Some 11 young men were arrested this morning in an ongoing fight between riot police officers and two of Malé’s gangs.
The police claim the arrests are linked to a “special operation to curb violence” while the gangs are accusing the police of covering up an “illegal and unprovoked” assault by Specialist Operations officers on Friday that left many injured. The police are also accused of vandalising three gang hangouts.
The 11 arrests today – seven from Malé and four from suburb Vilimalé – follow the arrest of 13 on Friday night. The 13 were released on Saturday.
The army had been deployed to the streets briefly at midnight on Saturday.
The leaders of Masodi and Wanted, who prefer to known as sports clubs rather than gangs, held a joint press conference on Saturday evening claiming Specialist Operations officers on motorbikes had raided and thrashed their hangouts, and assaulted their members on Friday without provocation.
Many had to seek medical attention for injuries, they said.
They dismissed police claims that the injuries were caused during a police operation to prevent a fight.
“There is no fight between us,” Ahmed Shinan of Wanted said, urging the watchdog National Integrity Commission and the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives to launch an inquiry, and to check CCTV footage in the area to back up their claims.
“Journalists, have you ever seen SO arriving on motorbikes? No. They arrive in their van or vehicle. But on that night, on that scene, they came on their bikes,” Shinan said.
“I want to make clear that none of our members has any intention or desire to take revenge even with all that’s happened. We want this to be thoroughly investigated and for us to be compensated for the damages,” Mohamed Kinan of Masodi said.
Both Wanted and Masodi remain loyal to President Abdulla Yameen’s government, leaders said. The actions of “a few police officers were bringing the government into disrepute,” Kinan added.
A well-informed source said the Friday assault by the police was an act of revenge because an SO officer had been beaten during a minor gang fight in a café that evening. When senior police officers failed to take immediate action, the SO officers, acting on their own accord, raided the three houses.
Victims of the assault told The Maldives Independent that some 24 officers on riot gear had barged into Masodige in Galholhu ward and Jade in Maafannu ward on Friday without court warrants.
“They just beat us up and left. Didn’t even say anything,” one young man said.
“We were standing outside, a few feet away from the house when they arrived. When we went near the door, they shoved us in and started beating us with batons, they even smashed a TV on my head,” another man with multiple cuts and bruises said.
A third young man at Jade said policemen had broken chairs, cupboards, TVs and laptops.
“I was in Jade looking out through the glass door when they came in, they came in shouting “Where? Where?” They didn’t show a court warrant or anything just removed the door, came in and said “Here. This is the guy” and beat me up. They broke everything in my room except my bed.”
The groups have questioned why the police had failed to carry out the 13 arrests immediately.
The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party had also called for a thorough inquiry, expressing concern over the deployment of soldiers.
Police spokesman Ismail Ali sought to deflect questions on police conduct, but said the police’s professional command is investigating allegations of brutality. He also alleged that families of two police officers were threatened on Saturday.
Meanwhile, the homes of four policemen in southern Addu City were vandalized on Sunday.
The opposition has previously accused SO officers of chopping down all of Male City’s areca palms, while former defence minister Mohamed Nazim, jailed on a charge of smuggling weapons, claims SO officers planted a pistol and three bullets in his apartment.
The police have denied both claims.
No one was arrested over the chopping of Areca palms.
Additional reporting and writing by Zaheena Rasheed