Our protectors have failed us

Our protectors have failed us
September 08 11:53 2015

During a dinner conversation on Saturday night, a friend mentioned a photo that was being widely shared on social media. It was posted by the Maldives Police Services and said: “Parents, please stop telling your children that we will haul them off to jail if they are bad, we want them to run us if they are scared. Not be scared of us.”

The message was accompanied by the photo of two unsmiling Maldivian officers. Several commenters noted the message had been plagiarized from a European advertisement, while others said that the demeanor of the policemen, without a hint of a smile, did not inspire confidence.

As we came out of the restaurant, we saw a crowd of people gathered on the street. A woman was lying unconscious on the road. Two policemen in uniform stood by. Another in plain clothes stopped a taxi, and asked the uniformed officers to help him lift the lady into the car.

The officer, instead of bending to help, ordered a pedestrian to lift her. The lady was helped inside the car by pedestrians and the officer in plain clothes.

I was stunned.

The day before, Mahfooz Saeed, a young lawyer and a member of jailed former President Mohamed Nasheed’s legal team, had been stabbed in the head. Two unmasked men had attacked him in a busy street in Malé in broad daylight. The dive knife was lodged three inches deep, but by a lucky coincidence, he survived the attack.

Witnesses told The Maldives Independent that the police had “rushed to do business as usual and left the scene as soon as possible.” There were no police tapes cordoning the area off. To this day, no arrests have been made.

Several witnesses say the attackers would have been caught on CCTV cameras in the area.

The police, who have pledged to protect and serve us, have failed us. Stabbings, killings, death threats, and destruction of property are now common in the Maldives. To date, justice has been delivered in only a handful of cases.

Aishath Velezinee, a member of the judicial watchdog was stabbed in January 2011, when she spoke out against judicial corruption. The police, despite having video footage of the attackers, have closed the case citing insufficient evidence, Velezinee has said in a recent tweet.

It has now been more than a year since my colleague Ahmed Rilwan disappeared. There appears to be no progress in the investigation. Ahmed Muaz, a well known gangster, was caught on CCTV vandalizing this office’s security cameras a year ago. Yet, no charges have been filed. Opposition aligned Raajje TV was torched in 2013. Despite the attackers caught on camera no one has been charged.

Meanwhile, some 40 families of murder victims continue to wait for justice.

Malé is no longer safe. The crime rate is skyrocketing in our small community.

Police officers are now associated with pepper spray, tear gas and baton charges. They are accountable to no one. The Police Integrity Commission, an oversight body, is toothless. The human rights watchdog meanwhile has said 54 complaints of torture were lodged against police officers in the past year.

Four cases were sent for prosecution, but the Prosecutor General has declined to prosecute any of the cases, citing insufficient evidence. Even in cases where signs of abuse were visible on the victim’s body, the commission noted difficulties in identifying the perpetrator from among the police officers on duty at the time of the incident.

Public confidence in the police is suffering. A recent study published by the UNDP and the Attorney General’s Office found that a majority Maldivians do not seek help from justice sector agencies to settle disputes. Of the 21 percent who said they would seek help from the state, only 27 percent said they would seek the police’s help.

But one in three who sought police assistance said they were dissatisfied.

Instead of protecting us, and ensuring our right to life, the police appear to be more concerned with obstructing the right to free speech and assembly. One such instance is August 8, when several officers unlawfully attempted to block a silent march to mark the one-year anniversary of Rilwan’s disappearance.

A few months back, I was standing outside the police barracks at Iskandhar Koshi. I saw an officer walking towards the building conversing with a man on a motorcycle. The man on the vehicle said “There is going to be a protest soon.”

The officer replied: “What protest?! You will not be able to protest!”

The freedom of assembly and expression is a constitutional right, the civilian said.

“You will only get as much freedom as we want to give to you,” the officer replied.

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