Conflicting reports on death of elderly man following violent protests

The President’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair said the government had not been officially informed of the death of an elderly man who reportedly died after being injured by police attempts to disperse the crowd during yesterday morning’s protests.

Police spokesperson Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam meanwhile said the police had not received any such complaints about a death of an elderly man in the riot. Indira Gandi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) also told Minivan News that it had not received any information about a fatality during the protests.

However, local radio station SunFM reported State Home Minister Mohamed Naeem as saying that an elderly man who was in the riot was injured that admitted to hospital, and died later that evening.

”An elderly man was injured that night and we received news that he passed away that same evening,” SunFM quoted Naeem as saying. ”Some say he died because of his injuries while others say he died of a heart attack, but this has to be confirmed.”

”We have not so far received any official reports regarding incident,” said Zuhair, insisting that police had been “very professional” and had the government’s full confidence.

”We have every confidence in the police to protect the state,” Zuhair said. ”The government welcomes peaceful gatherings but will not tolerate any sort of violence. In no country do the police tolerate this amount of violence.”


Police clash with protesters in crowded street injures “dozens”

A large crowd of mostly young people last night held a protest in Male’ against the rising cost of living, following a spike in import costs brought on by the government’s managed float of the rufiya – a decision which has led to a cost increase for dollar commodities of up to 20 percent.

Although the protest was led by opposition leaders, Minivan News observed many unfamiliar faces not identified as members of either major party.

The protest’s leadership consisted mostly of those from the ‘Z-DRP’ faction of the opposition loyal to former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, including MPs Ahmed Mahlouf, Ilham Ahmed and dismissed Deputy Leader Umar Naseer, Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) MP Riyaz Rasheed, Jumhoory Party (JP) MP Ibrahim Muthalib and other opposition allies were also present at the protest.

The group gathered near the artificial beach last night around 9:00pm and marched towards the tourist street of Chandhanee Magu, occupying the intersection with the main road of Majeedhee Magu. Minivan News observed many protesters sitting or lying down in the intersection, some having coffee.

Riot police initially blocked off vehicle access to the area, and waited without taking any action.

However at around 3:30am early on Sunday morning, police advised protesters to leave the area or otherwise they would use force to disperse the crowd.

The protesters declined to leave the area and continued protesting, whereupon police issued several warnings before throwing tear gas canisters into the crowd camped in the narrow and congested intersection, and moving in with shields and batons.

Male and female protesters were injured in the incident after being attacked with batons, while police claimed officers were injured in the effort after bricks were thrown. Protesters also pelted police with empty water bottles, empty cans and other such materials.

“One female officer was hit in the chest with a pavement stone, she is still hospitalised,’’ said Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam.

While police were attempting to disperse the crowd, a motorbike in the area was destroyed by fire and the glass window of a nearby shop was broken.

After the violent attacks, police failed to completely disperse the crowd as the protesters continued to return to the area and gathering.

Local media SunFM and Haveeru News also reported that police used excessive force on their journalists taking coverage of the area.

Haveeru, which described the incident as a “deadly clash”, reported that its journalists were arrested after they refused to leave the area were told by a police spokesperson that even journalists wearing press identification could not stay in the area.

The protest lasted until 9:00am this morning, lasting a total of 12 hours.

Residents living in the densely-populated urban area surrounding the intersection have complained of women and children being affected by tear gas used by police used to control the riot.

News agency Associated Press reported Gayoom’s spokesperson, Mohamed Hussain ‘Mundhu’ Shareef, as saying that dozens were hospitalised in the demonstration consisting of 5000 people rallying against “economic hardship, alleged government mismanagement and wasteful spending”, but was unable to raise a response from the Maldivian government. News of the incident quickly went international, appearing on the Washington Post and other major newspapers.

This afternoon the President’s Office released a statement condemning the violent protest as orchestrated by supporters of the former President.

“Scores of people were injured and shops and private property were damaged when protesters hurled bricks and other projectiles at the police. The police responded to the unprovoked assault with tear gas and made several arrests,” the statement said.

“The protest was orchestrated by the Z-DRP, a faction of the main opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party, which is under the control of former President Gayoom.”

President Mohamed Nasheed’s spokesperson, Mohamed Zuhair, added that “peaceful political activity, such as the right to protest, is legal – and indeed welcome – in the Maldives’ new democracy. But there can be no excuse for needlessly causing violence in the streets. We have numerous peaceful political rallies, protests, petitions and other forms of legitimate democratic activity throughout the year, which is a healthy part of our democracy. However, whenever Mr Gayoom’s supporters take to the streets, it always seems to end in violence and bloodshed,” Zuhair added.

Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Dr Abdulla Mausoom told Minivan News that he believed the protests, which he described as a “youth movement” rather than an opposition political gathering, had been building for some time amidst concerns regarding the government’s commitment to democracy and increased living costs.

“We feel the protests are overdue, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) is not championing democracy like it promised,” he said.

Mausoom claimed that the prime areas where he believed the government had failed to bring about democratic reforms – a key policy area for the governing MDP party – were in freedom of expression and allowing protesters to demonstrate peacefully.

Although opposition parties like the DRP and the recently formed spin-off faction the Z-DRP were present at the protest, Mausoom said that they had been invited by local young people to support their concerns.

“This has been organised by young people [of the Maldives]. Opposition parties joined in support only after being invited. This was not a political movement, but a youth movement,” he claimed. “The protests were in themselves largely peaceful and we feel the police response was inappropriate.”

Mausoom added that he believed that the protesters should have been given the right to air their concerns and called on the government to address areas such as spending on political advertising and cutting living costs.

The opposition DRP has recently been split by infighting and violence between supporters of Gayoom and those of the party’s leader, Ahmed Thasmeen Ali, triggered by the expulsion last year of Deputy Leader Umar Naseer from the party for organising protests without sanction from the DRP Council.

Both sides claimed the animosity within the party was cause it to “disintegrate“, and there was speculation that Gayoom’s supporters would form a spin-off opposition party. However last Thursday, two days before the protest, Gayoom’s faction officially announced that it was “commencing work” as the Zaeem-DRP (Z-DRP), a separate branch of the main opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP).

The Zaeem-DRP (Z-DRP) faction today announced that it has officially commenced its work as a separate branch of the main opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP).

An earlier protest on April 12 against the government’s currency decision ended peacefully, with both factions conducting separate rallies around Male’.

A currency in crisis

The government has struggled to cope with an exacerbating dollar shortage brought on by a high budget deficit – triggered by a spiralling public sector expenditure – in comparison with the foreign currency flowing into the country. Civil service expenditure has increased in real terms by 400 percent since 2002.

Banks subsequently demonstrated reluctance to sell dollars at the pegged rate of Rf 12.85, and high demand for travel, commodities and overseas medical treatment forced most institutions to ration their supply or turn to the flourishing blackmarket.

After a short-lived attempt to crack down on the illegal exchange of dollars, the government floated the rufiya within a 20 percent band, effectively allowing it to be sold at up to Rf 15.42 to the dollar.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF), which has been critical of the government’s growing expenditure despite a large budget deficit, praised the decision as a step towards a mature and sustainable economy.

“Today’s bold step by the authorities represents an important move toward restoring external sustainability,” the IMF said in a statement. “IMF staff support this decision made by the authorities. We remain in close contact and are ready to offer any technical assistance that they may request.”

However many companies dealing in dollar commodities immediately raised their exchange rates to Rf 15.42, along with the Bank of Maldives.

The government’s move, while broadly unpopular, acknowledges the devaluation of the rufiya in the wake of increased expenditure and its own inability to overcome the political obstacles inherent in reducing spending on the country’s bloated civil service.

Yet as Maldives relies almost entirely on imported goods and fuel, and many ordinary citizens have found themselves harshly affected by short-term spike in prices of up to 20 percent as the rufiya settles.

“We do not really know, based on the breadth of the domestic economy, what the value of the Maldivian rufiyaa is right now,” Economic Development Minister Mahmoud Razee admitted at a recent press conference.

The government has said it hopes the rufiya will stabilise within three months.


Journalists obstructed us during October protest coverage, say police

The Maldives Police Service has issued a statement following allegations made by the Maldives Media Council (MMC) that police used excessive force on journalists while they were covering the opposition-led protest in October 2010.

”On October 25, the behavior of the journalists covering the riot was different from how they have behaved during other riots, and they were definitely behaving in a way that that obstructed police from carrying out their duties,” said police in a statement.

”The Maldives Police Service hopes that the MMC, as the lawful body [overseeing] the media, will research the degraded actions of a few journalists who were active in the area and will work with them to correct their behaviour.”

The MMC has acknowledged that the behaviour of some journalists covering the riot “lacked discipline and professionalism”.

Police said they respected the media and believed that it was “very necessary in a modern democracy.”

”Police have worked very hard to establish easy ways for the media to gain information they need in matters related to police work,” police said.

The police recommended that the MMC avoid repeated incidents by researching how the media works in other democratic countries when covering riots and dangerous situations.

Several journalists from different media organisations have alleged that police attacked journalists covering the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP)-led protest.

Three journalists from DhiTV, two journalists from VillaTV and one from Miadhu reported that they were attacked by police.

The two journalists from VillaTV were also arrested, handcuffed, and released the same evening.

Following the incident, police claimed that the behaviour of some journalists resembled that of “opposition activists”.

‘’Some journalists opposed police orders and refused to stay in the security zone,” Shiyam said at the time. “It would have gone smoothly if they had worked according to orders given.’’

He said that police some journalists who opposed police orders were moved forcefully.


Police harsh and journalists “unprofessional” in protest coverage, finds MMC

The Maldives Media Council (MMC) has called on journalists to follow their code of ethics when covering events such as the opposition-led protest on October 25 last year, in which police clashed with reporters.

Journalists did not adhere to the standards of discipline required of their position while covering the event, the MMC said.

The MMC issued the statement following the release of an investigation report into incident, in which the Council alleged that the police commander who managed the riot that evening may not have given adequate opportunity for the media to cover the event.

Three journalists from DhiTV, two journalists from VillaTV, one from newspaper Miadhu and a photographer from Haveeru reported they were attacked by the police. The two journalists from VillaTV were also arrested, handcuffed, and released the same evening.

Editor of DhiTV Midhath Hilmy claimed that one of his reporters was hit in the head with a tear gas canister, while another was hit with a police baton.

The MMC stated that police had planned that evening not to let any person enter the area, and did not provided an exemption for the media.

“According to video footage, pictures and audio clips as well as the statements of journalists who covered the riot, the council have noted that police have acted very strictly towards the media.”

Eight journalists from different media organisations were physically injured  during the clash and underwent medical treatment. The MMC confirmed that there was “some truth” to the allegations made by media personnels regarding their harsh treatment at the hand of police, including the use of pepper spray.

Furthermore, the council said, police took strict measures to obstruct journalists from covering the event, undermining the freedom given them by the Constitution.

Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam said that police would respond to the allegations later.

Police have previously stated that the crackdown on the media corp was prompted when several members of the press “began behaving like opposition activists.”


Inmates in Maafushi prison allegedly injured after clashes with prison officers

It is alleged that violent clashes between inmates and prison officers have erupted at Maafushi prison over the last few days as inmates reportedly attempted to inform prison officers about the illness of a cell-bound inmate.

”On Monday night an inmate’s medical condition appeared to become serious and the other prisoners tried to call to the prison officers, but they never responded.  So the inmates knocked the prison bars to get the attention of prison officers,” a person familiar with the incident told Minivan News on condition of anonymity.  ”Then a squad of prison officers came to the cell and beat down those who shook the bars.”

He claimed that violence again erupted yesterday afternoon after prison officers armed with metal and wooden batons came inside the cell leading to violent clashes between prison officers and the inmates.

”One inmate got a broken shoulder, another inmate broke his nose and another injured his eyes because prison officers hit and broke the glasses he was wearing,” he alleged. ”Nobody cares for the inmates, only some politicians speak about it, but only for political purposes and not with the intention of correcting anything.”

He also claimed that recently, inmates had demanded to see the prison warden over allegations that prisoners who were kept in isolation for hours were also tortured with batons.

”There has never been any treatment programs held inside the prison, all that the prison officers do is threaten and torture,” claimed the anonymous source.

The source also claimed that fellow prisoners were expected to very soon “stand up for the nation” and reveal the secrets hidden behind the work of the political figures in the country.

”Infamous ‘Chicka’ [Ibrahim Nafiz] will also be out from the prison one day, he will tell the people publicly about the work former Commissioner of Police Brigadier Adam Zahir assigned him to do,” he said. ”It would not be kept as a secret anymore.”

Head of Department and Penitentiary and Rehabilitation Services [DPRS] Moosa Azim told Minivan News that clashes between inmates and prison officers take place very often and that it was ”nothing too serious.”

”Everyday there will be a clash between the inmates and prison officers,” said Azim. ”We give the highest priority to the safety of the inmates, then the safety of our staffs.”

He said that he had no information about the clash that occurred yesterday and Monday night.


Police clash with journalists during opposition protests

Several journalists from different media organisations have reported violent police attacks on journalists covering the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP)-led protest last night.

The protest began last night as a gathering in front of party’s head office, but degenerated into a riot when protesters marched to the President’s official residence of Muleeage.

Police attempted to restrict the activists from going any further when they reached Sosun Magu, but demonstrators broke through police lines and continued their march.

A journalist from Miadhu, Three journalists from DhiTV, two journalists from VillaTV, one from newspaper Miadhu and a photographer from Haveeru reported they were attacked by the police.

The two journalists from VillaTV were also arrested, handcuffed, and released the same evening.

Editor of DhiTV Midhath Hilmy claimed that three journalists from DhiTV were injured during the riot.

“One was hit by a tear gas canister and his head was bleeding, another journalist’s leg was injured,” said Midhath. “Police hit another DhiTV journalist three times in a chest with a baton.”

Midhath said all the journalists from DhiTV was wearing their press identification and were carrying video cameras.

Police were the persons supposed to protect the journalists, Midhath said, adding that he regretted the police attacks and hoped it would not occur next time.

‘’According to video footage take by journalists, I can see police have tried to stop the coverage and sometimes had covered the camera by putting their hands on it,’’ he said. “They also ordered the media to stop the coverage.’’

Editor of Miadhu Abdul ‘Gabbe’ Latheef told Minivan News that according to the injured Miadhu journalist, the police attacked her with baton while she was showing them her press card.

‘’She told me that some of the police referred to her rudely, while other police officers provided assistance to her,’’ said Latheef. “The media should condemn these actions.”

Latheef said he understood that the police were in a difficult situation and  “had communication errors and difficulty identifying journalists.”

‘’The case should be investigated by an independent body,’’ he added.

Local media reported that police actions were violent and hostile, and that police attacked the journalists deliberately while they were staying in the area police officers had advised them to remain in.

However, Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam denied the claims and said some of the journalists working in the area had begun to show the characteristics as the opposition activists and engaged in hostile confrontations with the police.

‘’Some journalists opposed police orders and refused to stay in the security zone,” Shiyam said. “It would have gone smoothly if they had worked according to the orders,’’ said Shiyam. “Some journalists who opposed the police were moved away by using force.’’

He also claimed that journalists had tried to break the police lines and pass through the cordon. A Minivan News journalist was meanwhile obstructed from entering the area to cover the incident.

President of the Maldives Journalist Association Ahmed ‘Hiriga’ Zahir described the incident as “a black day for journalism in the Maldives”, and claimed that at least nine reporters were attacked by police with batons and shields.

“We will investigate each and every injury and ask journalists to send us their accounts of the incident.”

While those injured “were members of the mainstream media, reputable journalists”, Hiriga said he had heard reports that there might have been other journalists in the area “from an underground website”.

“It is an issue and some people have argued that the government should issue media accreditation,” Hiriga said. “The MJA doesn’t agree the government should do this – it needs to be an independent body.”

Image courtesy Maldives Journalists Association.


Inmates petition President over Maafushi prison conditions

Inmates in Maafushi jail have sent a petition to President Mohamed Nasheed complaining that conditions in the prison have deteriorated to the point where few inmates can sleep.

The petition signed by 236 prisoners claimed that inmates now allocate time to sleep, one after another, on the floor without bedsheets or pillows. The petition also claimed that the inmates do not have good medical facility or a safe environment in which to live.

“Only a few inmates can sleep when it rains,’’ said the petition. ‘’The capacity of the units is for 35 men, but we note that 90-100 inmates are kept in each unit.’’

The prisoner’s petition lists benefits discontinued after the government came to power.

The list of complaints sent by the inmates includes:

  1. Inmates are not given the opportunity to conduct the five prayers, or the Friday prayers.
  2. An increase in the number of issues related to hygiene.
  3. Two doctors working in the prison system are writing prescriptions without identifying the disease.
  4. The government used to provide religious books but this has come to a halt.
  5. Inmates were not receiving 3-7 grams of milk daily that had been allocated.
  6. TVs and radios on which to watch the news and entertain the inmates have been restricted.
  7. Pillows, mattress and bed-sheets were not provided, and were instead appropriated by jail officers claiming that the government could not afford to provide them.
  8. Lightbulb, fans and other electrical products were are restricted and inmates are in pitch darkness at night.

The petition also claimed that the prison still contains inmates convicted for actions which are not crimes under the current constitution, such as several who participated in an anti-government riot in 2003.

On May 13, families of inmates claimed the jail was “in chaos”, with neither the inmates nor jail officers reportedly in charge.

A person familiar with Maafushi jail told Minivan News that the situation was deteriorating daily due to unfulfilled pledges the government made to inmates, and that fights between inmates and jail officers was a daily occurrence.

“Inmates in the cells are demanding fulfillment of the pledges President Mohamed Nasheed made, and the jail officers claim they do not have the budget or power they demand.”

Moreover, he said, inmates were claiming that their parents and family had voted for President Nasheed because of the pledges he made during the presidential elections.

”They claim that half of Nasheed’s votes came from inmates’ families, who voted for the pledge that they will give parole and clemency to inmates,” he said.

Shortly after the new government came to power, Special Envoy to the President Ibrahim Hussein Zaki visited the jail.

”He came and told all the inmates to think that they all were free now,” he said. ”He said that within weeks everyone will be free.”

He added that inmates were very happy about the news but “after days there was no sign of them and inmates became disheartened.”

In protest, inmates staged a hunger strike in December 2008.

”The State Minister [for Home Affairs, Ahmed Shafeeq] visited the inmates, bringing a document signed by the president and told everyone to calm down,” he said. “Then again our families, kids and spouses were happy with the news.”

In October, rioting inmates set Maafushi jail on fire, resulting in violent clashes between inmates and prison guards.

”All the inmates were divided into the damaged cells without even cleaning the place,” he said.

On April 20,inmates in Maafushi jail were badly beaten by jail officers in a prison riot on Sunday morning at around 12:15 am, after they were allegedly asked to go out to the prison yard and kneel on the ground.

A person familiar with the case told Minivan News that the riot was sparked when jail officers entered Unit 7 while everyone was sleeping.


MDP to hold ‘national protest’ against corruption

The ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has announced it will conduct a special protest today to eliminate corruption and bring “justice and balance” to the Maldives.

Spokesperson for the MDP, Ibrahim Haleem, said the party called on the “whole nation to take part in this protest”, but did not encourage any more people living in the islands to come over to Male’.

”A lot of people from the islands have arrived Male’ to participate in this event,” said Haleem. ”We are expecting at least 10,000 to participate in this protest.”

Haleem said the protest was to “eliminate corruption and to establish justice in the country.”

”MDP has made more than 27 pledges to the people of the Maldives. One of them is to eliminate corruption from the country and to establish justice and peace,” Haleem said. ”Today we will erase the civil unrest caused to the country due to the disgusting act of corruption and bribery for eternity.”

Jumhoree Party (JP) leader Gasim Ibrahim and People’s Alliance (PA) leader Abdulla Yameen, both high-profile businessmen, were recently taken into police custody on charges of corruption and treason. Deputy Speaker Ahmed Nazim was also taken into custody.

On Sunday the Supreme Court ruled the pair be released from custody, as evidence against them was deemed insufficient. The major opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) denounced the arrests as political at a rally held Tuesday night, where it promised to deliver a “shocking message” to the government.

Today Haleem said protesters will call on judges “to judge fairly and to be impartial.”

”Judges should remember that they also shall work according to the laws, and the protesters will call on the judges to bring justice and peace to our country,” he said. ”We do not have any personal issues against any individual judge.”

He said the protest would start in front of the social centre at 4:00pm, “and God knows when or where we will conclude.”

”Our acts will be strong and voices will be loud today,” he suggested.


Opposition joint coalition will deliver “shocking message” to government

The Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) has announced it will hold a “special protest” this evening together with coalition partners, to deliver “a shocking message” to the government.

Ali Solih, DRP Media Coordinator, said that the protest would be held at the Artificial Beach tonight and that the leaders of the four opposition parties will be present at the protest.

”Leader of People’s Alliance (PA) , leader of Dhivehi Qaumy Party (DQP), leader of Jumhooree Party (JP) and leader of the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) will address the people at tonight’s protest,” said Solih, ”and they will deliver a shocking message to the government.”

JP leader Gasim Ibrahim and PA leader Abdulla Yameen, both high-profile businessmen, were recently accused by the government of vote buying and treason. However Supreme Court has since ruled that their arrest was unconstitutional, after a panel of five judges decided that there was not enough evidence to keep them under house arrest.

Solih claimed the protest would show the government “the unity of the opposition coalition.”

”Due to the weather, not many islanders will be able to participate in this protest,” he said, ”but it will be a mass protest.”

Solih said that the party had requested the municipality council provide a ground for it to hold meetings, but that the council had not given an appropriate answer.

Deputy Leader of the DRP, Umar Naseer, said tonight’s gathering would not be a protest “but a rally where the leaders of four parties will address to the people.”

”It will start at 8:45pm,” he said. ”This rally is to let the government know that they have failed and that they should resign now.”

He said that the rally was “not scheduled to turn into a protest.”

On May 13, DRP held a protest against hiked electricity tariffs, titled ‘Red Notice’. The protest was dispersed by riot police outside the State Electricity Company (STELCO) building, and several DRP MPs, protesters and police were injured in the scuffle.