Today marks 79 years of Policing in the Maldives. Pity, that it has become so controversial an issue to appreciate.
A mistrust of the Maldivian police and security services has been ingrained in me for most of my life. I grew up with stories of arbitrary arrests, brutality in jails, and the concept that the police were not there to protect and serve my interests, but those of their immediate superiors. In fact, one of the fundamental things that I had to accept in 2008, after the country’s first multi-party Presidential election, was the idea that the Police were no longer ‘enemies’, or even the ‘golha-force’, but very much part of the apparatus of state that any government had to take into consideration. It wasn’t an easy task.
Controlling my body not to shudder at the sight of a blue camouflaged uniform and black ankle boots, and understanding that not every arrest the police made was arbitrary. Most of all learning to trust the police took time, commitment and a lot of stubbornness. Maybe that sense of apprehension and mistrust went both ways.
No doubt, the prospect of a MDP government would have filled most senior police officers with a high sense of foreboding. After all, these were the very people that they had seen on the other side of an investigation table, inside a jail cell and on the street loudly confronting them at every given opportunity. Let’s not take lightly the extent to which the police were a political tool of Maumoon’s authoritarian regime, and as a result, that they were very much a product of the democratic reform process in the Maldives at that time.
The Maldives Police Service was created in September 2004. Mostly out of the need to placate the international community, and to perform a PR exercise after the human rights debacle that was 12/13 August 2004.
Instead of policing duties being conducted by the National Security Service or the Army, we got the Maldives Police Service and the Maldives National Defence Force. Basically – blue and green uniforms. Two hastily divided institutions plunged into a fast-changing political environment to which they were inextricably tied. Millions were poured into the MPS – equipment, training, strategic action plans, philosophies of policing and of course, new blue uniforms. Unfortunately, it seems that most of the training went into how to use new equipment rather than how to Police within new democratic laws. Of course, Adam Zahir being at the helm was never going to help. Neither did the Hussain Solah incident, especially after Evan Naseem.
Nonetheless, the MPS emerged as an institution with heavy amounts of funding, a select group of highly educated officers, very young, not always disciplined recruits and a top brass that was intent on maintaining the status quo. Many in the top brass had spent years in the NSS, looked up to individuals like Adam Zahir as father figures and in some cases, had managed to log quite a few ‘favours’ through the Maumoon regime and therefore were heavily indebted. Add to this the ‘Star Force’, the frontline of an authoritarian defence whose very existence and modus operandi depended on the long leash of their superiors and government.
During the establishment of the MPS, human rights discourse, although in the Maldivian mainstream and a significant facet of the MPS PR machine, had not and it now seems has not filtered through to the officer on the street. The MDP government due to their personal histories of being victims of human rights violations and their voicing out against police brutality faced greater pressure to ensure that these incidents did not take place under their watch.
Political prisoners were no longer an issue, but it would be unfair to say that maltreatment of detainees in jails completely disappeared. We could say it lessened significantly and that it was no longer systematic. There was definitely more oversight, with the Human Rights Commission and the Police Integrity Commission, but it was still a work in progress. A work in progress, which was focusing on issues such as the reduction of drugs, terrorism, gang violence and theft rather than simply on political protests.
Yes, the whole institution still unnecessarily stuttered at the sight of a protest, but there was more to the ‘Protect and Serve’ during the last three years than ever before. I suppose however, that ‘works in progress’ – especially in an infant democracy – are vulnerable, and leadership was not always forthcoming.
The extent of its vulnerability and the ability to which outside forces with vested interests managed to manipulate the disenchanted and politicised officers on the inside was evident on 7 February 2012. As a result, I find myself asking, ‘now what?’
Now that the police have played such an inexplicably outrageous role in engineering a coup and bringing down the country’s first democratically elected government – who are they protecting and serving now?
It cannot be the Maldivian people. No matter which side of the political spectrum you fall, however much you hate Anni and the MDP, I cannot imagine that many people genuinely condone the actions of the police on 6-8 Feb. Unless you’re vicious Visam (MP) of course!
I for one condemn it with every fibre of my being. I don’t believe that all police officers participated or even supported the actions of the mutinying officers on the 6th night. Many went along out of an ill-begotten sense of camaraderie to their fellow officers who they believed would have been arrested by the MNDF. As they should have been – nothing justifies a coup. Especially the very politicised actions that preceded it.
I understand that many officers who don’t accept this new situation can’t just up and leave, be it because of a need to provide for their families or a sense of duty to an institution that they have helped develop, but it is difficult to remember this when faced with footage of the carnage that was February 8 and the stories that have followed since.
The re-emergence of individuals like [Police Commissioner] Abdulla Riyaz is frightening. He may have undergone a course in customer needs and conducting business through social media, but the nature of the man remains the same: brutal. Unapologetically so.
As such, the use of force although granted to policemen by law, seems again far too easy a whim for officers to use rather than a measure to be taken in the gravest of circumstances. The fact that they have to be accountable to their actions, that they must provide a greater example, is non-existent. That Abdulla Riyaz is surrounded by deputies who seem to either share his beliefs or are willing to silently submit to it is scary, that his superiors are opportunistic nitwits like Jameel and FA is even more chill inducing, and most of all that the Police Integrity Commission is powerless, is incredibly frightening.
So, how do I feel about the police now? Scared. Infuriated. Frustrated. And heartbreakingly disappointed. On the 79th anniversary of Policing in the Maldives, I do not wish Police Officers hearty congratulations. Instead, I wish for them a sense of responsibility and understanding of their role in the disruption of a democratic state. I continue to wish that action will be taken against officers who so blatantly violated the police act and abused unarmed citizens. I call for somebody to be held accountable for the actions of Police officers on February 8, I call for a re-evaluation of the need of the ‘Special Operations’ Unit, and I call for the resignations of Abdulla Riyaz, Hussain Waheed, Abdulla Phairoosh, FA and Jameel. And I call for an early election.
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