Police call for public vigilance over allegations of criminals posing as officers

The Maldives Police Service (MPS) has alleged that criminals have been posing as police officers in Addu City for the last two weeks in order to commit robberies.

In light of the allegations, authorities are warning members of the public to request the ID of any officer approaching them for questioning or to conduct a search.

However, Addu City Council today alleged that it had not been informed of any cases where thieves were posing as police in the municipality, but had received multiple complaints of plain clothes officers searching people and private property without a warrant or ID.

A police media official confirmed that investigations were presently under way in Addu City into several separate incidents where individuals claiming to be officers searched members of the public in the street or at their homes before robbing them of valuables.

Police are working to identify those who are posing as police in order to commit robberies, though no arrests have been made so far, the official continued.

However, police claim that no complaints have been lodged regarding reports of officers refusing to show their identification when requested by the public in Addu City.

In an official statement published yesterday (June 15), police reiterated that all genuine officers – even those on duty in plain clothes – are required to carry their police identification. The public was therefore encouraged to ask officers to see such documentation when they were being searched or questioned.

The robberies were suspected of having been committed as part of attempts to defame the reputation of the police in Addu as officers continue with an operation designed to curb crime in the city, the statement added.

As part of this operation, a task force consisting of 50 Special Operations (SO) police arrived in the atoll on January 17, 2013 and were supposed to remain only until April 17 this year, Addu City Council has previously claimed. However, these SO force have remained in Addu City, targeting those allegedly involved in drug and gang issues.

Council’s uncertainty claims

Addressing the police warning today, Addu City Mayor Abdulla Sodig said he had not been contacted by authorities or received complaints of criminals disguising themselves as police officers to steal from the public.

However, Sodig said that with his office receiving complaints about officers allegedly forcing their way into homes to conduct searches without uniforms, warrants or identification, it was increasingly difficult for the public to verify real police in the city.

“We never get complaints about thieves breaking into properties disguised in police uniform,” he alleged. “We have received complaints that the SO perform searches of people and property without their ID or uniform. Also, people have been beaten, threatened, abused, abducted and locked up without relatives being informed.”

Sodig argued that on the back of allegations that certain police officers were conducting their duties without wearing uniforms or providing their ID, local thieves had found themselves able to exploit public uncertainty to perform robberies.

“Some people have issued complaints with us and the PIC. These are not fake police officers, they are genuine officers who are refusing to show their ID and stopping anyone on the street they like,” he claimed. “They are going out without their uniforms on to conduct searches. People here know they are ‘star force’ [SO] Police.”

The ‘star force’ was a name previously given to the police SO unit during the latter stages of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s 30 years as head of state.

Sodig claimed that in the past, the city council had been informed by police of any special criminal operations being conducted by officers. However, he claimed Addu City Council had presently received no information concerning the allegations of fraudulent officers operating in Addu.

“Police do not concentrate on thieves or drug users, rather they focus on political party members and activists,” he alleged.

Minivan News was awaiting a response from the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) at time of press.

Arrest allegations

Last month, Mayor Sodig claimed 50 people were arrested in advance of a visit by President Dr Mohamed Waheed to Addu City, alleging that “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 same official later refuted the statement, claiming that only one person was arrested in Addu City on May 7.

Addu City Council had said it had previously requested police “provide extra strength to increase numbers to about 30 per station.”


Maradhoo detainees allege physical abuse in police custody

Eight young men arrested on the island of Maradhoo in Addu City last week have alleged that they were physically abused by Special Operations (SO) officers while under police custody.

Police arrested the youth on Wednesday (May 15) for allegedly obstructing police duty outside a Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) campaign office, which prompted clashes between SO officers and members of the public.

Eyewitnesses told local media that the SO officers used pepper spray and excessive force to arrest the Maradhoo youth.

Former Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed – dismissed from the post earlier this month following his appointment as the running mate of PPM presidential candidate Abdulla Yameen – told local media that Maradhoo islanders have made a number of allegations concerning police brutality and the behaviour of SO officers during the arrests, including the use of foul language.

Dr Jameel reportedly met PPM members and families of the detainees in Addu City this weekend to gather information. The arrested youth included PPM members as well as Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) members.

Photo from MVYouth.com

Jameel told newspaper Haveeru that the party would provide legal assistance to the PPM members, whose detention was extended to 10 days by the Hithadhoo magistrate court on Thursday (May 16). One of the eight detainees was however released by the court.

The former home minister said he advised the families to file complaints with the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) for investigation.

Asked if he believed police could have been violent towards civilians, Jameel said he “could not say that such actions  would not be seen from police.”

Dr Jameel was not responding to calls at the time of press.

Commissioner of Police Abdulla Riyaz meanwhile tweeted on Saturday (May 18) that a Professional Standards Command (PSC) team was “already in Addu to investigate the complaints against police.”

Following the arrests last week, 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.”

Nasheed resigned on February 7, 2012 in the wake of a violent mutiny by SO officers, who have since been accused of using excessive force against demonstrators.

Speaking at a campaign rally in Maradhoo on Friday night, MDP lawyer Ahmed Abdulla Afeef said he met the detainees  separately and all of them claimed to have been physically abused in custody.

The detainees said they were driven around in a police vehicle, taken to a bridge and beaten, Afeef said.

“For about half an hour, they were kept there and beaten with police ankle boots, police helmets and with their fists,” he said. “I did not see them being abused, but there are still fresh injuries on their bodies. So this has happened.”

They were then taken to the police station and stripped naked before being subjected to more physical abuse, Afeef continued.

The youth alleged that their hands were cuffed behind the back and police jumped on the handcuffs while the detainees were made to lie on the ground, Afeef said.

Photo from MVYouth.com

The detainees also claimed that the SO officers told them that they “toppled the government” and were untouchable, he added.

Afeef said he would file complaints at the PIC and Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) but doubted that any SO officer would be held accountable.

“The Police Integrity Commission will come here and taken statements. But in the end their report will say, ‘there are allegations of abuse but we cannot identify [the responsible officers], so we cannot take any action.’ That is how it has happened in the past,” Afeef said.

Afeef said the clashes with SO officers occurred after four police officers stopped in front of a young man sitting near the PPM office and demanded that he remove a necklace.

The young man had long hair that was dyed in the back, Afeef noted.

“In any case, when police started asking these questions and harassing him, he asked, ‘what’s the problem? am I not free to wear a necklace?'” Afeef recounted.

Police responded by dropping him to the ground and cuffing his hands, Afeef continued, which prompted his friends to intervene and clash with SO officers.

Afeef observed that individual liberty was guaranteed by article 19 of the Maldivian constitution, which states, “A citizen is free to engage in any conduct or activity that is not expressly prohibited by Islamic Shari’ah or by law. No control or restraint may be exercised against any person unless it is expressly authorised by law.”

Custodial abuse

Meanwhile, PPM-aligned news website MVYouth.com published an account yesterday of one of the young men arrested on Wednesday and released after 24 hours without being taken to court.

Mohamed Zaufnaz ‘Zauf’ Shinaz, an employee of a community news site called Maradhoolive.com, told MVYouth that he went to the area upon learning of a disturbance outside the PPM office.

Photo from Addu Online

Zauf said he saw two young men – currently in police custody – being manhandled by plainclothes police officers and was urged by the people there to take video footage of the incident.

More plainclothes officers soon arrived on a police vehicle, he recounted, and one of the officers grabbed Zauf by the neck and asked him if he had a media pass.

Zauf said he was hauled into the van before he could respond.

The police took off with Zauf and three others, he continued, noting that the police officers used obscene language inside the vehicle.

The officers tried to intimidate the detainees and threatened to smash Zauf’s camera, he added.

The four young men were taken to the Hithadhoo police station and shoved and pushed up the stairs, Zauf said.

They were taken inside a room and made to kneel down facing the wall, he said. Everyone except Zauf was in handuffs.

A police officer asked Zauf to delete the pictures and videos on his camera while the others were beaten for about 20 minutes by the officers in plainclothes, he continued.

A second group of detainees were soon brought in and Zauf learned from them later that they were taken to the Hankede bridge and beaten.

Shortly after their arrival, Zauf said he was taken to a room for interrogation. Two officers then took him inside another room and forced him to undress.

After he took off his boxers, the officers forced Zauf to walk naked around the room twice. He was then kept facing the wall while an officer took videos from a mobile phone.

Zauf said he heard the police officers sniggering behind his back.

“I heard the police mocking and laughing at me while I made the two rounds. But I hung my head down and did not look at them,” Zauf was quoted as saying.

After he was allowed to sit down again, Zauf said the officers made him lift his arms up and down three times. When he emerged after being frisked, a statement was prepared and he was made to sign it without reading its content.

Zauf was kept kneeling down again and heard the second group being beaten.

A plainclothes officer gave Zauf his camera back after deleting his photos and videos. An officer had bitten and damaged the memory card on the camera.

Zauf said he saw police officers jump on handcuffs while the others were kept on their knees. Zauf saw an officer smash Aafaq’s head against the wall.

Another officer told one of the young men to cut his hair and threatened that he would do so by force, Zauf said.

Zauf was then handcuffed and placed in a cell with the others. The detainees were given a meal at around 9:40pm. All eight men were forced to sleep in handcuffs.

The detainees complained of impurities in the drinking water and was promised clean water the next day, Zauf said, adding however that he was not given clean water when he was released in the late afternoon the following day (Thursday, May 16).

MVYouth reported today that Zauf’s family has decided to send him to Male’ for counselling as the young man appears to have been traumatised by the experience.


IPU to send human rights fact-finding mission to Maldives

The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) has decided to send a human rights mission to the Maldives “to gather first-hand information” on cases involving human rights abuses and political intimidation of MPs.

The decision was adopted by the IPU during its 127th Assembly in Quebec City, Canada, upon the recommendation of its Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians.

In a press release on Wednesday following the decision to send the fact-finding mission, the IPU expressed concern with the “on-going climate of violence and confrontation in the Maldives, expressing shock at the recent killing of MP Afrasheem Ali.”

“In a resolution on the case of 19 MPs from the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), alleged victims of excessive violence, arbitrary arrests and criminal charges believed to be politically motivated, the Organisation is similarly perturbed by reports of renewed ill-treatment, detention and harassment by law enforcement officers,” the statement read.

“Maldives has been in political crisis since February when incumbent President Mohamed Nasheed was replaced by his Vice-President Mohamed Waheed. There has been growing international concern at the political intimidation and serious outbreaks of violence in the country.”

Aside from the concerned MPs in the human rights abuse cases, the press release added that the IPU mission will meet officials from the government, parliament and judiciary “at the invitation of the Maldives government.”

MDP MP for Galolhu North, Eva Abdulla, participated in the meeting of the IPU Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians on October 21.

In March, the MDP parliamentary group submitted cases alleging police brutality against the former ruling party’s MPs to the IPU’s human rights committee at the 126th Assembly held at Kampala, Uganda.

During the same meeting, Eva was unanimously elected as a member of the IPU’s Committee of Women Parliamentarians.

MDP Chairperson 'Reeko' Moosa Manik in intensive care.

The cases concerned targeted police brutality against MDP MPs on February 7 and 8, in particular on the latter date during a heavy-handed police crackdown on an MDP protest march that left scores injured and hospitalised, including former MDP parliamentary group leader and Hulhu-Henveiru MP ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik and Maafanu South MP Ibrahim Rasheed ‘Bonda’.

Three classified reports by the IPU concerning police brutality against MDP MPs have been shared with parliament and the executive since the transfer of presidential power on February 7, the party revealed this week.

No charges have been pressed to date against police officers of the Special Operations (SO) unit caught on camera beating civilians and MDP MPs.

The IPU is a global organisation of parliaments, established in 1889. It works to foster coordination and exchange between representative institutions across the globe. The IPU also offers technical support to affiliated nations. The Maldives has been a member of the organisation since 2005.