Civil Court declares former police intelligence director’s arrest unlawful

The Civil Court has declared the Maldives Police Services’ arrest of former Director of Police Intelligence Sabra Noordeen on 16 March 2013 unlawful, unwarranted, and an ‘abuse of power’.

The court has also ordered the police to erase the record of the arrest and to issue a written apology.

Speaking to Minivan News today, Sabra said she had filed the case “because I wanted to set a legal precedent which would make the Police think about the wider rights and responsibilities they have to uphold before they exercise their powers.”

The police arrested Sabra upon her arrival at Malé International Airport on 16 March 2013 on the charge of “inciting violence” against a police officer on 5 March 2013 during the arrest of President Mohamed Nasheed. The police also confiscated her passport.

She was then handcuffed in order to be transferred to Dhoonidhoo prison. However, the police took her to Malé instead, and released her after issuing a summons to appear at the police station at a later date for questioning.

Sabra first appealed the Criminal Court warrant at the High Court and asked for compensation for damages. In August 2013, the High Court ruled the warrant valid, but said that Sabra should seek compensation at the Civil Court.

In yesterday’s verdict, the Civil Court noted the Criminal Court had not ordered the police to arrest Sabra, but had provided a warrant authorising her arrest upon the police’s request.

The court said she could only be arrested under such a warrant if there was “a necessity for her arrest”,  and if such a necessity ceases to exist, she should not be arrested “even if the warrant has not expired”.

The Civil Court noted that the High Court judges had deemed Sabra’s quick release on the day of her arrest to have been an indication of the lack of necessity for her arrest.

The Civil Court has also warned that the police’s abuse of power defeats the purpose for which the institution was founded, and would create doubt and fear about the the institution.

The verdict declared that Sabra’s arrest violated her right to protect her reputation and good name as guaranteed by Article 33 of the constitution, and the right to fair administrative action guaranteed by Article 43. The court also found that the police had acted against their primary objectives underlined in Article 244.

Following her arrest in March 2013, Sabra called for police reform in order for the institution to regain public confidence – including the dissolution of Special Operations unit and holding police officers accountable for misconduct and brutality.

“I quit the Maldives Police Service on 8 February 2012 with a profound sense of sadness for the institution and the colleagues I left behind. I do not believe that everyone in the MPS was involved in the mutiny or the coup and I do not believe in blaming everyone in a police uniform,” she wrote in an article detailing the events of her arrest.

Previously, the Criminal Court had declared the police’s arrest of incumbent Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed and the arrest of Ghassaan Maumoon, son of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, as unlawful.

In 2010, the Civil Court also declared the Maldives National Defense Force’s “protective custody” of current President Abdulla Yameen as unconstitutional, while the Supreme Court ordered the immediate release of both Yameen and Gasim Ibrahim (both members of parliament at the time).

Accusations of brutality and misconduct by MPS officers are common and have been confirmed by various independent state institutions. Among them are the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) that looked in to the controversial power transfer of February 2012 and two constitutionally prescribed independent institutions – the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives and the Police Integrity Commission.


Comment: “Unprofessional police action” will not turn the tide of public resentment

Former Director of Police Intelligence Sabra Noordeen was arrested yesterday (March 16) upon arriving at Male’ International Airport. She was handcuffed for transportation to Dhonidhoo prison on charges of “inciting violence” against police officers on March 5 this year.

She was then taken to Male’ instead, and released “with no reason given at the time”. Her passport was confiscated. Here she shares her experience and concerns about “intimidation” of members of the public by the Maldives Police Service.

I arrived in Male’ at 9.35pm last night. I made my way to immigration and was glad to see a familiar face behind the counter, an immigration officer who I’d played football with occasionally. I handed over my passport for her to process and she scanned it through.

“I’ve been asked to stop you, it says I have to stop you,” she said to me.

“You’re joking,” I responded. With the recent political upheaval in the country.  I thought she was making fun of me.

She was in fact very serious. Another immigration officer came over, and responded to me about why I was being stopped and which watch list they were referring to. He said they had to confiscate my passport due to a court order, and that it was the Maldives Police Service’s request. He told me I could collect my bag and return to the counter.

It was then that I contacted my family about what was happening. I had been on the same flight as three lawyers and the head of [private broadcaster] Raajje TV. I requested their assistance from the arrivals terminal, and they immediately joined me at the counter, with the immigration officer and a police officer who was on duty at the airport.

The police officer said I had to accompany him to the Tourist Police station at the airport. At the station, they only had a court order to hold my passport. As we were getting ready to leave the station, we were told that a court order for my arrest was on the way, and we were asked to sit down.

When I was given the court order for my arrest, I think I laughed. The reason for the arrest was “inciting violence against the police and obstructing police duty”, on March 5 on Majeedee Magu.

They had also managed to incorrectly state my gender as male!

This very thorough court order was issued based on the evidence of a Police eyewitness and a Police officer’s statement.

I was told that female officers from Male’ were on their way to the airport to arrest me and escort me to Dhoonidhoo detention centre. We waited for 45 minutes. Despite the ‘change in leadership’ at the MPS, it seemed there were still only two functioning speedboats in Male’ atoll.

Two female Special Operations officers arrived in blue camouflage uniforms – both were without name tags.

I was handcuffed and made to walk through the airport to the jetty where the Police vessel was yet to arrive.

My loyalty to the institution that is the Maldives Police Service is hard to get rid of.  This is despite the direction that rogue officers forcefully took the institution in with the Police-led mutiny and coup d’etat on 7, February 2012.

One of the officers told me that it was procedure to be handcuffed while on the vessel on the way to Dhoonidhoo. I protested, trying to remember the procedures I had read while working in MPS.

They did not uncuff me, even when they put on the life jacket, which resulted in the life jacket not being fitted properly.

It was placed around my shoulders with the handcuffed arms awkwardly placed in one of the sleeves. I said to her, ‘if something happens, there’s no way I’ll survive like this’.

“We’ll save you,” the female officer replied.

Needless to say, I was not reassured.  On the boat, I was told that I was now being taken to MPS HQ in Male’ instead of Dhoonidhoo and that they were apparently going to release me. There was no reason given at the time.

I was taken into the waiting room in HQ. I was uncuffed, and asked to wait until my release chit and summons for questioning were prepared.

My release chit stated, that they no longer believed I needed to be kept under arrest. My summons to appear for questioning on Monday afternoon was also handed over to me.

I asked why they felt it was necessary to arrest and handcuff me when they could have just served me the summons, without all the dramatics the next morning at my home. I was not given an answer.

I quit the Maldives Police Service on 8 February 2012 with a profound sense of sadness for the institution and the colleagues I left behind. I do not believe that everyone in the MPS was involved in the mutiny or the coup and I do not believe in blaming everyone in a Police uniform. Many will disagree with me.

However, I do believe that MPS cannot fully gain the confidence of the public they claim to ‘protect and serve’, nor guarantee free and fair Presidential elections without significant reform.

This includes the dissolution of the Special Operations (SO) unit, holding all police officers accused of committing acts of police brutality and misconduct accountable for their actions. The removal of Commissioner of Police Abdulla Riyaz, Deputy Commissioner of Police Hussain Waheed, Assistant Commissioner of Police Abdulla Phairoosch and many other Commissioned officers who have disgraced the service is also needed right now.

Until then, unprofessional police action carried out purely for the purposes of intimidating members of the public that the political and politicised leadership of MPS feel threatened by is not going to turn the tide of public resentment against the police.

Sabra Noordeen was former Director of Police Intelligence during the Nasheed administration

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