Maldives failing to uphold international human rights obligations: Forum Asia

The Maldives has failed to uphold its obligations to core international human rights treaties related to freedom of expression, assembly and association, the regional NGO Forum Asia has concluded.

The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (Forum Asia) – a regional human rights NGO with 47 member organisations from 16 Asian countries – evaluated the promotion and protection of these core human rights in the Maldives in regard to September’s presidential elections during their recent mission to the Maldives.

Forum Asia noted the “shortcomings in the laws relating to freedom of assembly”, particularly relating to the “shrinking space” for the exercise of the right to assemble as well as the right of all workers to associate and assemble, during their press conference held Saturday (June 22).

Reports of security forces engaging in excessive use of force to prevent and disburse assemblies, also “concerned” the Forum Asia mission.

Security personnel were urged to exercise restraint and refrain from using excessive force, irritants, or dyes on assemblies, while the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) has been asked to closely monitor and prevent such situations, said Forum Asia.

“We hope that the PIC and the security forces will work together to ensure they are able to resort to reasonable and internationally accepted means while engaging with assemblies,” said Forum Asia’s South Asian Programme Officer Gayatri Khandhadai. “Similarly we hope that all protesters also resort to peaceful and democratic means while exercising their right to assembly.”

“We are particularly also worried about the restrictions placed on journalists covering these protests,” she added.

Khandhadai highlighted that it is unrealistic for journalists to seek accreditation for different types of events – protests, cultural events, etc – given the time and energy involved in the registration process.

“Media is the platform that brings information to the people, so media must have free access. we have requested to amend the laws on the basis of practicality because Maldives also belongs to the civilized world of the 21st century,” said Forum Asia Chairperson Subodh Raj Pyakurel.

“It may be legal to put some kind of regulation and restriction process etc, but this is not legitimate, because one journalist can go anywhere, anywhere, informally,” he noted.

Forum Asia also identified “difficulties faced by the various associations”, including NGOs, professional associations, trade unions, community based organisations, and political parties, in the Maldives attributed to “unclear regulations, especially relating to registration.”

Human rights perspective needed

The limitations codified in the ‘Freedom of Peaceful Assembly Act’ “must be amended to meet constitutional guarantees and international norms”, the organisation stated.

“There has to be a method – on paper and in practice – for what are the different peaceful engagements you have to have with the crowds,” said Khandhadai.

“These rights are particularly important to ensure ahead of elections” and to guarantee peaceful and inclusive elections occur, she added.

The Government of Maldives was also compelled to implement recommendations made by the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) and PIC.

Additionally, political parties were requested to “adopt a human rights perspective and formally include the promotion of human rights in their official agendas and manifestos prior to elections”.

The Forum Asia mission also “implored the Maldives’ government, judiciary, legislature, independent commissions and media to develop and strengthen their engagement with civil society organisations, which are essential for a healthy democracy”.

Meanwhile, civil society and human rights defenders within the Maldives were encouraged to unite in solidarity and engage with the state to promote a culture of human rights in the country, said Forum Asia.

Use of force disastrous

Having less than 10 percent of Male’ available for protests is “quite a worrisome issue”, said Khandhadai.

Unprovoked actions against demonstrators have been seen in the Maldives and it is necessary to identify whether that use of force could have been avoided or not, as well as whether the crowd was posing a threat, noted Khandhadai.

“The points to be taken into consideration are what would have happened if that force was not used,” she explained. “If any other means could have been put in place to disperse that crowd, or even if that crowd needed to be disbursed to start with.”

“I’m particularly worried about the sanction of the use of irritants in a space like Male, which is particularly small… and shrinks the already small area where people can protest,” she continued.

Sanctioned or encouraged use of force within that small space “will become very, very difficult and disastrous even,” Khandhadai added. “The only solution is to promote a culture of peaceful engagement.”

Pyakurel echoed these sentiments and emphasised that holding democratic elections means maximising public mobilization.

“During the elections we always expect that each and every citizen has the opp to interact and understand,” he noted.

“People [protesting] become destructive only when they are restricted, if you don’t restrict them they don’t become destructive,” he continued.

“Discipline is a must but it should be regulated through a very concrete and specific law, not the will of the [police] officer – that creates a problem,” he added.


Protesters clash with security forces

Additional reporting by Mariyath Mohamed, Neil Merrett.

Thousands of supporters of former President Mohamed Nasheed marched through the streets of Male’ on Friday night, clashing with security forces until the early hours of the Saturday morning.

Minivan News observed a column of at least 5000 demonstrators marching through the city shortly before 10:00pm.  The demonstrators were accompanied by three pickup trucks playing party songs and a recorded speech by Nasheed.

The former President has been inside the Indian High Commission since Wednesday afternoon after he sought refuge from a court warrant ordering police to present him before the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court.

Nasheed and his party have maintained that the charges – of illegally detaining Chief Criminal Court Judge Abdulla Mohamed prior to his controversial resignation on February 7, 2012 – are a politically-motivated attempt to prevent him from contesting presidential elections scheduled for later this year.

Protesters reached the restricted area near President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik’s residence and were were blocked by a line of Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) officers.

Protesters shook a bus that had been parked in front of MNDF until the driver stepped out, and then pushed it through the MNDF lines. The protesters were were pushed back after the MNDF line formed up again.  At this point, demonstrators were witnessed throwing objects at the officers.

Special Operations riot police arrived on the scene from a side street, conducting a baton charge without warning. Minivan News heard one masked riot policeman yell at the MNDF line: “If you’re not going to hit anybody why don’t you just go home?”

Police conducted baton charges into the crowd and detained a number of people, including Nasheed’s representative on the Commission of National Inquiry (CoNI) Ahmed Saeed, former Home Minister Hassan Afeef, and former Defence Minister Ameen Faisal.

Police Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef confirmed 55 people were arrested including four women and one minor. Seven police were injured “severely”, he added.

At one stage, Minivan News heard a dozen discharges of what sounded like some kind of firearm, prompting a number of demonstrators to panic and disperse.

Riot police had been deployed with rubber bullet guns, however Haneef said these were not used.

“We responded with proportionate force given the situation,” he said.

Around 11:00pm on the road in front of the Salsa Royal restaurant, Minivan News observed a small group of supporters from a government-aligned political party urging police to “beat and kill” MDP supporters.

A female Minivan News journalist wearing press identification was hit on the back twice with a police baton, after the group called on police to “kill the Minivan bitch”.

As the protest escalated, senior MDP officials began leading protesters away from police lines. One group of women were yelling “We don’t want to go. We will die only once. We will fight.”

Minivan News observed one man on the ground, apparently unconscious.

Shortly before midnight, police used an irritant of some kind to disperse protesters, who were pushed back to the main street Majeedee Magu and regrouped at the southern end of the tourist strip.

Minivan News spoke to a resident of a nearby building, a woman in her early 60s, who said she had been sprayed directly in the face with pepper spray.  She  claimed that police had attempted to force their way into her house before she managed to close the door.

A middle-aged female relative of the woman from the same house told Minivan News, “She only panicked and tried to close the door when police attempt tried to barge in. I yelled at police to get out, and that they couldn’t just force their way into a private residence. Police then pepper-sprayed her while yelling ‘shut up, we can get in to any place we want’. They used much more vulgar language, of course.”

Shortly before midnight, the majority of the demonstrators who had gathered ahead of police lines on Chandhanee Magu moved back along the capital’s main strip of Majeedhee Magu to regroup and continue chants heckling the police and government.

Meanwhile, outside the Indian High Commission building at the centre of the week’s main political developments, there was near silence save for a small numbers of police at various checkpoints and groups of tourists making for their hotels.

The peace lasted for a few minutes until demonstrators began to arrive back on Sosun Magu on approach to the parliament building. Protesters began shining laser pointers at a small number of gathered officers guarding the street leading up to parliament, while a group of young men carried off police barricades and threatened some uniformed officers.

A small number of glass bottles and other missiles were thrown at police before riot officers reappeared and charged, pushing demonstrators and curious onlookers back up Sosun Magu. Minivan News observed a group of individuals hurling glass and bricks at officers in the build up to the baton charges.

Down an alleyway, Minivan News observed six or seven riot officers dragging a man on his back towards Sosun Magu before carrying him off to be arrested.

Protesters who had been forced back down the road were later observed by Minivan News returning to the area to collect their sandals, discarded when riot officers began baton charges to clear the area.

As the scene moved further down Sosun Magu, officers were heckled from balconies, many crowded with five or six people shouting at officers below.

Meanwhile, some residents, watching from their doorsteps on ground level were warned by police to remain in their buildings and avoid coming out onto the streets.

Protester hospitalised

At around 12:45am, a 32-year-old woman was admitted to ADK hospital after riot police arrested her in a side street from Orchid Magu.  The woman’s family alleged officers had hit her with batons on her neck and hands.

The girl was identified as Zeenath Zaki, the niece of former Home Minister Hassan Afeef who was arrested during the protests.

“At the moment she is okay, however doctors are keeping her in hospital while they carry out their investigation,” said the woman’s younger brother, Aalim Zaki.

Doctors had originally wanted to carry out a CT scan, however the woman had refused,” Aalim said.

“The ADK doctors have told us that once they conclude their investigation she will be discharged from hospital,” Aalim said.

Police Spokesperson Hassan Haneef said that the woman had been in the protest when police entered the crowd and that minimum force had been used to detain her.

“At the time, the situation was not like a normal protest. People were throwing stones at police officers and so we went by procedure and charged into the protest,” he said.

“At the time, we used minimum force. She was arrested and was shouting and crying before she became unconscious. At that point, we took her to ADK hospital,” Haneef said.

Haneef said allegations that police had put a substance into the woman’s mouth were “totally untrue”.

A small group of protesters including members of her family came to the ADK hospital shortly after she was admitted, as rumours spread that a protester had been seriously hurt.

Minivan News observed that a group of police Special Operation (SO) officers were also present.

Around 15 minutes later, a large group of male and female protesters came into the hospital and demanded to know what had happened to the woman.

Speaking to Minivan News, a member of family said that Zeenath had suffered an epileptic seizure while she was taken to police custody.

“She used to get fits when she was young. But she has not had a fit for a very long time after she took medication. But last night when she was in police custody, she had a fit. It is likely that the cause of the fit was due to police beatings,” the family member alleged.

Police response

In a statement, police claimed “groups of people led by members of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and supporters of President Nasheed have attempted to create unrest within the society both day and night. They have been attempting to create disorder and chaos amongst the society,” police stated.

“[This group] under the claim of freedom of expression and assembly have taken to the streets and are repeatedly seen indulging in unlawful activities, including throwing objects towards the police, forcing their way through police lines, obstructing police duty and inflicting damage on police property such as police barricades.

“It has also been noticed that some media outlets covering the protests are giving absolutely false information about police actions to public, thereby creating hatred and anger towards the police service. As the circumstances remain such, these protests cannot by any way be described as peaceful protests or protests carried out within the boundaries of the law,” the police statement concluded.

None of the demonstrators arrested had been released at time of press.

Sub-Inspector Haneef said “all allegations raised in the media concerning police using excessive force would be investigated internally.”

No officers were believed to have used excessive force at time of press, he said.

EU, Commonwealth issue statements

The UN, US, UK and now the EU and the Commonwealth have joined India in urging restraint on both sides, and “inclusive” elections in September.

Yesterday, EU High Representative Catherine Ashton said she was following the latest developments “with concern” and “called on all parties to refrain from actions or statements which are liable to inflame the political climate in the country.”

“I underline the urgent need to resume dialogue between the parties, so as to ensure that the presidential elections set for September 2013 are credible, transparent, inclusive and fully representative of the wishes of all Maldivians, and so that the reforms identified by the Commission of National Inquiry in August 2012 can be rapidly implemented,” she said in a statement.

The Commonwealth stated that Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma had contacted President Waheed and “stressed the national importance of inclusive and credible presidential elections.”

“This requires that chosen candidates of political parties are able to contest the elections freely on a level playing field,” the Commonwealth stated.

In response to the international statements, the Maldives’ Foreign Ministry issued a statement emphasising that the political situation remained “calm and normal”, “and does not warrant other countries and international organisations to issue statements characterising the situation in any other light.”

The Foreign Ministry insisted that the judiciary and prosecutor general were independent, and said the court case against Nasheed “would have thus proceeded, and be where it is today, even if Mr Nasheed remained as president.”

“The government also has full faith in the ability of the Independent Elections Commission to decide the eligibility of various candidates contesting the elections and in organising the electoral process in accordance with the Constitution and the laws of the Maldives,” the government added.

“Public statements by other countries and international organisations that favour a particular candidate are seen by the people of the Maldives as attempts to influence the outcome of the elections in the Maldives,” the ministry said.


Police play down political motivation for burglaries, dhoni fire

Politicians and public figures linked to both government-aligned parties and the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) have raised concerns about a spate of potentially politically motivated crimes, though police urge caution in drawing early conclusions.

Early this morning, the Maldivian National Defence Force (MNDF) confirmed that its fire team put out a blaze that badly damaged a dhoni based in the waters around Hulhumale’. The vessel has since been confirmed to belong to high-profile Jumhooee Party (JP) member Mohamed ‘Inthi’ Imthiyaz, who recently left the MDP.

Both the MNDF and the Maldives Police Service confirmed to Minivan News that they were currently investigating the cause of the blaze, stressing it was too early to tell if the incident was being treated as arson or an accident.

The fire, which saw a man hospitalised with severe burns, is the third incident involving prominent political figures to be investigated by police during the last three days.

Police have confirmed they are also looking into break-ins that occurred Saturday morning at offices belonging to Vice-President designate Waheed Deen and Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Interim Chairperson ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik. Both offices are based in the same building in the capital of Male’.

Police Spokesperson Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef said that forensic analysis of both these crime scenes and the dhoni fire were under way, but said that it was not yet possible to ascertain if there was any link between the incidents. Sub-Inspector Haneef added that findings from the cases would be cross referenced, but he did not wish to speculate if a common motivation existed between the incidents before ongoing investigations were concluded.

Dhoni fire

Addressing the dhoni fire today, vessel owner Mohamed Imthiyaz said that he was also unsure if his boat was destroyed intentionally or by an accidental fire.

However, Imthiyaz claimed that the blaze occurred after he had received threatening messages from alleged MDP supporters after making a public speech two days ago criticising the party. Imthiyaz was himself previously a member of the MDP before joining the JP, which is part of the coalition government of President Mohamed Waheed Hassan.

“I have received [SMS] threats from people I know are MDP supporters and I have passed on their numbers to police,” he added.

Imthiyaz said he believed that public figures needed to be “careful” about their security in the current political climate, particularly considering the potential involvement of organised crime in attacks and vandalism.

Heavy Load

A spokesperson for MDP MP Reeko Moosa Manik’s Heavy Load company was in no doubt that the enterprise had itself been the target of a political attack over the weekend.

The company’s headquarters, based in Male’s Jazeera building, was broken into early Saturday morning along with the offices of the Six Senses resort group and Vice President Deen’s Bandos Island Resort – all situated at the same address.

“[The break in] was definitely politically motivated. The intruders broke in to damage and vandalise equipment like computers that could have been taken for profit. They also wrote threats all over the walls of the office,” the Heavy Duty spokesperson said.

Following the break in at Heavy Load, local media reported yesterday that several messages were left for Moosa Manik across the office. These messages reportedly read, “Moosa, you may have escaped this time but you will be killed,” and “We will vote for you next time if you put some cash next time”.


A number of attacks and cases of vandalism against political figures has been making headlines recently.

Late last month, three former ministers who served in the government of former President Mohamed Nasheed were reportedly attacked along with their wives on the street’s of Male’, leading to condemnation of the crime by President Mohamed Waheed Hassan.

The president has also criticised MDP supporters on his Twitter account following reports of attacks on police officers and the car of Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz Hassan’s during the same month.

“Violence by Nasheed’s supporters keeps increasing,” the president wrote at the time.

The MDP itself moved to issue a statement following these incidents condemning attacks on police officers and calling for supporters to mantain peaceful protests against the government it alleges has come to power in a “coup d’etat” In February.

The offices of broadcaster Villa TV (VTV) were also heavily damaged in March during clashes between anti-government protesters and security forces .

VTV is owned by MP ‘Burma’ Gasim Ibrahim, the leader of the Jumhoory Party (JP) – part of Dr Waheed’s government coalition.


Security forces clear MDP protest camp area

After a morning of violence that has rocked the capital, tension is once again on the rise as large numbers of police have begun to clear out the surf point area of the city.

The area has been home to an MDP protest camp since the controversial resignation of former President Mohamed Nasheed last month.

Minivan News will be providing live updates as they happen.

Refresh this page for further updates as the day progresses.

Previous updates from throughout the day can be read here.

22:49 – Meeting has finally begun at MDP Haruge.

22:19 – MDP report that their meeting will take place at MDP Haruge after police blocked their efforts to meet elsewhere.

22:08 – MDP reports that police are preventing its supporters from approaching the Usfasgandu to the west of Dharubaaruge area.

21:50 – Approach to Dharubaaruge from north along Boduthakarufaanu Magu deserted as MDP supporters gather over at Usfasgandu.

20:21 – MDP announce on Twitter that they are to hold a meeting at 9:30pm at Usfasgandu behind Dharubaaruge, other reports say 9pm.

20:00 – MDP release a statement condemning the seizure of their camp saying, ” [Male’ City] Council has confirmed to MDP that the Maldives Police Service had not informed the Council of anything prior to them arriving/dismantling Justice Square.”

“In continuing this way, they are proving the public’s lack of confidence in the Police. We call on the Human Rights Commission, Elections Commission and the Police Integrity Commission to investigate this immediately,” said MDP Spokesman Hamid Abdul Ghafoor.

20:00 – Very few people remain at the western end of Dharubaaruge, the numbers have also declined on the northern side.

18:55 – Police have now set up barricades around the camp area to prevent entry to the site. Meanwhile, Haveeru has reported that security forces now claim to have discovered a cooking oil barrel containing a liquid substance that they believe smells like alcohol on the protest site.

18:40 – Police have been showing beer cans to local media that they have said were discovered at the MDP camp. Water canons have also been dispersed against protesters gathered near to Dharubaaruge at the other end of the camp.

18:32 – MDP MP Alham Fahmy is now outside the camp, which continues to be blockaded by security forces.

17:35 – Speaking to Minivan News, a police spokesperson was unable to confirm whether plastic bullets may have been used in certain situations to dismiss protesters during the day. The spokesperson said that police attempting to use “minimum force” where possible to control crowds.

“We have been using non-lethal weaponry,” said the spokesperson.

The claims come amidst media reports that tear gas has again been deployed at the Family Court area near to the former MDP camp.

17:20 – As police continue to dismantle the camp, local media are reporting that a bottle suspected of containing alcohol has been found along with hammers and wooden clubs. Haveeru has said that police are also asking for photos and videos that depict violence against public and private property as well as attacks on police personnel.

17:09 – MDP Spokesperson Imthiyaz Fahmy has claimed that the move reflects an ongoing reversal of human rights under the new government.

“The old days are back. They are violating freedoms of expression and association,” he told Minivan News. “They are now committing atrocities in daylight to intimidate the public.”

Fahmy said he was not surprise that security forces had been granted a court warrant to remove the camp. “The courts function as they want.”

17:04 – Police have cleared the MDP Camp area after Azima Shukoor told the press that the area belongs to the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) according to certain laws and claimed the Male’ City Council does not have authority to give the area to MDP.

Police also warned that they will use equal force against that which is used against them and warned everyone gathered to leave the area.

Media persons were also asked to leave the area, but they have later granted permission to stay.

16:55 – Haveeru has reported that security forces have been given a court warrant to proceed with dismantling the camp.

16:50 – Minivan News has witnessed security forces beginning to dismantle the camp, known among MDP supporters as “Justice Square.”

16:40 – Police confirm that they have made 64 arrests reportedly in connection to the violence that has taken place in the capital today.

16:40 – A police spokesperson told Minivan News that the decision to clear the area by MNDF and police officials was taken in response to the violence that engulfed the city this morning.

“All of the unlawful acts that are taking place across the city have been planned in this place,” the spokesperson claimed.