Police watchdog asked to probe alleged abuse of journalists

Police watchdog asked to probe alleged abuse of journalists
July 31 11:34 2017

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party has asked the police watchdog to take disciplinary action against two police officers accused of mistreating journalists and damaging their equipment. 

MDP Secretary-General Anas Abdul Sattar accused Staff Sergeant Ali Ahmed and Lance Corporal Ahmed Imthiyaz of physically abusing journalists during their arrest while covering an opposition protest last Wednesday night.

Anas told the press that the complaints were filed with the National Integrity Commission with sufficient evidence, including video footage showing a policeman kicking Raajje TV journalist Murshid Abdul Hakeem whilst others seized cameras and broadcasting equipment. 

“We cannot accept unlawful acts and disproportionate force aimed at harming the people. We have requested the NIC to look into our complaints and take due measures,” he told the press on Saturday.

Following heavy-handed police crackdowns on opposition gatherings during the past week, opposition lawmakers and supporters on social media have been sharing photos and personal information of individual police officers accused of brutality.

Specialist Operations police officers routinely use pepper spray at close range to disperse opposition protesters.

The photo sharing prompted the police to warn of legal action against efforts to incite hatred and to undermine public trust in the institution.

The ruling Progressive Party of Maldives also issued a statement backing the police and condemning the alleged incitement to violence against police officers and their families.

“Until the police stop brutalising people you cannot stop people from expressing opinions targeted at them. We will take action against brutal police officers,” tweeted exiled former President Mohamed Nasheed in response to the police statement on Thursday.

Opposition MP Abdulla Riyaz, a former police commissioner, told the Maldives Independent that he did not believe watchdog bodies are capable of holding the police accountable.

“The independent commissions are unable to function properly. They are not carrying out their responsibilities very effectively,” the lawmaker said.

“Delays in investigations and taking measures are also an obstruction to justice. Even the oversight bodies are not functional. The 241 committee [parliamentary oversight committee for the security services] has not held a meeting in three years.”

He added that “the best practice is to seek official solutions by submitting complaints to the respective authorities.”

Mohamed Hameed ‘MC,’ a former police intelligence chief, meanwhile suggested that the “use of excessive force is largely due to culture of impunity and the non-existence of a proper policing landscape.”

The former officer expressed doubt as to whether the internal ‘Use of Force Review Committee’ has been recording and reviewing every instance where an officer used force against a member of the public.

A previous warning by the police against posting photos of individual officers had sparked a social media outcry in March 2015 with dozens of Twitter users posting pictures of police brutality with the hashtag #NameThatPolice.

On February 8, 2012, at least 71 people were hospitalised after a police crackdown on MDP supporters that was described by the human rights watchdog as “brutal” and “without warning.”

However, not a single police officer has been convicted over the well-documented acts of brutality before and after the transfer of presidential power.

In November 2015, a police officer caught on tape kicking and beating Ahmed Shahid, husband of MDP MP Eva Abdulla, on the morning of February 7, 2012, was cleared of charges by the criminal court.

In September 2015, the criminal court also acquitted former policeman Ali Ahmed despite video footage showing the then-staff sergeant kicking a protester on the ground. In May last year, two policemen charged with assaulting former MP Mohamed Gasam during the crackdown were found not guilty.

More recently, a man found guilty of assaulting MP Mariya Ahmed Didi on February 7 was fined MVR200 (US$13) last May.

In the wake of the February 8 crackdown, videos emerged on social media showing SO officers brutally beating MDP MP Ibrahim Rasheed ‘Bonda.’ The police watchdog later concluded that excessive force was used but dropped several cases citing lack of evidence to identify the perpetrators.

Al Jazeera filmed parts of the crackdown, reporting that “police and military charged, beating demonstrators as they ran – women, the elderly, dozens left nursing their wounds”.

Two fingers on the left hand of one demonstrator were crushed. No charges were raised in connection with the incident.

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