Protesters throw money, taunt police amid growing civil unrest

A protest against the arrest of Addu Atoll MP Mohamed ‘Mode’ Rasheed morphed into a face-off between civilians and police forces, who were mocked as the corrupt servants of Maamingili MP and opposition Jumhoree Party (JP) leader Gasim Ibrahim and taunted by several hundred young men between Parliament and Sosun Magu on Sunday night.

“We are protesting this bad government, with these police, they hit head and they hit cock, ask them! They are coming drunk! We are saying this is not our police,” said one elderly man at the protest.

Another man jested, “You can buy one! Ten rufiya, one policeman!” as protesters chanted, “Lari Lari! Yes sir!” and “Villa police!”, a reference to Gasim’s lucrative Villa Hotels chain.

In a creative turn of events the young, mostly male gathering of “not MDP [Maldivian Democratic Party], just civilians” threw coins and cash, including valuable US dollars, at the approximately 10 police who had formed a human blockade with riot shields after pushing protesters away from parliament at around 8:30pm.

Dancing and chanting, the crowd asked people to make contributions while encouraging foreign media to take pictures of their antics. The police refused the bait for approximately 20 minutes before charging the crowd and pushing them towards busy Sosun Magu as civilians watched from nearby cafes and homes.

The baiting continued with protesters alternately insulting and running from the police until approximately 1:00am, when protesters were dispersed throughout Male.

Police officials report no arrests were made, however one officer in basic uniform was struck in the face with a stone outside of the MDP office while riding his bike on Sosun Magu at approximately 11:30pm. He is being treated at ADK hospital, police report.

It appears injuries were also sustained by demonstrators. One eyewitness reports crossing paths with a man near Parliament after 1:00am whose eyes were red and who was holding his head in pain. He claims he was walking along the street when police stopped and pepper sprayed him.

Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam said the protesters’ implications of corruption and abuse were baseless: “As you know if there are any allegations there’s the Police Integrity Commission, if there are any concerns of human rights violations there is the Human Rights Commission. We are sure there is nothing like that happening here at the moment,” he said.

A police officer who spoke on condition of anonymity said, “not all police officers have taken money. Now everybody is being labelled. Those who are innocent should be cleared by holding those responsible accountable for their actions.”

Cloud of Doubt

Police are currently under scrutiny across the country. On Tuesday, February 7 a rogue faction assisted with the takeover of Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation (MNBC) and attacked an office of Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) on Male’. At 1:00pm that day, former president Mohamed Nasheed resigned under conditions he later described as a “coup d’état.”

Since Tuesday, reports of police and military brutality against civilians and politicians who support Nasheed’s party (MDP) have spread from the Maldives’ southernmost atolls up to Male.

Following riots which left all police facilities, court houses and the prosecutor general’s office in ashes last Wednesday, Addu citizens report that police and military forces have teamed up with supporters of opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) and Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) in a witch hunt for MDP supporters. Opposition members claim the police have merely asked the public to assist in the arrest of those responsible for Wednesday night’s destruction, while police in Addu flatly deny any wrongdoing.

In a previous article Minivan News spoke with citizens on Addu who claim to have been beaten after police facilities were destroyed on Wednesday night; several said members of their family remain in detention without charges.

While public and police accounts fail to match up, one rumor could hold water: “Some police uniforms, shield and batons were stolen during the fires, and we’ve received reports that people who the community confirms are not policemen are going around in those outfits,” said Superintendent Yoosuf Sobah of Addu City Police, suggesting that any beatings may only appear to be done by police. Some Addu City citizens confirmed the report.

Sobah added that misinformation bolstered Wednesday’s riots. “Raajje TV reported that two MDP members had been killed in Male’, and that triggered a huge sentiment within the demonstrators,” he said.

“A clear attack on the justice system”

While Sobah recognises the emotional factor of Wednesday’s fires, he said the destruction of all police and court house documents related to ongoing cases, which were not backed up in a central database, made it “clear that this was an attack on the justice system.”

Explaining the logistics of the Wednesday night’s operation, Sobah said Addu’s roughly 70 officers, spread over four islands, had been outnumbered by the hundreds who turned out after reports of a brutal police crackdown on a MDP march in Male’ reached the islands.

Sobah added that police are currently hamstrung in their posts. “We don’t have computers, records, facilities, so processing paperwork has been difficult.”

While paperwork is a challenge, police appear undeterred in making arrests. However, the lack of infrastructure raises the question of how evidence is being collected.

Some citizens who claimed to have been beaten and detained said they were told they would be taken again if evidence against them was found on CCTV. Sobah stated that there are no CCTV records, and explained that evidence against those who have been arrested since Wednesday is taken from “mobile phone videos, eyewitness accounts, and the people who we know were causing the violence.”

Three Addu City councilors and one MP have been arrested. When asked how the evidence against those individuals was acquired, Sobah did not provide specifics, stating only that all 80 arrests in Addu have been evidence based, and made with only the minimum force necessary.

“Some people we’ve arrested are hardened criminals, many are under sentence and in rehabilitation programs. Those have given us a lot of resistance. But many are cooperating, coming in, giving their accounts. We are releasing those without evidence,” he added.

Meanwhile, Al Jazeera has released a report with footage of the 74 individuals who are still in detention in Gan’s semi-destroyed police station. The report shows the bruised legs of men who claim they’ve been tortured; several individuals interviewed by Minivan News reported being forced to kneel on the ground, which was coated in broken glass and debris, and being doused in petrol and threatened with burning.

Sobah and Superintendent Abdulla Navaz, Head of Investigations in Serious and Organised Crime Department in Male, both said, “We have invited the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) and the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) to come and see what we are doing. If they believe we have mistreated people, then they will take the necessary action.”

Sobah added that he hopes to find an alternative detention center, or perhaps to  release detainees to house arrest in the coming days.

Testy police, tense public

The attack has created a sharp divide between the people and the police. Many are cautious about driving into Gan, where individuals are asked to provide identification at a military checkpoint. One young man was nervous when he realised he was carrying MDP registration papers in his motorbike.

While the public is nervous, the police are frustrated. Without clothes, computers or beds, but still on-duty, police on Gan report spending the first few nights on the causeway outside the burned station.

“It’s a very emotional time,” Sobah said. “A bunch of guys aren’t from Addu, and all they had here, their memories, are gone.”

Minivan News asked if the personal damage was fueling revenge attacks. “I understand this is an emotional time, but we’ve instructed them very carefully to prosecute people within the law. They’re trained police officers,” Sobah claimed.

Superintendent Navaz later suggested that the situation in Male’ has exhausted and destablised security forces. “Since January 16 we have been engaged in so many protests. At the time we couldn’t think of anything else except suppress, tackle and neutralise the protests. We are hopeful everything will be better. I can’t say it will be normal in any period of time, but it will happen with the passage of time. Now, we are getting different news, we don’t know what will happen any day. We should be ready for anything.”

Policing north to south

“For police, I think this is just as big as the tsunami.”

Noting that the council and police had joint plans to “bring policing in Addu up to Male’ levels,” he observed “this has set us back to 2004, not just Addu police but the whole police service.”

Meanwhile, the Male’ standard itself is on faltering, according to both police and public.

Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz yesterday stated that, “The police face big political challenges. In the face of those challenges it is very important that we regain the public’s confidence.”

Riyaz, whose appointment last week has been questioned as the law requires the police commissioner to come from a senior rank in the force, rather than a civilian – Riyaz was previously dismissed by Nasheed’s government – assured the police he would never issue an unlawful or illegal order.

Although policemen are instructed not to speak to the media, one spoke to Minivan News on condition of anonymity. “The public no longer trusts the police institution. We are receiving verbal attacks on the street and during protests,” he confided.

Sub-Inspector Shiyam denied receiving complaints from the public, and said the police forces are only being harassed at MDP gatherings.

While police are struggling to maintain unity and save face, they continue to deny the allegations of mistreatment which are piling up against them.

A report by MDP’s Parliamentary Group today provided pictures and statistics regarding attacks on MPs since February 7. According to the report, two MPs have been hospitalised due to beatings by police while Mariya Didi was twice targeted and beaten around her eyes. A total of 10 MPs are listed and photographed in the report.

Former Defense Minister Ahmed Faisal yesterday compared the Maldives’ current trajectory to Pakistan and Fiji. “I very much have the fear that the Maldives will turn into another Pakistan. Money has been paid to the police. The public has lost their trust and faith in the very people who are meant to protect them. How can they trust anyone, if with money they can make the police do this.”

A mother in Addu tells Minivan News how her sons were taken by police


The [children] came outside after having lunch and were playing here. My sister Aminath’s kid and a kid from a southern island was there too. While they were playing, the police barged in from that side [pointing to a direction behind her] and I don’t know exactly how many of them there were. I think there must be three to four hundred. I came out running when the police had entered our house and I said. ‘what happened. What happened. None of the kids here have gone out anywhere [during the protests]’.

Then someone grabbed the collar of one boy’s shirt and dragged him along with the other three boys out of the house and threw all of them into the police jeep.

I didn’t know what was happening to me and I have never seen such a thing in my life. I ran after them calling not to take them away. There were a lot of people. I ran after the police jeep when it took off. While I was chasing the jeep, someone stopped me and asked what happened. I said they have taken my boys.

I haven’t heard from the boys after they were taken into custody. The first day we kept calling [the police station] but they were not answering our calls. We kept repeatedly calling and they answered the call finally and I told them that we want to meet our kids. They replied that we can’t meet the boys today but we can on the next day.

We called them the following day and they were again not responding to our calls. But later they answered and said that now we cant meet the boys.

That night they [police] called us and told us to bring in some clothing for the boys, and look, they didn’t even give them clothing while they were arrested up until that night [woman starts crying].

Last night I couldn’t even sleep. Three out of the four boys were not wearing shirts when the police took them and they grabbed the collar of the one who was wearing a shirt.

I went to Gan [a ward of Addu city] on the bus to meet the police there and told them that I want to meet the boys. They simply handed me a form to fill in.

I haven’t seen police patrolling around here much after the arrest.

[Lady sitting in the joalifathi] I have seen them. When I went out to the shop there were police patrolling.

I hear from different people that the police were beating my boys to death. People who were released after the arrest say that the police had beaten them up. Even yesterday I met someone who was released and he said the names of the boys and said that the police were beating them.

Their ages were, the eldest was 27, two of them were 23 and the youngest was 21.

The opposition supporters must have directed the police to our house, otherwise why would they barge in like that . they came this way [pointing to her right]. Had they came from that way [pointing left] the boys would have been able to see them but they came the other way round.

[Man speaking] the boys don’t even live here, they come here on vacation and they all work in Male’. They work in government offices and resorts and yesterday they were supposed to leave back to work but now all of that is gone.

[When asked who were more dangerous, the police or the military or the opposition supporters]: from what we see everyone is equal and dangerous.

Mariyam Manike: If our kids are taken to custody, we have to know why they are being taken and the boys don’t even roam around the streets and they all stay at home.

Hassan Manik: the opposition supporters have some kind of a list which they think includes the people that has to be arrested [nasheed supporters] and they tell the police about the list and the police come to the houses of the people that were on the list and look for them.

Mariyam Manike: The whole street was flooded with people.

Hassan Manik: I was not even home. I was away on fishing.

Mariyam Manike: I have never seen such a thing ever in my life and even when I try to sleep or try to close my eyes, I see the same events again and again and I have not been able to sleep. [starts crying]

We don’t mind giving our names to the press, infact you should write down our names. Our kids were taken to custody without any charges and they didn’t do anything at all.


Police fired gun in takeover of MNBC, video reveals

Video footage taken during the storming of Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation (MNBC) on February 7 reveals that a police officer used a firearm to break down the gates of the station headquarters in capital Male’, allowing dozens of police and military forces (MNDF) as well as some civilians in plain clothes to forcefully take over the station.

According to Maldivian law police officers are not issued firearms.

Approximately two hours before former president Mohamed Nasheed resigned from office “under duress” in what his government has called a “coup d’état”, a group of rogue security forces armed with batons, iron rods, wooden planks and evidently firearms “hijacked” the state media station, forcing it to change to Television Maldives (TVM), its title under former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

A video obtained from an unidentified source captured the event from an upstairs window within the MNBC compound, looking down on the television station’s locked gates.

The video begins as tear gas canisters are thrown at a group of MDP activists attempting to protect the building outside the gate, billowing yellow smoke and forcing then to retreat from the area. A woman inside the MNBC headquarters screams, “Oh Mother! Mother!” as another comforts her, asking to “stop crying.”

Riot police with shields charge the gate as the tear gas clears, accompanied by several men who are not wearing uniforms. As the scene unfolds, a male voice is heard saying,  “Look there’s the police coming, they have guns”, while another man exclaims: “Oh no! That’s the bad police”.

The mob then attempts to break the heavy chain on the gates while a man inside shouts, “Oh my God, they’re opening [the gates], they’re opening”.

At the height of the attack on the gates, a uniformed police officer sticks a gun through the circular hole on the right-hand side of the gate and fires. Smoke from the weapon’s discharge floats up into the air. The crowd then bursts through the gates into the courtyard. Some of the men throw stones and one of the men, who isn’t wearing a uniform, is brandishing an iron rod in his hand. The mob then advances towards the main entrance of MNBC before the video cuts out.

“We felt trapped, kidnapped”

Minivan News spoke to some of the then-MNBC staff on duty inside the headquarters that morning, who recounted the “frightening experience” of February 7 on condition of total anonymity.

“They just stormed into the building and broke the doors and windows to force their way in. Some slapped the paper stacks and equipment off the tables. The first guy who came into the newsroom was a protestor and he ordered us to stop all the work we were doing. He kept on stomping his feet on the ground to frighten us and threatened to ‘finish us’ if we didn’t listen. So we stopped. We were all so scared,” one reporter recalled.

“In just a few minutes the whole place was filled with protesters shouting at us, police and MNDF took over the main control room. There were shouts and cries of girls everywhere. We felt trapped, kidnapped,” the reporter added.

“A policeman shouted that we [MNBC] have brought enough of what government wanted. Now its time for them to broadcast what they want,” another station employee claimed.

The employee added that they were ordered to patch through the VTV channel, owned by minority opposition Jumhooree Party (JP) Leader and MP Gasim Ibrahim. The nation watched VTV on state TV before the feed was cut off and came back on, re-branded as TVM.

Another staff member said that the security forces let the staff that wanted to leave the building exit, and assured them, “No harm will come to the rest”.

Newsroom sub-editor Ahmed Muhsin was taken home under police custody, another staff member told Minivan News.

“But we were surrounded by armed opposition protestors. We were scared for our lives,” the source continued. “The first anchor who went on air could not continue even because of the intimidation. So someone else had to take over”.

Police sub-inspector Ahmed Shiyam said that President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan has ordered an investigation into the events of February 7, and that police will not comment on the events of that day until the investigation is concluded.

Dr Waheed’s alleged involvement

MNBC Managing Director Adam Shareef told Minivan News that he was “advised to hide to guard his life” when the protestors stormed in threatening to attack Muhsin and himself for alleged alignment with Nasheed and his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

“I was hiding inside the light room until the security forces assured me I would be given protection. When I came out Dr Waheed’s brother Ali Waheed was there. He shook my hands and said that he was there to take over MNBC on behalf of Vice President Dr Waheed. This was before Nasheed resigned.”

Shareef also claimed that Ali Waheed came earlier that morning asking to handover the state media but he refused. “I told him that MNBC had the authority to run the state media and we would not hand over it unless the security forces came. So that’s why they [police and MNDF] came with the protestors,” Shareef observed.

He said that he waited at the station to ensure the safety of his staff, while Muhsin was escorted home.

Several sources at the newsroom confirmed that members of Dr Waheed’s Gaumee Ithihaad party including Ahmed Faiz and Alim Shakoor, younger brother of newly appointed Attorney General and opposition-friendly lawyer Aishath Azima Shakoor, were in the news room “giving orders” that day.

Previously, Azima Shakoor represented parliament’s state broadcaster Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) in a drawn out tug-of-war with state owned MNBC for control of the assets of the state broadcaster, formerly Television Maldives (TVM) and Voice of Maldives (VoM).

Its also notable that after taking office, the first presidential decree passed by President Dr. Waheed was to transfer assets to MBC, although Nasheed’s administration had repeatedly contended that the MBC board is stacked with opposition supporters and that its attempt to control of MNBC is effectively a “media coup”.

Meanwhile, MNBC was criticised for favouring MDP.

State media liberated or hijacked?

The MNBC staff, who earlier spoke to Minivan News, insisted that “in the name of liberating state media, the police, MNDF and the protestors hijacked [MNBC]”.

“We know the lawful state broadcaster is MBC. But this is not the way they should take over. If the rule of law was respected as Dr Waheed promised in his first presidential address, he would not have let the security forces take control over us,” said a senior member of the MNBC staff.

Minivan News could not reach Maldives Broadcasting Commission at time of press.

The commission has however given a license to MBC, which is now preparing to take over management of the national broadcasting station’s assets, local media reports. President Waheed has replaced the MNBC board and tasked it with overseeing the transfer of assets to MBC, which the MDP has previously alleged has a board stacked with opposition figures.

Meanwhile, speaking to Minivan News, the Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) President Hiriga Ahmed Zahir claimed that the organisation has not reacted to the take over of MNBC because the police were “enforcing the law”.

“MNBC was operating the state media unlawfully, despite repeated calls from us and court orders to hand it over to the parliament-created state broadcaster,” Zahir continued.

He claimed that MNBC was “abusing the state assets, and tax payer’s money” to make the state media a “propaganda machine” of MDP, in the non-existence of a fair editorial policy.

“I am not saying it was done in the most appropriate way. It was a chaotic situation. But we will always welcome bringing unlawful actions within the legal bounds. Police is the body to enforce the laws and I see no reason to object to the police taking over the state media to hand over it to the lawful body,” Zahir said.

He added that it would have been a problem if they had destroyed MNBC’s equipment or intimidated the staff, but said the organisation had not received any official complaints although some concerns have been raised informally.

Former National Security Advisor and former Defence Minister Ameen Faisal meanwhile observed that it looks “very strange” to see the police in the video firing a gun outside the MNBC office.

“It’s very strange to see. It’s very clearly seen in the footage that they were firing from the main outside gate inside [the MNBC compound] and our police force has never been issued with guns. The big question is how they got the guns. Evidently it was from the MNDF because they are the only people authorised to carry guns.”

He further added that the Maldives witnessed a “police mutiny turn into an armed mutiny” on February 7, which forced a democratically-elected president to resign.

“Any democratic country will not accept a government which used the police force and mutiny to forcefully resign a democratically-elected president. They have to condemn [the new administration], with this video footage and with all the torturing by the police. They should not accept the legitimacy of the government and should ask the people of the Maldives to decide who their president should be,” Faisal contended.

A photo circulating on Facebook apparently showing defected police and MNDF celebrating in the courtyard of the state broadcaster, after taking it over on Tuesday.

Government proposes raise in police, MNDF salaries

A proposal to raise police and armed forces salaries by 40 percent in 2012 has been submitted to Parliament today by the government.

Mulaku MP Abdulla Yameen, also Parliamentary Group Leader of opposition Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), criticised the government for decreasing civil servant salaries while increasing those of police and armed forces.

The raise was allegedly included in the proposed Rf14 billion budget which was submitted to Parliament last week, Haveeru reports.

Yameen allegedly learned of the proposal from the budget review committee rather than the budget itself, reports Haveeru.

The Civil Service Commission (CSC) has meanwhile requested parliament to include any unpaid civil servants’ salaries and allowances in the 2012 budget without conditions.


Police thwart removal of alleged Christian imagery on SAARC posters at airport

Several members of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM), including some MPs, were arrested last night after forcing a dhoni to take them to Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) where they intended to take down SAARC banners allegedly featuring Christian and other religious imagery.

“The police received information that people had tried to get to the airport using force,” said Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam. “The dhoni owner said he refused to take them but that they attacked him and made him go to the airport,” he said.

The individuals were detained at Dhoonidhoo last night. Some have been released while others are being held in custody.

PPM MP Ahmed Mahloof was released at 1:30am this morning. He said the act was organised by several friends and was not attached to PPM.

“It was not a violent or political act,” Mahloof claimed. “We each paid Rf10 for the airport ferry, maybe the dhoni owner got nervous when the police came because about ten people on the ferry were yelling at him to keep going because they had to get to the airport, so he told the police he had been attacked.

“All we said was that they had violated our right to move freely,” said Mahloof, adding that the interaction between those arrested and the police was peaceful. “The police trust the opposition, as does the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF), because they do not support the President. They told us that we would have to be arrested, and we agreed to cooperate.”

Shiyam said that “with SAARC, the security is very high right now, so we are using a very quick and strong response to this issue.”

Police also took action against Mohamed ‘Wadde’ Waheed, lawyer for former president and current PPM leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who was found walking around Dhoonidhoo island without approval after last night’s arrests.

“Being a lawyer he must have known about the procedures to get onto Dhoonidhoo,” said Shiyam.

Wadde, who was discovered to have arrived on the island via speedboat, was sent back to Male’ for interrogation. He was not arrested, but did not respond to Minivan’s inquiries.

The banners at INIA are part of a series created by local company Mooinc Pvt Ltd for the SAARC summit under the theme ‘Building Bridges’. They are also in display in Fuvamulah and Addu City, where the summit is currently being held.

Mooinc Creative Director Ali Saeed said the designs were based on five themes approved by the cabinet to depict the culture and religion of the eight SAARC nations, which cumulatively practice 10 religions.

Under Religious Unity Regulations published by the government in September, it is illegal to propagate any other religion other than Islam, to carry or display in public books on religions other than Islam, and the translation into Dhivehi language such books and writings on other religions. Proselytising by foreigners remains punishable by deportation.

The regulations interpret the Religious Unity Act passed by parliament in 1994, which carries a 2-5 year prison sentence for its violation.

Mahloof confirmed that the group’s goal was to remove the banners at the airport.

“Our constitution makes it very clear that no other religions are to be displayed in our society because we are a 100 percent Muslim society,” he said, claiming that the government’s approval of the banners for the purposes of an international event surpassed necessary diplomatic etiquette.

“I don’t think the other heads of state were expecting to see their religions shown when they came here. They know that we are Muslim. I have had the opportunity to travel abroad and meet with delegates, and I never expected those countries to have mosques if they weren’t officially Muslim just to show support,” said Mahloof.

Mahloof emphasised that members of all religions are welcome in the Maldives. “It’s not that we are opposed to other religions. Their members are very welcome, we would never support the kinds of attacks that take place elsewhere. But I believe other countries respect our decision to be Muslim, and there’s no need to show so much support for other faiths. I’m sure everyone will be respected in turn,” he said.

Mahloof added that tourists have steadily come through the Maldives without complaining about a lack of Buddhist or Christian displays. He said the banners are not a threat, but rather represent a loosening religious structure.

“My concern is this: since Nasheed came to power we have seen slowly the breaking of the pillars of Islam, making holes to open doors for other faiths. Being a Maldivian, and a young person, I wouldn’t want to see other religions here. If other religions were allowed into the Maldives, I’m sure we would see more terrorist attacks and the kind of violence that is happening elsewhere. Already families don’t talk to each other just from the political changes. If Nasheed tries to bring in other religions, things will go from bad to worse.”

Speaking for PPM, Mahloof said there was suspicion that the current government is making private deals to bring in other religions. “But I believe other countries respect our decision,” he reiterated.

The SAARC summit has tempered what Mahloof said is rising frustration among Maldivian people. “PPM made an agreement yesterday not to do anything during SAARC,” he said. “I’m sure after the summit there will be protests and huge crowds in the streets.”

Mahloof, who has been arrested twice, said “we will take the steps we should with the authorities, appearing before the Human Rights Commission and the Police Integrity Commission” to discuss their arrest.