Trial begins for eight suspects accused of assaulting police officer

The trial of eight suspects accused of assaulting a police officer during a mass anti-government protest on May 1 began today.

Scores of protesters and some police officers were injured during violent clashes on the night of May 1. Video footage shows protesters tripping and kicking a Specialist Operations (SO) officer and one man hitting the policeman over the head with his baton.

The seven male suspects and one female suspect were charged with assault. At the first hearing of the trial at the criminal court today, the presiding judge reportedly gave the defendants three days to appoint lawyers.

Sergeant Abdul Rahman Hussain had been flown to Sri Lanka for medical treatment after the assault while the police publicised video footage of the incident and appealed for public assistance in locating suspects.

The police forwarded cases against 15 suspects for prosecution in late May.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party had meanwhile accused police of torturing and threatening to kill three suspects arrested for assaulting the police officer.

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Police accused of false testimony against May Day detainees

First came a deafening shot. Then, police in riot gear charged into the crowd, shoving and pushing protesters back. But Hamid Shafeeu and his friends did not run. They were arrested in front of Minivan News journalists. Now a police officer has sworn Hamid threw bottles and stones at the riot police.

Some 193 protesters were arrested on May 1 when violent clashes broke out after a historic antigovernment protest. Scores were injured.

Protesters threw glass and plastic bottles, lead balls and rocks. Police used tear gas, pepper spray, stun grenades and made indiscriminate arrests.

The next day, the criminal court granted a blanket 15-day remand for 173 of the 193 detainees.

Hamid was held in police custody for 15 days in cramped conditions, and then transferred to house arrest for five days. He was released only today.

The high court, relying on police statements, previously rejected an appeal contesting the detention.

The 39-year-old businessman says he believes police are providing false testimony to jail him because of his vocal criticism of the government on Twitter.

Many others who were arrested at random or arrested for simply going to the protest now say police officers have accused them of assault.

The initial charges of disobedience to order carries a MVR3000 fine or six months in jail or house arrest or banishment, but attacking a police officer carries a MVR12, 000 fine and six months in jail.

It is not yet clear if the prosecutor general will file charges.

A police spokesperson has denied allegations of false testimony, but lawyers who have represented individuals arrested from past protests say the police routinely lie to keep dissidents in custody. Others have supported the claim, with the former chair of the police integrity watchdog saying several officers lied in the investigation into the transfer of power in February 7, 2012, and the brutal crackdown on protesters the next day.

A former policeman, meanwhile, said false testimony is indicative of the politicization of the force and the impunity riot police hold as very few are penalized for unlawful activities.

SO

Testifying before a Commonwealth backed inquiry into the 2012 transfer of power, ex-police chief Ahmed Faseeh described the riot police’s tactics in controlling protests: “Their language was filthy, their vocabulary was obscene. If they got hold of someone, they hit them.”

The riot police, known as Specialist Operations or SO officers, were created by former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom to quell pro-democracy protests in the mid 2000s. The hostility between SO officers and protesters continues to this day.

May Day detainees have reported verbal and physical abuse, while several individuals arrested on suspicion of assaulting a police officer on May Day said police cheered on as others beat them at the headquarters and threatened to kill them.

The police, however, have denied brutality and urged any victims to file complaints with oversight bodies.

Blogger Yameen Rasheed’s arrest was caught on camera. He was picked up on Chaandhanee Magu with several others at about 9pm, but the police are now accused him of throwing rocks and have placed him under house arrest. Yameen says he was walking to the Somerset Hotel in the area to meet a foreign journalist at the time of his arrest. The Indian reporter corroborates Yameen’s account.

Ahmed Naeem, a 25-year-old political science student, was arrested when he reportedly stepped in front of a police van. Of the 193 detainees, he is the only one remaining in police custody.

Lawyers say the police are now accusing him of breaking the van’s windows. According to his cellmates, police beat Ahmed severely at the time of his arrest, and his face was bruised and swollen for days.

Judges can only hold people in custody if further interrogation is needed, or if they are a danger to society, or if they may influence witnesses.

But lawyers claims judges remand dissidents for long periods of time to intimidate and harass them. The criminal court often holds protesters in custody for lengthier periods than those arrested for violent crimes, including murder, they said.

Lawyer Abdulla Haseen, who represented a close aide of ex-president Nasheed following her arrest from a protest in July 2012, said the police claimed in court that they had witnessed her throwing rocks. But Shauna Aminath’s arrest, which was broadcast live on television, showed the police drag her away without any provocation.

“An individual can be held in remand for a month, two months. Judges must verify and check police’s claims before approving long remands. Who will bear responsibility for all those lost weeks?” Haseen said.

Politicized

The ex chair of the police integrity commission (PIC), Shahindha Ismail, said police officers had provided strikingly similar statements to the commission’s investigation into the February 8, 2012 crackdown “with the same phrases and words as if they were reading from a pre-prepared document.”

Although four of the five members of the then-PIC ruled police actions on February 8 as lawful, Shahindha said officers had “targeted attacks to cause immense harm to specific individuals.”

She said the squad must be disbanded and punished for unlawful behavior. She urged judges to verify police claims with photos and videos or statements by unbiased witnesses before approving requests for lengthy detentions.

In October, SO officers were accused of cutting down all of Malé City’s Areca palms. In January, they were accused of planting weapons at the ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim’s apartment. The retired colonel was sentenced to 11 years in prison based on anonymized witness statements, which Nazim’s lawyers argue, were fabricated.

The prosecutor general’s office said it has not received complaints of false testimony by police or noticed any attempts at framing individuals.

Meanwhile, noting the role SO officers played in ex-president Mohamed Nasheed’s ouster, a former senior police officer said the squad was politically biased and “enjoy complete impunity, now to the point they feel they can do whatever they want.”

He, too, supported disbanding the SO, saying they regard routine police work as outside their duties. Faseeh had said the same in his statement.

The ex-officer said maintaining public order or riot control must be integrated into regular policing: “That way officers get to work together with people every day and will be more sensitive towards rights,” he said.

Photo by Shaari

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Three arrested with ten machetes in Malé

Police arrested three young men and confiscated ten machetes at 3:45am in Malé City’s Henveiru Ward last night.

According to a police statement, Specialist Operations (SO) Officers patrolling the area stopped the young men when they noticed suspicious behavior. The machetes were found nearby.

The three young men included two 19-year-olds and a 15-year-old minor.

The two 19-year-olds had been stopped and searched on numerous occasions previously, the police said.

Street violence is common amongst Malé City’s numerous gangs. On Sunday, a 25-year-old Bangladeshi worker was stabbed to death in the early hours of the morning in Mafaannu Ward.

On February 22, a 24-year-old was stabbed to death outside his home in Malé.

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Police have completed 21,169 investigations in past 12 months

The Maldives Police Services (MPS) has said that over 21,169 cases have been investigated since November 2013, with 3,256 cases submitted to the Prosecutor General (PG)’s Office.

Spokesperson to the Commissioner of Police Superintendent Ahmed Shifan said that the service was doing all it can to ensure the protection of the public and establishing peace in the country.

It was also revealed that 257 complaints has been received this year, with 187 now being investigated. Disciplinary action has followed against 115 officers,with a further 23 being terminated from service.

“We have been working ceaselessly in implementing and upholding law and order in the country by investigating and submitting evidence to the courts” said Shifan.

Despite President Abdulla Yameen talking tough on crime, violent crime has persisted this year with a number of notable incidents – including the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan in August – remaining unresolved.

Since the 28-year-old’s presumed abduction 116 days ago, members of his family have suggested the police were using statistics to mask a failure to make real progress in the search

Shifan today outlined the importance of the police’s strategic plan for 2014- 2018 which aims to make the police force more accountable, encourage public participation in police work, and increase the operational capabilities of the force.

He pointed out that there were 77 police stations in the atolls, with 10 having come into operation this year. He also noted that traffic police are now in operation in Addu City and Haa Dhaalu Kulhudhuhfushi.

The MPS has introduced a tourist police department aimed at “ensuring the protection of tourists while they are in the Maldives in order to increase tourist confidence in the country therefore boosting toursm”, police media reported today.

Commissioner of Police Hussain Waheed earlier this week suggested that were not only aiming to solve and combat crimes, but also to develop a responsible youth through the ‘Blues for Youth’ camps introduced this year.

Celebrating twelve months in office last month, President Abdulla Yameen said that peace in Malé had been obtained, barring “isolated and significant dangerous crimes”.

The opposition has suggested, however, that insecurity is on the increase as numerous gang-related stabbings have resulted in three deaths so far this year. Additionally, reported politically-motivated abductions have continued, with well-known criminal elements implicated.

The lack of progress into the investigation Rilwan’s disappearance has prompted two separate cases to be filed at the Police Integrity Commission suggesting police negligence in the investigation.

Additionally, the MPS has also been accused of participation in serious crimes with three police officers being arrested in drug busts and allegations of Special Operations (SO) officers cutting down all of Malé City’s areca palm trees.

Waheed has denied the involvement of SO officers in the areca palm incident, while he has suggested that interference from the media and friends and family of Rilwan had contributed to the police’s failure to make significant progress.



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Commissioner says arrests made on night of areca palm vandalism unrelated

Commissioner of Police Hussain Waheed says the arrests made on the night of the areca palm tree felling are unrelated to the case, and that the Maldives Police Service (MPS) is working ceaselessly to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Speaking at a press conference held at MPS Iskandhar Koshi, Waheed also said various allegations made by different people accusing MPS of involvement in the vandalism are baseless and that that it is trying its best to clear itself from such allegations.

In response to a question as to who the people detained are, Waheed replied by saying that MPS knows who was detained and that these people were involved in a wholly unrelated incident.

Yesterday (October 28), former President Mohamed Nasheed submitted details of police officers he believed to behind the vandalism to the Malé City Council after it had requested the public to submit any information.

“How can people who were sleeping at the time of crime know what the names of the perpetrators were even when the police officers on scene did not take their details?” said Waheed in response to Nasheed’s information.

Nasheed had alleged that two men were arrested by Maafannu police at around 3am following the incident before a senior official from the Special Operations (SO) unit arrived and demanded the arrested men to be put into an SO vehicle.

Two officers from Maafannu Police followed the SO vehicle after the arrested men were handed over, only to find that the vehicle entered Iskandhar Koshi police headquarters, explained the former president.

Nasheed also accused one high ranking police official of revising a statement put forward by a Maafannu Police officer at the scene that night, cutting down a two-page statements to half a page and instructing other officers at the station to not speak about the incident.

“Measures would be taken against the people who make false allegations about the MPS which does hard work in order to ensure the protection and the well-being of the community,” warned Waheed.

Minister of Home Affairs Umar Naseer revealed in a tweet yesterday that he had received Nasheed’s report.

“This govt will NOT ask Police/MNDF to carryout anything unlawful,” wrote Naseer.

The home minister has also instructed all police executives to assist the Police Integrity Commission it any investigation.

A police media official confirmed Minivan News yesterday that a professional standards investigation is being carried out after the increasing prevalence of reports of police involvement in the incident.

MDP Malé MPs voiced their concerns to the media over the increase of crimes in the capital and accused the government of “state sponsored terrorism” in its refusal to take adequate actions for the crimes happening in Malé.

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Police search six houses as part of special operation conducted in Addu

Police have searched six houses on Hithadhoo in Addu City as part of a special operation conducted by the police Special Operations (SO) team based in Addu for elections security.

A police spokesperson would not confirm whether anybody was arrested during the raids.

However, Police South Division Commander, Chief Inspector Ahmed Shifan, told local news outlet Sun Online that police had confiscated hard disks and related items from some of the houses.

Shifan also told the paper that the houses were searched in bid to clarify certain information required for a case police were investigating, and that all the houses were searched after obtaining a court warrant.

He declined to provide further information.

Police had previously searched the premises of a house owned by a senior activist of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) on the island of Kulhudhufushi in Haa Dhaalu Atoll, who was arrested on allegations that he had printed ballot papers. Police also confiscated the internal hard disk of his computer.

An island council source on Kulhudhufushi at the time told Minivan News that the party was alleged to have printed oversize, laminated versions of the ballot paper to demonstrate to people how to vote.

The MDP issued a statement saying the party had sent a letter to Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz asking him to return the hard disk back to the MDP, as it contained important material related to the MDP presidential election campaign.

On June 24, police decided to station Special Operations (SO) officers in Addu to work with the Thinadhoo police station and establish “peace and security” for the election.

On February 7, 2012, SO officers among others instigated a violent mutiny, assaulted government supporters, ransacked the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Haruge (meeting hall), staged a protest at the Republic Square demanding the resignation of then-President Mohamed Nasheed, clashed with soldiers and stormed the national broadcaster in the hours immediately preceding Nasheed’s controversial resignation.

Moreover, on February 8, 2012 SO officers brutally beat supporters of the deposed MDP during a heavy-handed crackdown of a protest march led by Nasheed, who had announced that his resignation the previous day was made “under duress.”

Mayor of Addu City Abdulla ‘Soabe’ Sodiq did not respond to Minivan News at time of press.

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