Special Operations (SO) police arrested a retired police sergeant in Addu City last night and released him upon learning that he was a former officer.
Jihad Abdulla told newspaper Haveeru today that he was seated on a motorbike having a cigarette in front of his house when a police officer approached and attempted to search him.
“I said why do you want to search me, I have not committed a crime,” he said, adding that he asked the officer to explain a reasonable cause for the frisking.
Jihad was then taken to the Hithadhoo police station in a police jeep. He noted that the officer-in-charge was inside the vehicle but did not inform him of the reason for his arrest.
“So I believe that SO officers do not know how to act during operations. They have to act in accordance with rules and regulations. But that is not how they behave,” he was quoted as saying.
Police officers used foul language after he was taken to the station, Jihad noted. The SO officers told him that they could search or arrest anyone.
Jihad was released after being searched. Some officers at the station knew that Jihad was a former sergeant.
He was honourably discharged from the force in October 2012.
Jihad said he was “saddened and ashamed” of the SO officers as a person who had served as a police officer for 21 years.
Addu City Mayor Abdulla Sodig said in a Facebook post today he had shared with the SO commander “the numerous cases of public complaints about the amateurish and outright rude behavior of the police towards the general public, and in many cases law-abiding citizens.”
“My appeals were dismissed as political statements, when in fact, it had adversely affected and shocked many citizens of Addu, including the honorably retired Sergeant Jihad Abdulla, who was known through out the police service during his 21 years of valuable service. Sgt Jihad Abdulla, like many before him were not intervened within a suspected environment of crime,” he continued.
“When veterans of the Maldives Police Service hang their head in shame having witnessed an open license to exhibit depravity and disregard for liberties and basic human rights guaranteed in our constitution by their fellow officers, it is a wake-up for everyone and especially the Commissioner of Police, CP Abdulla Riyaz, to acknowledge that there are serious problems that need to be addressed within its institution before it can functionally enforce law.”
Police arrested eight individuals in the island of Maradhoo in Addu City yesterday (May 15) following clashes with Special Operations (SO) officers near a campaign office of the government-aligned Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM).
Police said in a statement that SO officers were dispatched upon receiving information that two rival groups were preparing for a gang fight.
“When police went to the scene at around 3:15pm [yesterday] and attempted to search the people there [for weapons], a group of people in the area threw rocks, inflicted varying degrees of injury to police officers and caused unrest,” the press release stated.
The eight men arrested during the disturbance for allegedly obstructing police duties included a 19 year-old, two 20 year-olds, a 21 year-old, a 22 year-old and two 27 year-olds, police said.
PPM MP Ahmed Nihan tweeted shortly after the arrests that clashes occurred with police following a complaint of loud music from the party’s youth office.
He today told Minivan News that although the PPM was in the process of collecting information on the incident, the party would not rule out the possibility that gang violence was behind yesterday’s clashes, playing down the possibility of political motivation behind the police action.
Nihan claimed that street fights between rival gangs from different neighbourhoods were common in Addu City, while also being symptomatic of growing “friction” between different political supporters ahead of this year’s presidential election.
“We can only rely on police accounts of the matter so far that this was a group of people fighting each other,” he said.
The clashes occurred in an area recently established by the PPM for young supporters, a policy that Nihan explained was designed to encourage youth engagement with its election campaign.
“We never thought anything like this would happen though,” he said. “We believe that the rule of law must be upheld regardless of political colour.”
Nihan said older supporters had noted a “scattered group” of young people around the area where clashes later occurred.
PPM officials told Minivan News that a party supporters and another eyewitness had alleged police had attempted to raid the campaign area to perform a search, resulting in confrontations with some PPM members present in the area.
MP Nihan told Minivan News yesterday that party supporters and other witnesses had alleged that officers had arbitrarily detained party members.
“There is some confusion as to what has gone on, even in the party. Sources tell me many people were taken into custody for no reason,” he said at the time.
The PPM today also slammed supporters of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) over what it claimed were attempts to accuse the Maldives Police Service of using excessive force against members of the government-aligned party.
Special Operations (SO)
Former President Mohamed Nasheed also took to twitter to condemn “the actions of a few policemen who’ve arrested members of pol parties, used excessive force, violated the sanctity of their premises.”
The police press release meanwhile stated that a group of people attempted to block the link road and had thrown rocks at police vehicles following the arrests.
Police also denied allegations in social media of brutality against women and children by SO officers.
Addu City Mayor Abdulla Sodiq said yesterday that he was aware of “confrontations” between police officers and a group of young people in Maradhoo, though he was awaiting exact details on the matter.
Sodig said that Maradhoo was traditionally a close knit community, with residents often standing by each other.
Newspaper Haveeru reported eyewitnesses as claiming that police beat people who chased them after rocks were thrown.
A resident of the house where the PPM office is located told the newspaper that police entered both the office and adjoining house, used pepper spray and threw people to the ground before taking them into custody.
He claimed that the situation turned violent when police asked a young man to lower his boxer shorts while searching him.
“He refused, started yelling and people gathered. Then verbal attacks were exchanged between the people and police and they started throwing rocks,” he was quoted as saying.
Community website Addu Online meanwhile reported that a crowd gathered in the area in the wake of the arrest to protest police brutality.
The demonstration was reportedly dispersed when SO officers returned to the area.
Local media reported later in the day that rocks were thrown at two police officers near the Hithadhoo regional hospital. The pair were however not hit by the projectiles.
Police also arrested an individual in Addu City last week for allegedly threatening to kill an officer.
Mayor Sodig told Minivan News earlier this month that 50 people were arrested in advance of a visit by President Mohamed Waheed on May 8, “and about 90 percent of those taken in were MDP [Maldivian Democratic Party] supporters”.
Police however denied making the arrests.
As part of an ongoing police operation in Addu to “keep the peace”, “lots of people were taken into custody and were released after their information was collected”, a police media official who spoke with Minivan News initially stated.
The official then refuted the statement, claiming that only one person was arrested in Addu City on May 7.
Mayor Sodig explained that the city council had requested the police “provide extra strength to increase numbers to about 30 per station.”
“The special operations team [responded by] sending their ‘star force’, but they don’t have their commander here. He’s not in control of this group or operations. Instead they are directly overseen by Male’ command,” said Sodig.
“That’s the reason why we don’t want them to continue,” he declared.
The task force consisting of 50 special operations police was started in January 17, 2013 and was supposed to end April 17, according to Sodig. However, the entire special operations force has remained in Addu City, targeting those allegedly involved in drug and gang issues.
It was around 2:00pm on March 5 when news of the arrest of former President Mohamed Nasheed became public, leading to gridlock on sections of Majeedhee Magu – the main road cutting through the Maldives capital.
Throughout the day, a few hundred demonstrators aligned to the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) attempted to “bring the capital to a standstill” with a protest to blockade traffic following the arrest of the former president.
At sporadic points during the afternoon, in between clashes with police forces and peaceful sit downs, ugly scenes of confrontation were also witnessed where trucks, bikes and even government-aligned people deemed “Baghee” – a traitor – were swarmed and attacked by the crowd.
“Your photos will be a problem,” isolated figures explained throughout the day, following such confrontations. “Do not take pictures here. Take them from further away,” they said. “Do not give them to police.”
In the battle for international media attention, an image speaks a thousands words – so long as it is the right image.
Following the arrest of Nasheed, who is currently standing trial for the controversial detention of the Criminal Court chief judge during his time in office, men and women of all ages gathered outside the Male’ City Council building (MCC) between the intersections at Alikilegefaanu Magu and Rahdebi Magu.
Among the crowd was Mohamed Aslam, a former Environment Minister under Nasheed’s government, who claimed there was no official plan for demonstrations or a protest at the time.
“People are agitated, they are angry,” he said. “There is no plan, there is just outrage.”
It was earlier in the afternoon that 15 masked police officers had entered Nasheed’s family compound of Kenerege with a court warrant to detain the country’s first democratically elected president.
Sources within the MDP later told Minivan News that the former president was taken peacefully, if reluctantly, briefly saying goodbye to his family before being escorted away by authorities. Police later returned for a second time to the compound, though no further arrests were made in the building.
However, by 2:00pm, there was clear anger among some three dozen predominantly male figures around the corner from Kenerege on Majeedhee Magu. The tension was exacerbated as a group of officers in the back of a van quickly singled out an elderly gentleman across a crowded intersection and took him away.
Media were quick to capture the image, as angry onlookers heckled the officers over a blare of horns from taxis and other motorists now blocked by the unfolding drama.
A group of people including Nasheed’s representative on the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI), Ahmed ‘Gaha’ Saeed, soon blocked the road in what they claimed was a makeshift protest.
Perched on front of delivery vehicle, Saeed told Minivan News that demonstrators had opted to blockade the truck that he said to belonged to one of the country’s largest private retailers alleged to be one of the masterminds behind a “coup d’etat” that saw Nasheed controversially resign from office last year.
“People have waited a year since the coup and are very angry and unlikely to act reasonably now. They could bring Male’ to a standstill,” Saeed stated.
As some attempted to dissuade Saeed from his actions, other figures in the crowd attempted to limit the taking of pictures – an impossible task considering the prevalence of I-pads, camera phones and social media in the country.
By 2:30 pm, as the sun beat down intensely on the intersection, tensions continue to escalate as the crowd singled out a figure passing through the intersection on his bike. The figure was Ali Waheed, the brother of current President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik.
In the first of several such isolated attacks during the day, a crowd swarmed and surrounded Ali Waheed amidst shouts of Baghee, before he was pushed from his bike, surrounded and attacked. After a tense minute of confrontation, Ali Waheed was ushered from the intersection by some figures in the crowd – his bike abandoned on the street. It would not be the last vehicle left on the capital’s street during the day.
The crowd’s attention later turned to a military car with tinted windows. Isolated figures attacked the vehicle, ripping off its mirrors and smashing a rear passenger side window. Some three or four dozen young men appeal divided amidst appeals for calm from Saeed and several other figures asking to let the vehicle pass.
Heavy rainfall temporarily cleared the road and the simmering tension. As the situation calmed, Saeed explained that the crowd had sought out figures perceived to be tied either to senior government or the security forces, particularly the police’s Special Operations (SO) officers.
“They see it as you are either with us or against us,” he said. “We continue to ask for calm, but as always happens, it is the loudest in crowds who have their way.” Saeed rejected the accusation that individuals were being purposefully singled out as they passed through the barricade.
Sit down demonstrations
As the blockade continued, a growing number of men and women began to join the demonstrations, with former Environment Minister Mohamed Aslam joining a sit down in the middle of the street.
Further down the road, a single man lay in the rain soaked road outside the Male’ City Council building. The crowd suddenly appeared happy to clear to one side to let media to take a photo opportunity of the man. Meanwhile, curious and often bemused onlookers and shoppers stepped over him.
However, the lighter mood was at times broken. In one instance, a man riding a bike with a young girl on the back was heckled as a “Baaghee” – prudently he avoided the crowd and detoured down a side street.
At the height of the demonstration, some two or three blocks on Majeedhee were blockaded, with an orange rope set up across the street to stop traffic coming through. A few motorists tried to get through to the derision of the crowd.
Shortly before 4:00pm, around 30 police officers in helmets arrive and begin to clear the intersection outside the city council building, removing Mohamed Aslam from the scene, while coming under fire from plastic water bottles and small sections of pavement stones.
Several other figures in the crowd were also taken by authorities, as police left the scene.
Behind them, some 200 demonstrators remained on the road, continuing with their blockade and chanting. Another group of women soon resumed their sit-down protests and anti-government chants.
The light mood again sporadically broken as another male – accused of being a member of the Police’s SO division – attempted to pass through the crowd. He was quickly swarmed as he was mobbed by a crowd divided over whether to attack or protect the figure.
Shouts of “baghee” from the crowd were punctuated by the screams of a woman travelling with the man. Both are eventually moved to safety.
“There is hatred here,” said one protester. “He was asking for it. He could see there was a [blockade] but came through anyway. It is very hard to control some of these [demonstrators].”
Soon after, individuals once again spoke to media figures, reiterating appeals to cease taking photos as some of the group turn their attentions to breaking through a glass door of a large clothes shop – eventually they are dissuaded by others in the crowd.
At the same time, the Maldives Journalists Association (MJA) released a statement strongly condemning violent attacks said to be carried carried out against a journalist and a cameraman working from private media outlet Sun Online. Earlier in the day, a journalist for the same organisation had stayed in Nasheed’s family compound over concerns about his safety among the crowd outside.
By 4:30pm, Police reinforcements once again arrived to clear the intersections, heckled by the 200 demonstrators who has sought to block sections of the road during the afternoon.
Though some officers were witnessed carrying firearms with rubber bullets, no such measures were witnessed being used by police, though one young woman arrested had appeared to have been pepper sprayed.
During the ongoing police operation, a further two dozen demonstrators were arrested and loaded into the back of a police van – among them a middle-aged women taken for heckling and singing songs. she soon becomes an inadvertent hero among her fellow demonstrators. Aware of her status, she begins dancing in the back of the police truck.
As order is restored by authorities and the arrested are taken from the scene in an open topped van, the crowd cheer and wave at the figures, including an elderly woman who blew kisses and waved to the crowd.
With the police presence again gone, the crowd return to their blockade to songs and anti-government chants. The mood once again light temporarily until protesters attack and roll over a van belonging to Eydhafushi MP Ahmed Saleem, another figure unpopuler among the core MDP supporters. According to local media, milk packets are taken from the van and distributed among the protesters.
Whether demonstrators succeeded in bringing the capital to a standstill as some had claimed, for large parts of the day, one of the capital’s busiest roads was transformed into a protest site for dissatisfaction with the government.
As police began to bring the crowds under control, among a blockaded section of Majeedhee Magu between Alikilegefaanu Magu and Rahdebi Magu, a shop-owner looked out from his door at the deserted road.