The criminal court today acquitted a police officer charged with assaulting a protester during a crackdown on a protest march in February 2012, despite video evidence of the incident.
Then-Staff Sergeant Ali Ahmed was accused of kicking Mohamed Niyaz while he was on the ground. The Police Integrity Commission (PIC) forwarded the case against the policeman for prosecution in May 2012 based on video footage.
The criminal court ruled that the prosecution’s witness testimony was insufficient to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
It is not clear if the Prosecutor General’s (PG) Office had submitted video footage as evidence. The PG media official was not responding at the time of publication.
In September 2012, Shahinda Ismail, chair of the PIC at the time, told The Maldives Independent that Ali Ahmed was promoted despite the oversight body recommending to the home minister that he was unfit to serve as a police officer.
Dozens of Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) supporters were injured during a heavy-handed police crackdown on the protest march on February 8, 2012, which the human rights watchdog described as “brutal” and “without warning.”
Thousands of MDP supporters took to the streets of Malé after former President Mohamed Nasheed declared that he was forced to resign the previous day under duress in a “coup d’etat” instigated by mutinying Specialist Operations (SO) police officers.
At least 71 people were hospitalised after the crackdown near the Republic Square area.
In August 2014, Attorney General Mohamed Anil told the parliament that four police officers accused of committing acts of brutality on February 8 were on trial at the criminal court.
However, not a single officer has been convicted to date.
Anil was asked by MP Eva Abdulla how far investigations into police brutality as recommended by the 2012 Commission of National Inquiry (CoNI) had progressed.
The commission had concluded that the transfer of presidential power was constitutional, but found that “there were acts of police brutality on 6, 7 and 8 February 2012 that must be investigated and pursued further by the relevant authorities.”
Anil explained that the police watchdog investigated 45 cases of alleged police brutality and made recommendations to the home ministry to dismiss six police officers.
The police disciplinary board had investigated the cases and sacked one officer, but decided there was insufficient evidence to prove wrongdoing by the other five officers and decided not to dismiss them pending the outcome of a trial.
Of the cases filed at the criminal court, Anil said one police officer was acquitted and the PG office had appealed the verdict at the High Court.
Cases involving three other officers were sent back to the PIC due to incomplete information with instructions for resubmission.
Of the 45 cases it investigated, the police oversight body decided there was no evidence concerning 14 complaints, while there was insufficient evidence to identify the officers responsible for 11 acts of brutality.
February 8 crackdown
Some 32 people had filed complaints at the human rights watchdog concerning varying degrees of injuries sustained in the crackdown, while 20 people submitted medical documents of their treatment of injuries.
Several people were bruised and battered, one person fractured a bone in his leg, one person was left with a broken arm, and six people sustained head wounds, the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) noted in a report.
Two fingers on the left hand of one demonstrator were crushed, the report stated.
Some 43 people were treated for injuries at the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital and 28 people were treated at the ADK private hospital.
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”.
The BBC meanwhile reported “a baton charge by police on crowds gathered outside one of the main hospitals.”
MDP Chairperson ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik was flown overseas for treatment of severe injuries. Moosa and MP Mariya Amed Didi were dragged out by SO officers while they were hiding in a shop with former President Nasheed.
Videos also emerged on social media showing SO officers brutally beating MDP MP Ibrahim Rasheed ‘Bonda.’
Journalists from The Maldives Independent saw police officers and soldiers baton charge the front line of protestors, while other police officers attacked from a narrow alley in the area.
The SO police officers screamed profanity, pointed to and chased after individual MDP activists, and severely beat unarmed civilians, hitting several people over the head with their batons.
The police crackdown sparked riots across the country with government buildings, courthouses, and police stations set on fire in several islands, including Haa Dhaal Kulhudhufushi, Gaaf Dhaal Thinadhoo, and Addu City.
Nearly 200 people were charged with terrorism over the February 8 civil unrest. Their trials are ongoing at the criminal court.
In February 2014, Shahinda told The Maldives Independent that detainees arrested in Addu City on February 9, 2012 were “forced to walk on smouldering coals”.