow The Guardian reporting earlier this week that senior UK government figures were set to be questioned by politicians over the role of a Scottish police college in training Maldivian officers accused of perpetrating human rights abuses.

Police authorities in the Maldives contacted by Minivan News yesterday played down the abuse allegations raised by a number of NGOs such as Amnesty International, questioning possible bias in the data gathered in their reports.

Just last month, the circumstances behind the arrests of then Jumhoree Party (JP) MP Abdulla Jabir and Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor for their alleged possession of alcohol had been labelled “very worrying” by delegates from the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU).

The comments were made following a a three-day mission to the Maldives over alleged human rights abuses.

Philippine Senator Francis Pangilinan from IPU’s Committee on Human Rights of Parliamentarians said at the time that circumstances surrounding the arrests of Jabir – now an MDP MP – and Ghafoor were concerning and that the delegation found it “difficult” to believe it was not politically-motivated.

Both Jabir and Ghafoor – along with eight others – were arrested on the island of Hodaidhoo in Haa Dhaal Atoll for the alleged possession of alcohol and drugs.

The arrests were made days prior to a vote on whether or not a no confidence motion against President Mohamed Waheed could be voted with a secret ballot.

Transfer of power

Since February’s controversial transfer of power that saw former President Mohamed Nasheed resigning from office follow a mutiny by sections of the country’s police and military – a decision he claimed was made under duress – several NGOs have published reports addressing concerns about police conduct in the Maldives.

Minivan News observed violent clashes between police officers and anti-government protesters directly following the change of government. On February 8, Minivan News journalists witnessed Specialist Operations (SO) officers specifically target certain MDP activists by chasing and beating them.

Anti-government protests have continued on and off throughout 2012 resulting in both local and international media coverage of alleged police brutalityattacks by protesters on police and reporters, numerous arrests and the occasional, almost playful stand-off.

Amidst this backdrop, several NGOs have released reports into alleged rights abuses conducted by police.  These reports include findings by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) entitled “From Sunrise to Sunset: Maldives backtracking on democracy” and an Amnesty International publication entitled: “The Other side of Paradise: A Human Rights Crisis in the Maldives”.

FIDH noted in its findings that the government of President Waheed stood accused of a wide range of human right violations, including violent harassment of street protesters, torture and harassment of pro-opposition media as well as legal and physical harassment of the opposition.

“Practices to silence political dissent that had disappeared in the course of Nasheed’s presidency, have once again become prevalent under Mohamed Waheed’s presidency,” said FIDH at the time.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International’s report recommended that the Maldivian government “ensure prompt, independent, impartial and effective investigations into allegations of violence by officials.”

The NGO also called for the de-politicisation of the police, reform of the judiciary and enhanced training of security forces to meet with international standards of conduct.

Amnesty said that several of its human rights recommendations were reflected in the Commonwealth-backed Commission of National Inquiry’s (CNI) report which was released on August 30. The report concluded that President Waheed’s government had come to power legitimately and that there no evidence of any mutiny by the police and military.

Following the report’s publication, two international advisors to the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) – Judicial Advisor Sir Bruce Robertson and Legal Advisor Professor John Packer – criticised what they believed was an “alarming level” of street demonstrating.

“Some would want to call [this] an example of the rights of freedom of expression and assembly. In reality it is rather more bully-boy tactics involving actual and threatened intimidation by a violent mob,” they stated at the time. “This perpetual behaviour is sapping public life and hindering the Maldives’ development as a modern democracy.”

However, the CNI’s findings did nonetheless highlight the need for institutional reform within the country focusing on areas such as law enforcement and the judiciary.

Earlier this month, the Commonwealth announced it would be working with the Maldivian government to push ahead with strengthening and reforming “key public institutions” – issues raised in the CNI report.  The Commonwealth also said that it was reiterating calls for “inclusive and credible” presidential elections to be held next year.

Report “bias”

Following the publication of Amnesty’s report in September, Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed criticised Amnesty International for failing to seek comment from the government, accusing it of publishing a one-sided report.

Similar criticisms of the NGO were made by Commissioner of Police Abdulla Riyaz back in April.  He expressed disappointed with what he perceived had been Amnesty’s failure to ask the police for its comments before releasing a report based on its findings.

“I don’t see that there has been any investigations done, none of our officers was questioned, interviewed – neither by them nor by the Police Integrity Commission (PIC), nor by the Human Rights Commission (HRCM). I don’t think that’s fair,” said Riyaz.

Amnesty International had previously denied it has taken sides compiling its report on the Maldives.


MDP detainees accuse police of sexual harassment: “What right do they have?”

Four female detainees arrested on March 19 have accused police of sexual harassment, in audio and written statements obtained by Minivan News. Police officers allegedly tore women’s clothes during arrest and ordered female detainees to strip and squat multiple times at Dhoonidhoo Island detention center, according to the statements.

“I was ordered to strip naked and then told to squat three times. I told them I don’t use drugs. But they told me to squat to see if there was a lighter or foil inside my anus,” Yusra Hussein, 22, said.

“Two policewomen held me by the neck of my dress. They tore my dress. They wanted to take it off me. They wanted to undress me. They told me ‘We will undress you. We will beat you up,’” Areesha Ali said, describing her arrest.

According to Article 33 of the Police Powers Act, police can only conduct intimate or strip searches if officers have reasonable grounds to believe a detainee may cause physical injury to themselves or others, or is concealing drugs.

The four women were arrested on Malé’s Sosun Magu during a Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) organised demonstration to obstruct Majlis’ opening session on March 19. Police arrested 99 people during the protests. The women claimed to be peaceful protestors, but said they were charged with breaking through police barricades. There was no mention of drug offences or concealed weaponry.

Aishath Aniya of the MDP’s Women’s Spirit, who was also arrested on the same day, told Minivan News that strip searches were only conducted on women detainees. The MDP estimates 17 women were arrested on March 19. MDP women have been at the forefront of several protests in the past month.

“These women came out to protest. They have no police records. They were not intoxicated. There is no connection between strip searches and protesting. There is no other name for this but sexual harassment,” Aniya told Minivan News.

Police Spokesperson Hassan Haneef denied sexual harassment claims and said all search procedures were conducted according to the law. He said the women had been arrested for inciting violence, and advised detainees to lodge grievances with the police, the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) and the Police Integrity Commission (PIC).

Harassment, verbal abuse and strip search

Women were exposed and clothes were torn off to varying degrees during arrest, the four women claimed. At Dhoonidhoo detention centre, women were asked to strip and squat. In some cases, the police are said to have checked under breasts and touched genitalia. At 2:00am on March 20, police officers wanted to conduct a second strip search, but stopped only when Aniya told the police they had no authority to conduct a second search, the statements claim.

MDP activist Yusra Hussein said police officers approached her as she stood outside the MDP office on Sosun Magu.

“Three police officers held me from behind under my arm pits. I told them they were hurting me and that I would go peacefully with them. I did not resist arrest. I only resisted when they started hurting me. My dress had lifted in the process, I was uncovered. I was very embarrassed,” she said.

Two boys passing by called on the police to cover Yusra, but they were arrested as well, she said. “When I started to resist, the police pepper-sprayed me, dragged me on the ground, and twisted one of my breasts,” she said.

“I don’t know what happened after the pepper-spray. I woke up in the police ambulance. A police officer was pressing hard on my chest. I found it very hard to breathe. I was hand-cuffed. I started thrashing, my leg hit a policeman. They cuffed my legs as well. I told them I was in pain. But they said ‘You dog, we will kill you today.’ They were very verbally abusive. They insulted my mother and father,” Yusra said.

Areesha Ali also alleged physical and verbal abuse during arrest. In addition to having her dress torn, she said her two daughters were also exposed and arrested when they tried to intervene.

“They [police] dragged my children on the street, their clothes were in disarray, they were exposed. The police hit us with batons, with their shields, with their boots,” she said.  “They pepper-sprayed me. My eyes were shut. But I could hear what they said to my daughter. They said, ‘We don’t know if this is a man or a woman. Let’s get her onto the black bus and undress her to see if she’s a man or not.’ This is the kind of abuse they said. What right do they have?”

“I will never forgive them. They are inhuman, they are traitors. I would take them to court, but who is at the court? They are traitors as well. How can we get justice? If they keep beating people, more and more will come out with us,” she added.

Once at Dhoonidhoo, third detainee Fathimath Minna* said the police “told me they were going to do a body check. They asked me to take off my top and bra, which they inspected. They then asked me to take of my jeans and underwear, and I did so. They asked me to do three sit ups.”

Strip searches were conducted by female police officers. All women were also asked for a urine sample.

Aishath Aniya said, “The police officers were standing in front of the toilet. They did not allow any privacy. Afterwards, police officers told me to take off my shirt and bra. And then asked me to take my jeans off.  Strip searches were done on all women. One woman detained with me said police checked under her breasts and touched her genitalia while she was squatting.”

The MDP will lodge complaints with the HRCM and PIC, Aniya said. The party is now collecting statements from all female detainees.

“We were exercising out right to peaceful protest,” Aniya said. “But we were treated like criminals. I think the point of strip-searching to that extent was to demean us, to lower our morale to make sure we don’t come out on the streets again.”

Women at the forefront

Women have been on the front line in MDP’s political movement to bring early elections, since the party’s candidate, former President Mohamed Nasheed was deposed in what the party calls a bloodless coup.

Amnesty International on March 1 condemned attacks on a group of women in Addu Atoll by the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF). The human rights organization said 20 women were charged by soldiers who wielded batons and used pepper spray, pushed them around, and kicked them on their legs and ribs.

“Detailed testimonies from the [group of 20 women] revealed no evidence of the [female] protesters being involved in any act of violence,” the statement read.

The MNDF and police used salt water cannons to break up a gathering of nearly 100 female supporters of MDP on March 6, outside President Office. They were delivering letters requesting the resignation of President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan. HRCM said the police and MNDF had used more force than necessary.

* Name changed on request