‘Peace offering’ met with pepper spray and arrests

Three activists were arrested from a youth-led opposition protest march yesterday after making a “peace offering” of white roses to riot police.

Specialist Operations (SO) police officers blocked the march at Orchid Magu, issued warnings of dispersal by force, and used pepper spray against protesters after the roses were laid at their feet, Mohamed Azmeel, president of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) youth wing, told Minivan News today.

“White roses are used everywhere in the world as a peace offering. A group of youth offered white roses to police to show that we are peaceful. But they didn’t accept and pepper sprayed us,” he said.

He noted that the three activists taken into custody were among the group that offered roses to police.

The protest march dubbed ‘Heylaa’ (Wake Up) was organised by youth activists of the opposition alliance, made up of the MDP, the religious conservative Adhaalath Party, and the Jumhooree Party, with the aim of “bringing an end to brutality”.

The alliance has been staging nightly protests in Malé against what they call the government’s persecution of opposition political leaders. Former president Mohamed Nasheed and ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim were sentenced last month to 13 years and 11 years in jail, respectively, on terrorism and weapon smuggling charges.

At least 140 protesters have been arrested since February. The MDP has previously accused SO officers of instigating a “coup d’etat” in February 2012 that led to then-president Nasheed’s resignation and of using excessive force against protesters.

The MDP youth wing has said protesters wore white t-shirts yesterday to “symbolise peace and friendship” while the white roses were offered to show that protesters were not seeking a violent confrontation.

Azmeel said he did not understand why police had to use pepper spray or make arrests as protesters did not attempt to break police lines.

He noted that police had not put up barricades on Orchid Magu.

A police media official said the three men were arrested for “disobeying orders” and “obstructing police duty.”

One protester was released “after giving advice” last night, he said, and police have not decided whether to seek extension of remand detention for the pair still under arrest.

Azmeel insisted that the march was peaceful and that protesters did not disobey orders.

“Disobeying orders would be crossing a barricade or refusing to take a route they showed. But none of that occurred there,” he said.

At least 150 youth led the march on Friday afternoon, Azmeel said, which began around 4:30pm at the Usfasgandu area and made its way west on the capital’s main thoroughfare, Majeedhee Magu.

The protest march stopped at various locations where youth leaders made speeches, he noted, adding that police had told protesters not to stop.

The march ended with a prayer for the safety of opposition leader Nasheed and other detainees.

Azmeel said the purpose of the march was “to raise concerns of youth and raise our voices.” The march was part of opposition activities in the run-up to a mass anti-government rally planned for May 1.

Last week, tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb challenged the opposition to a confrontation on May 1, prompting fears of a stand-off and civil unrest.




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.


Allegations of links to criminals dismissed as police celebrate SO Unit achievements

Commissioner of Police (CP) Hussain Waheed has dismissed as “absolutely baseless” allegations made by parliamentarians that the police had connections with criminals and the drug trade.

“The police force is not one that will encourage criminals or have ties with criminals who commit serious offences,” Waheed said at a new year celebration titled ‘SO Night’, held in Iskandhar Koshi on December 31 specifically for officers of the police’s Special Operations unit force.

He stated that, while the services of the police are widely accepted and appreciated by citizens, there have been recent instances where “some individuals have spread baseless rumours with the intention of damaging public trust in the forces”.

The event was held in order to celebrate the achievements of the force over the previous 12 months.

Waheed stated that he will not allow any persons to attempt to create rifts in the “strong and united force nor to damage the public trust in the tough work police conduct to maintain peace and stability in the community”.

Waheed stated that no one better knows the feelings of the public than the police, and that what the public most desire is a calm and peaceful community.

He called on the police to continue serving the people by working with a resolve to maintain a peaceful environment in the country.

Waheed promised the police forces that the leadership will develop infrastructure and human resource support within the year 2014.

Illicit drug trade and abuse

Assuring the public that police will continue to bring those involved in illicit drug trade and abuse to justice through courts of law, Waheed responded to allegations by some parliamentarians that the police were complicit in the drugs trade.

“The illicit drugs that we discover are safely under our care. Relevant authorities will know very well that such contraband are kept safely by us until the time comes to dispose of them as per the legal structure. There is also a mechanism through which one can inquire about the status of such contraband,” Waheed said.

“I am deeply saddened that even with such strong regulations around the matter, some people irresponsibly spread falsified rumours about the police force in a manner that will undermine the trust the public holds in us. There are also independent institutions that can conduct investigations should there be any police officer who is suspected of being involved in anything of the sort,” he expressed.

Allegations from parliamentarians

On December 29, 2013 Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ibrahim Rasheed submitted an emergency motion to the parliament in regard to a stabbing incident which had occurred in the previous week.

Speaking in the parliamentary debate on the motion, members from the MDP and the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) accused the police of having ties with criminals, gangs, and drug dealers.

Among them, MDP MP Nazim described the police force as a “gang instead of an institution these days”, alleging that the force had dismissed sincere officers and replaced them with people who are accused of having committed serious offences.

CP Waheed, however, last night emphasized that the Special Operations Unit is the “most respected force within the police which all departments look up to”, speaking at last night’s event.

Special Operations Unit

“SO Night” is an annual event held to celebrate various achievements of the Special Operations Unit.

The event concluded with a presentation by the SO department of their achievements in the previous year.

This includes having provided technical support 219 times to various other police departments, controlling 57 public protests, and conducting 55 special operations and 23 trips to manage situations in the atolls.

The presentation also noted that in all their annual work, the SO had only made use of pepper-spray as a weapon, noting that it had been used a total of 55 times.

Among other statistics shared at the event, the SO unit stated that “in all of the year, 40 SO officers were summoned to the Police Integrity Commission and 2 SO officers were summoned to the Human Rights Commission. In handling the various situations, 50 SO officers suffered injuries of different levels”.

SO Department Head Chief Inspector Ahmed Shameem stated that the unit had not resorted to the use of rubber bullets or tear gas in controlling any of the situations that arose in 2013.

He stated that the unit had refrained from using these weapons, not because they did not have them, but because of their professionalism and their capability to deal with the situations in other ways.

Celebrating the work of SO officers who had contributed notably to the department’s work, certificates of appreciation were given to officers who were a part of a number of operations, among which a key activity is Operation Blue Wave – the security operation conducted during the 2013 presidential election.