Government presses terrorism charges against 21 MDP protesters over February 8 unrest

The Prosecutor General has pressed Terrorism charges against 21 Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) protesters for damage to state property on February 8, for allegedly setting fire to the court and police station in Addu City.

Nationwide protests erupted on February 8 following the controversial transfer of power the previous day. Former President Mohamed Nasheed resigned amid a police and military mutiny, and later alleged this was under duress.

The protests were sparked after a brutal police crackdown on large numbers of demonstrators who attempted to enter Republic Square that afternoon, including the former President, MDP MPs and supporters.

Dramatic footage of the crackdown was filmed by international media outlets such as Al-Jazeera, while other footage shared on social media showed police kicking and beating protesters on the ground. Many of the injured were women.

A Minivan News reporter who was injured in a baton charge, at the time described the involvement of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s ‘Starforce’ officers: “They were beating old women with batons,” he said. “It was just like the old days.”

The protests spread across the country, with demonstrators targeting police and court buildings. Police officers were in some instances evicted from islands. The worst of the destruction occurred in Addu City, the country’s second most populated area after Male’, and an MDP stronghold.

A police crackdown followed in Addu, and was the subject of a report by international human rights organisation Amnesty International.

In one instance, security personnel “reportedly entered the MDP office in Hitadhoo, where more than a dozen women protesters had run for shelter. They chased the women into the storage room of the building and began to beat them,” Amnesty reported.

“Amnesty International learned that one woman had her arm twisted and sprained when MNDF soldiers grabbed her. They then took her glasses off, forced her to open her eye and sprayed it with pepper spray. She said they pressed her against the wall and kicked her with their boots.

“Another woman said that they began to beat her on her breast, repeatedly shouting they would see to it that she does not breast feed again. A third woman showed her badly bruised arm where she said that soldiers had severely and repeatedly beaten her.”

Amnesty noted that both sides had blamed each other for promoting violence, and that human rights in the Maldives “have become heavily politicised.”

In a statement today, the Criminal Court said the 21 protesters were accused of vandalising the Police Station at Addu, vandalising the Police School, the Addu City Court, and the Prosecutor General’s Office at Addu City on February 8.

The Criminal Court said that they were charged according to Anti-Terrorism Act article 2[f][g] and article 6[b].

On February 8, the [olice station on Milandhoo in Shaviyani Atoll and the station on Velidhoo in Noonu Atoll were reportedly taken over by MDP supporters.

In March, Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam confirmed the arrest of 17 people on Thinadhoo in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll, who were involved in vandalising property and creating unrest in the island on February 8.

‘’Those people are people whom we have pictures and video footage of their involvement in the incidents that day,’’ Shiyam said at the time.

In April, the President of the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) Shahindha Ismail told the Parliament’s Independent Institutions Oversight Committee that police actions on February 8 were unlawful, and that police officers had used undue force to disperse the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) demonstration.

In May police said they have concluded investigation into arson attacks against government offices and the police station on Thinadhoo in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll on February 8, and sent the names of 108 persons to the Prosecutor General’s Office.


Amnesty condemns use of excessive force on demonstrators, following police raid on protest

Amnesty International has condemned the use of excessive force by police against 300 Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) supporters in the Lonuziyaarai Kolhu (tsunami monument area) early on March 7.

The MDP yesterday accused police of attacking demostrators and vandalising the ongoing protest, after they pursued a group of youths to the area suspected of vandalism and threatening police.

During the raid on the MDP camp, “at least six protesters were injured, some seriously, when combined police and military officers attacked around 300 MDP protesters – part of a wider pattern of attacks, documented by Amnesty, on supporters of the political party of the ousted former President Mohamed Nasheed,” the human rights group said in a statement.

One of the victims told Amnesty “[the police] grabbed hold of my hair and pulled me up, shouting they would teach me a lesson for demonstrating against the new President.”

Among the six protesters injured was a 16 year-old boy who was placed in the custody of the Child Protection Unit, said Amnesty. The organisation was refused permission to visit him.

“People who were peacefully exercising their right to protest were beaten on the head with batons, kicked and sprayed with pepper spray. This use of excessive force violates human rights standards,” said Amnesty International’s researcher Abbas Faiz, who is documenting the human rights situation in Maldives.

“The Maldives authorities must clearly announce, and demonstrate, that they do not tolerate retaliatory raids by the police against protesters. Police and military must not act outside the law,” Faiz said.

“When police officers act like political opponents towards demonstrators, they erode respect for the rule of law and cast doubt on their impartiality as officers of justice,” he added.

Amnesty called on police to make public the number of people who had required medical treatment following their arrest.

“Credible sources have told Amnesty that the police and military arrested more than a dozen people during their raid on the MDP rally. They arrested some more people in the hospital after they had gone to receive medical treatment for their injuries. The detainees were taken to police detention centres in Malé, and were later transferred to Dhoonidhoo, an island close to Malé which is the main detention centre.”

Police Spokesperson Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam yesterday told Minivan News that police had pursued a group of young men armed with knives, who had vandalised police stations and threatened officers before retreating to the MDP protest area.

Police stopped at the edge of the open area and requested backup, but by the time it arrived word had spread that police were about to raid the protest site and MDP supporters had arrived to protect the area.

“When police entered the [camp] to arrest the suspects forcefully, everyone in the area became hostile to police. There was a huge confrontation,” Shiyam said added.

“This was a very serious thing and we are sad that it happened,” Shiyam said. “We have no interest in doing anything [to the MDP camp], and we don’t want to have a confrontation. But people are coming out of the area, committing acts of violence, and going back there to hide, which is not something to be accepted.”

Elements of the police and military were complicit in the ousting of former President Mohamed Nasheed, who contends that he was forced to resign by security forces “under duress” in a bloodless coup.