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.