65 persons arrested in 11 nights of MDP protest

Police have today said that a total of 65 persons have been arrested in the series of protests held by Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), criticising the delayed – now annulled – presidential election.

Beginning as part of a pre-election rally on September 27, the protests continued over the following 11 nights after the Supreme Court ordered security forces to stop preparations for the presidential run-off by force if necessary.

In a statement issued today the police said that all of the persons were arrested on charges of objection to order and obstructing police duty.

Police said that the investigation into the cases of 29 persons were concluded and have been forwarded to the Prosecutor General’s office to put them on trial.

Allegations of arbitrary and frequent use of pepper spray, beating, strip-searching, frisking, handcuffing and drug testing of MDP supporters were heard during the Parliamentary Privileges Subcommittee last week.

The Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) also met with the police after being made aware of allegations that strip searches were being used in an unnecessary and discriminatory manner following the arrest of protesters.

During the HRCM’s meeting with police, it stressed its belief that strip searches were a “degrading and inhuman treatement” that was to be avoided whenever possible.

In a statement issued last Wednesday (October 2) police said they were authorised to frisk and conduct strip-searches under Articles 32-36 of the the Police Powers Act.

According to police 12 persons were released without being taken to the court to extend their detention period, and nine were released by the court when brought before judges for a potential extended detention period.

Police said that 11 persons were released by the court on different conditions.

Police are investigating the cases of 30 persons currently held in custody, whose detention period was extended by the court.

Last night MDP supporters gathered again in front of police barricades at the FDI photo studio, the nearest point protesters could get to the Supreme Court, calling for justice and early elections.

Three persons were taken into custody – also on charges of obstruction of police duty and objection to order.

Following the Supreme Court ruling to cancel the first round of presidential elections and to hold the election again, the MDP has commenced its campaign and ceased the ongoing protests.


MDP alleges 117 cases filed against February 8 2012 protesters “politically motivated”

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has called for “politically motivated” court cases against 117 protesters charged with terrorism and obstructing police duty on February 8 2012 be immediately discontinued.

Nine MDP members from Milandhoo Island in Shaviyani Atoll, 28 members from Kulhudhuffushi Island in Haa Dhaal Atoll and 80 members from Addu City are currently facing prosecution. The accused include mid-Hithadhoo Constituency MP Mohamed ‘Matrix Mode’ Rasheed as well as a number of councilors and branch heads from these islands.

“A lot of the accused [currently standing trial] were charged with terrorism offences and obstructing police duty,” said MDP Spokesperson and MP Imthiyaz ‘Inthi’ Fahmy.

The MDP “condemned, in strong terms, these cases of unlawful and blatant granting of selective impunity from justice and calls on all concerned authorities to immediately cease this selective litigation,” during a press conference held May 20, led by Imthiyaz and MDP pro-bono lawyers Abdullah Haseen and Mohamed Fareed.

The party said it regarded the “discriminatory” prosecutions as being politically motivated, biased judicial actions against hundreds of MDP members, and “outside the requisite edicts of the Constitution for judicial fairness and equability.”

The political party also voiced their “great concern” that despite the Commission of National Inquiry (CoNI) findings that “unlawful brutal acts” were committed by security services in February 2012, the report’s recommendations that actions be taken against the offenders have been “disregarded with impunity”.

“Why doesn’t the government take action against those police officers when there is clear evidence of police brutality? None of the police officers have been investigated or prosecuted in line with the CoNI,” said Imthiyaz.

The MDP alleged that “despite public irrefutable and credibly substantiated video and audio evidence showing security services personnel committing brutal assaults and inflicting inhuman bashings”, no credible investigations or judicial actions have been taken.

Current court cases against MDP members had meanwhile been “unduly hastened”.

“The police were seen to participate in a mutiny and they have openly and publicly viewed their opposition and hatred towards the MDP,” MDP Spokesperson Mohamed Zuhair told Minivan News at the press conference.

“As police investigation reports make up a substantive part of the legal cases being brought against MDP activists, how can these investigations be fair when police have been publicly on the record as biased and downright malicious [toward MDP supporters],” he continued.

“The MDP came out in a peaceful protest on the 8th, on the roads of Male’, and they were bashed up,” Zuhair said. “Our activists on the islands heard this and that escalated tensions on many islands where there are police stations. And then it became a kind of public uprising.”

“Within that public uprising, our activists’ primary objective was to rally and to somehow show strength, but among those came in other elements, [who] set fire to places, and then escalated the whole thing,” he added.

Zuhair said given the state of the judiciary justice for the accused was not possible, “but we’ll have better recourse to due process through the high court and supreme court and through international redress.”

No grounds to prosecute

The trials were being conducted to “intimidate the people” because elections are “very near” and the entire process was politicised, MDP lawyer Haseen told Minivan News.

“They demanded the suspects be kept in remand claiming they had forensic evidence. And then when they’re produced in court, there is no forensic evidence or video footage submitted, only witness statements,” Haseen explained.

“They are telling the press they have the evidence and highlighting a lot of photographs with fire, but they are not submitting these – just witness statements given by rival political parties,” he said.

Haseen claimed senior Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) officials pointed out to the police who to arrest and were now providing the witness statements against the MDP protesters in court.

“The problem is that even the island judges are not competent judges. They don’t even know criminal procedure. That’s a larger fight that we are building our campaign with that on top – journey for justice,” Haseen added.

MDP lawyer Fareed concurred with Haseen that it is a “politically motivated conflict of interest” to have police and former-opposition political parties provide the only evidence – witness statements – against the MDP members on trial.

“There are not any grounds for prosecution,” Fareed told Minivan News.

He attended three hearings in Kulhudhuffushi, which took place May 19, against 11 MDP members, including two island councilors, and was also dismayed by how witness statements were taken.

“The court they did not have a recording system, so the judge he himself was writing the witness statements in favor of the state. It was very terrible,” Fareed recounted.

“When the first witness was presented, I asked him directly ‘were you there when these  things happened?’ and he replied ‘this is after one year so I don’t remember these things’.”

“That’s all that’s enough – whatever the witness says after that is not applicable, not acceptable,” he declared.

“When the prosecutor asked him [the same question], the witness said ‘That man may be there but I don’t know,’ however the judge himself had already written the witness statement in favor of the prosecution,” he added.

“If they continue this hearing, they should have a recording system otherwise we’ll have to stop it,” Fareed concluded.

“All courts have recorders”

Kulhudhuffushi Court Magistrate Ali Adam explained to Minivan News today (May 23) that “all courts have recorders”.

“When dealing with criminal cases we try to write witness statements, it is the best way,” said Adam. “Recordings can be changed or edited. There might be court staff who hold certain political ideologies who might tamper with the statements.”

“When listening to a witness statement a judge will only write relevant remarks and things related to the accused’s rights. The witness then signs the hand-written statement,” explained Adam.

“We do not consider anyone standing trial as a criminal. How can we face a person thinking he’s an enemy? We do not consider the individual’s personality or which political party he is in,” he added.

The Prosecutor General, PG spokesperson, and PPM MPs Ahmed Nihan and Ahmed Mahlouf were not responding at time of press.


Protesters released on condition they “not be seen in groups”

Five Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) protesters arrested Monday (February 18) night were released on the condition they “are not seen within groups for two months,” reports local media.

The Criminal Court “remanded to arrest” 16 of the 84 people taken into police custody during protests.

The court also extended the detention period of four other protesters.


PIC advises protesters not to obstruct police duties

Protesters are advised not to obstruct the implementation of police duties, the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) announced in a press statement (February 17), according to local media.

The PIC noted that police and protesters are sustaining injuries ‘typically’ caused when police break up protests, which occurs “when protesters break through police barricades” and gather at locations prohibited in the Freedom of Peaceful Assembly act.

Protesters were advised not to obstruct police duties and “exercise their freedoms” within the limits of the law, while the PIC advised police to “only use force to the extent demanded by the given circumstance” and also to keep their actions within the limits of the law, local media stated.

Under the new bill, citizens are not allowed to hold gatherings within a certain distance of the headquarters of police and the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF).

Among the key features of the bill is the outlawing of demonstrations outside private residences and government buildings, limitations on media not accredited with the state and defining gatherings as a group with more than a single person.

Demonstrations would also be outlawed within a certain distance of the residences of the president and the vice president, the offices of the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA), tourist resorts, harbours utilized for economic purposes, airports, the President’s Office, the courts of law, the Parliament, mosques, schools, hospitals and buildings housing diplomatic missions.

The bill also states that demonstrators wishing to protest against a specific individual, may not use megaphones, stand outside, or have a sit-down outside that person’s residence.


Protesters clash with police near defence minister’s house

Four people have been arrested following violent clashes with police near the house of Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim on Sunday night.

At around 12:45am a group of protesters left the ongoing Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) demonstration at the tsunami monument and headed towards Republic Square.

Police had blocked most routes to the republican square blocked with barricades and officers with riot shields by the time demonstrators arrived.

A group of 200 protesters began gathering near the Velaanaage office building and a further group of 150 near Traders Hotel, although there was no indication of violence. More protesters began to gather against police barricades near the coastguard building.

Around 1:15 am protesters reportedly headed towards Chaandhanee Magu and Orchid Magu Junction near the Reefside Shop. When Minivan News arrived police and MNDF had blocked the route to Republican square, but no protesters showed up.

Instead, a group of protesters had gathered near the defence minister’s residence in Maafannu ward near the Nalahiya Hotel.

An eyewitness told Minivan News that police clashed with a group of youths outside the hotel.

“The violence was very bad,” he said. “Only a few police came to the area. The crowd was throwing big stones [at the police]. The squad was split and had to retreat. ”

A police vehicle at the scene was damaged and had its windscreen smashed.

Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam said a police vehicle was damaged and 4-5 officers sustained injuries, none of them serious.

“The situation is controllable. Some people in the crowd became violent,” he said, adding that four arrests were made.


Amnesty condemns violent MNDF attack on a group of “peaceful women protesters” in Addu

Amnesty International has condemned attacks on a group of women in Addu Atoll by the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF), after obtaining testimonies from victims of a crackdown on demonstrators at a rally during the recent visit to the MDP stronghold by new President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan.

“The 20 women were ahead of a crowd of about 70 when the police stopped them, saying they had been ordered not to allow Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) supporters in. The women wore the yellow headbands usually donned by MDP members,” Amnesty reported,  in a statement published on Tuesday.

“The demonstrators halted their march and began to chant slogans against President Waheed, who was making his speech a couple of hundred metres away.

“They were then attacked by an army contingent which has been deployed alongside police in recent weeks.

“Army personnel arrived from a side alley behind the women, who were then caught between them and the police line.

“Separated from the rest of the demonstrators, the 20 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.”

A woman with a sprained arm

“As the rest of the protesters ran away, army and police personnel chased them, allegedly beating anyone they caught.”

Security forces clashed with other demonstrators during the chase and a policeman was reportedly injured by a thrown stone, Amnesty noted.

Security personnel reportedly then entered the MDP office in Hitadhoo, where more than a dozen other women protesters had run for shelter.

“They chased the women into the storage room of the building and began to beat them,” Amnesty reported.

“Amnesty International learned that one woman had her arm twisted and sprained when MNDF soldiers grabbed her. They then took her glasses off, forced her to open her eye and sprayed it with pepper spray. She said they pressed her against the wall and kicked her with their boots.

“Another woman said that they began to beat her on her breast, repeatedly shouting they would see to it that she does not breast feed again.

“A third woman showed her badly bruised arm where she said that soldiers had severely and repeatedly beaten her.”

Amnesty noted that both sides had blamed each other for promoting violence, and that human rights in the Maldives “have become heavily politicised.”

“During clashes between the MDP supporters and security forces on 8 February, up to 10 buildings, including police headquarters and a court building, were burnt down in Addu city, an MDP stronghold,” Amnesty observed.

“The government has blamed MDP supporters for the destruction. Scores of people were detained in Addu following the 8 February clashes and were tortured or otherwise ill-treated in custody.”

“Police have continued to deny torturing the detainees or using excessive force against MDP protesters.”

In a press statement following the attacks, police dismissed the allegations as “lies” and said that the police only stopped the demonstrators who attempted to break into the area blocked by the security forces.


MJA calls on police to provide opportunity for journalists to cover protests freely

The Maldives Journalists Association (MJA) has called on police and defense forces to provide opportunity for the press to cover protests freely, referring to an incident last night where journalists wearing press identification were ordered to leave the area, effectively bringing the protest coverage to a halt, while those who refused to leave were arrested.

‘’Police last night arrested two journalists and a web developer for the Sun Media group,’’ said the MJA in a press release. ‘’Some of them were arrested while were even wearing the press identification.’’

MJA claimed that journalists covering last night’s protest were physically attacked and one had pepper sprayed directly in the face.

‘’We remind journalists to work responsibly while covering protests or any other activity,’’ the MJA added.

Meanwhile the police issued another statement on the incident saying that they had been  informed that the protesters would be violent.

Police alleged that protesters caused damage to public property and committed arson.

‘’As the police were informed about the plans [beforehand], police met with Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MPs Ahmed Mahlouf and Ahmed Nihan and requested them not to conduct any such activities,’’ said police in the statement.

Police said that protesters disturbed the residents of the area, blocked traffic and that people living in the area were unable to reach their houses.

“Police discovered that lot of loose stones were hidden in the area for the protesters to attack police officers and public property,’’ police claimed. ‘’We also noticed that persons connected with gangs took part in this protest from the beginning.’’

Police also said that where necessary strict action would be taken against those who became violent.