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Human Rights

Report Details Rising Police Brutality in the Maldives

WASHINGTON, Sep 5 2012 (IPS) - A human rights crisis has engulfed the Indian Ocean nation of the Maldives since the ousting of the former president, Mohamed Nasheed, on Feb. 7, activists warned here Tuesday.

The tourist haven, known mostly for its beaches and resorts, has seen a significant rise in public beatings and brutality by police targeting Nasheed’s supporters, according to a new report released here Tuesday by Amnesty International, a watchdog group. The events that led to Nasheed’s resignation are characterised as unlawful by Nasheed and his supporters, who claim that he was forced out of office at gunpoint.

The report takes an in-depth look into the violence that has permeated Maldivian society following Nasheed’s resignation by combining eyewitness accounts and personal narratives.

It includes an interview with Ahmed Shah Rasheed, the deputy mayor of Male, who was beaten by police and threatened with death. Other incidents include protestors being locked up in filthy dog cages, and not being allowed out to use the bathroom.

The Maldives, one of the most prosperous countries in South Asia, saw 30 years of autocratic rule under Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. In 2008, however, the strongman was beaten in national polls by Nasheed, a former Amnesty International “prisoner of conscience”, and his vice-president, Mohammed Waheed.

Dissatisfaction with the way the economy was being run and pressure from the opposition led to the February ousting of Nasheed. The new government, led by Mohammed Waheed, has a cabinet full of Gayoom supporters, including a few of his family members.

Gayoom may not be in power, Amnesty’s analysts suggest, but his political clout is not to be underestimated.

On Aug. 30, the U.S. State Department released a press statement that was surprising and shocking to many human rights groups.

“The United States welcomes the release of the report of the independent Commission of National Inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the February 7 transfer of power in Maldives,” it said. “The United States commends the Commission co-chairs for their leadership and commitment to a thorough and inclusive investigation and review process.

“The United States has consistently called for all Maldivians to respect the findings of the Commission of National Inquiry. Now that the Commission has released its report we urge all parties to respect those findings, to exercise restraint, obey the rule of law, and continue to express themselves in a peaceful and nonviolent manner.”

Human rights groups have been quick to question the U.S. State Department’s position on the issue. Nasheed’s tenure as president was the first time the country had a democratically elected leader in over 30 years, and for many the statement invalidates much of the Maldivian democracy struggle.

T. Kumar, director of International advocacy for Amnesty International USA, told IPS that the State Department should have at least mentioned the human rights violations that are spreading across the country.

He cited numerous accounts of brutality and police beatings that shed a harsh light on the current government’s inability to curb assaults by the police and put perpetrators behind bars. Kumar says that police regularly spray pepper spray directly into protestors’ eyes, beating them on the head with batons, and even following tortured protestors to hospitals to beat them again.

“When the United States doesn’t mention any human rights violations in Maldives, and only talks about the political coup d’état, it sends out a negative message to the Maldivian people. It means that the government can do as it wishes, without regard to human rights,” Kumar told IPS.

Mariya Ahmed Didi, a member of Parliament and a supporter of Nasheed, told Amnesty that she was brutally beaten by batons, and pepper-sprayed by members of the police who forced her to keep her eyes open.

“As we were in the hospital, I heard and saw uniformed policemen charging in,” she told Amnesty’s researchers. “They were hitting people who had been injured, hitting them especially on their head. We left the hospital quietly, but I saw two police officers marching into the emergency room.”

There are several such accounts in the new report, and Kumar believes that a strong word from the U.S would go a long way in curbing such violence.

“As of now, it seems as if the actions of the Maldivian police and government are acceptable. A strong word from the United States could rectify that. When the United States talks, countries are at least forced to take notice,” says Kumar.

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