The shadow cabinet of the Maldives United Opposition has vowed to reinstate police officers if they are sacked for refusing to enforce “unlawful orders” and crack down on opposition gatherings.
At the fourth shadow cabinet meeting Wednesday, members also discussed setting up “a special ‘Whatsapp’ phone hotline to impart relevant information to police personnel seeking to refuse unlawful orders from superiors,” the opposition coalition said.
The inducement for police officers comes ahead of the MUO’s first rally in Malé tonight, which is due to take place without permission from the government to use a public space.
The constitution, however, guarantees freedom of assembly without prior permission from the state.
Announcing the rally at a press conference yesterday, Adhaalath Party Spokesman Ali Zahir assured police officers that the coalition will ensure justice if they are unfairly terminated.
“We have the certainty that it can be done legally,” he said, noting that firing officers for disobeying unlawful orders would be unconstitutional.
The Whatsapp hotline would be used to explain what constitutes an unlawful order to police officers, he added.
Zahir also reiterated the MUO’s warning that individual police officers will be held accountable under future governments.
“Even if there aren’t any institutions to hear or look into these complaints under this government, God willing, the complaints will be investigated very soon,” he said.
“Legal action will be taken against those who are complicit today. So instead of waiting to ask for forgiveness or plead with us on that day, we urge [police officers] not to come between us and the exercise of our rights.”
The MUO, launched in London last month by opposition leaders in exile, is working towards establishing an interim government before the 2018 presidential election.
The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party has meanwhile filed complaints against individual police officers at the National Integrity Commission, the watchdog body for law enforcement agencies.
The cases were filed along with video footage and photos of police officers who have dispersed gatherings with the use of force, MDP Secretary General Anas Abdul Sattar told the press on Tuesday.
He also noted that riot police officers do not have name tags or serial numbers as required by police regulations.
MDP Spokesman MP Imthiyaz Fahmy noted that law enforcement officers have a constitutional right not to obey an unlawful order.
“No employee of the state shall impose any orders on a person except under the authority of a law. Everyone has the right not to obey an unlawful order,” states article 64 of the constitution.
The MP for Maafanu North expressed concern with the deployment of police to obstruct the peaceful exercise of the constitutional rights of freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and freedom of the press.
In a statement released earlier this month, the police had said that the Maldives Police Service as an institution will answer to the actions of individual police officers in the line of duty.
A mechanism exists within the police to monitor the work of police officers on official duty, the statement added, and tasks are determined and assigned under a hierarchy.
The Maldives Service Police will take responsibility and the necessary steps over matters that arise in the discharge of duties by individual officers, it continued, “as the work of police officers is assigned to them and is not done in their individual capacity.”
The statement characterised the opposition’s threats against individual officers as an attempt to “divide the police ranks” and “to create a negative impression of the police’s work among the public”.
The police statement drew stringent criticism on social media this week.
Maumoon Hameed, a prominent lawyer, argued that accountability “lies at the heart” of the 2008 police law and cited relevant provisions of the act.
— Maumoon Hameed (@maanhameed) July 11, 2016
Former Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz, now a Jumhooree Party MP representing the Thaa Kibidhoo constituency, welcomed the MUO’s promise to reinstate sacked officers.
Excellent pledge of MUO. Police officers should have courage to say “NO” when asked to act against the law! Be fair! https://t.co/whxG4tI3vf
— Abdulla Riyaz MP (@riyazabdulla) July 20, 2016
Backing the legal arguments for individual accountability, Mohamed Hameed, a former head of police intelligence, meanwhile told The Maldives Independent that it is “the core of democratic policing.”
“Otherwise, there will not be mechanisms for investigations into the use of force. It is the same universally,” he said.
“Officers have to be held accountable by the public and cooperate with relevant institutions. There have also been cases in the country’s history where action has been taken against individual officers, but not the entire institution.”