Monthly Archives: March 2012

How Do You Solve a Problem Like MPS?

Today marks 79 years of Policing in the Maldives. Pity, that it has become so controversial an issue to appreciate. A mistrust of the Maldivian police, or security services has been ingrained in me for most of my life. I grew up with stories of arbitrary arrests, brutality in jails, and the concept that the Police were not there to protect and serve my interests, but those of their immediate superiors. In fact, one of the fundamental things that I had to accept in 2008, after the country’s first multi-party Presidential election was the idea, that the Police were no longer ‘enemies’, or even the ‘golha-force’, but very much part of the apparatus of state that any government had to take into consideration. It wasn’t an easy task.

Controlling my body not to shudder at the sight of a blue camouflaged uniform and black ankle boots and understanding that not every arrest the Police made was arbitrary. Most of all learning to trust the Police took time, commitment and a lot of stubbornness. Maybe that sense of apprehension and mistrust went both ways. No doubt, the prospect of a MDP government would have filled most senior Police officers with a high sense of foreboding. After all, these were the very people that they had seen on the other side of an investigation table, inside a jail cell and on the street loudly confronting them at every given opportunity. Lets not take lightly the extent to which the Police were a political tool of Maumoon’s authoritarian regime, and as a result, that they were very much a product of the democratic reform process in the Maldives at that time.

The Maldives Police Service was created in September 2004. Mostly out of the need to placate the international community, and to perform a PR exercise after the human rights debacle that was 12/13 August 2004. Instead of Policing duties being conducted by the National Security Service or the Army, we got the Maldives Police Service and the Maldives National Defence Force. Basically – blue and green uniforms. Two hastily divided institutions plunged into a fast-changing political environment to which they were inextricably tied. Millions were poured into investing in the MPS – equipment, training, strategic action plans, philosophies of policing and of course, new blue uniforms. Unfortunately, it seems that most of the training went into how to use new equipment rather than how to Police within new democratic laws. Of course, Adam Zahir being at the helm was never going to help. Neither did the Hussain Solah incident, especially after Evan Naseem.

Nonetheless, the MPS emerged, as an institution with heavy amounts of funding, a select group of highly educated officers, very young, not always disciplined recruits and a top brass that was intent on maintaining the status quo. Many in the top brass had spent years in the NSS, looked up to individuals like Adam Zahir as father figures and in some cases, had managed to log quite a few ‘favours’ through the Maumoon regime and therefore were heavily indebted. Add to this, the ‘Star Force’, the frontline of an authoritarian defence whose very existence and modus operandi depended on the long leash of their superiors and Government.

During the establishment of the MPS, human rights discourse, although in the Maldivian mainstream and a significant facet of the MPS PR machine had not and it now seems has not filtered through to the officer on the street. The MDP government due to their personal histories of being victims of human rights violations and their voicing out against police brutality faced greater pressure to ensure that these incidents did not take place under their watch. Political prisoners were no longer an issue, but it would be unfair to say that maltreatment of detainees in jails completely disappeared. We could say it lessened significantly and that it was no longer systematic. There was definitely more oversight, with the Human Rights Commission, and the Police Integrity Commission, but it was still a work in progress. A work in progress, which was focussing on issues such as the reduction of drugs, terrorism, gang violence and theft rather than simply on political protests. Yes, the whole institution still unnecessarily stuttered at the sight of a protest, but there was more to the ‘Protect and Serve’ during the last 3 years than ever before. I suppose however, that works in progress especially in an infant democracy are vulnerable, and leadership was not always forthcoming.

The extent of its vulnerability and the ability to which outside forces with vested interests managed to manipulate the disenchanted and politicised officers on the inside was evident on 7 February 2012. As a result, I find myself asking, now what? Now that the Police have played such an inexplicably outrageous role in engineering a coup and bringing down the country’s first democratically elected government – who are they protecting and serving now?

It cannot be the Maldivian people. No matter which side of the political spectrum you fall, how much you hate Anni and the MDP, I cannot imagine that many people genuinely condone the actions of the Police on 6-8 Feb. Unless you’re vicious Visam (MP) of course! I for one condemn it with every fibre of my being. I don’t believe that all police officers participated or even supported the actions of the mutinying officers on the 6th night. Many went along out of an ill begotten sense of camaraderie to their fellow officers who they believed would have been arrested by the MNDF. As they should have been. Nothing justifies a coup. Especially the very politicised actions that preceded it. I understand that many officers who don’t accept this new situation cant just up and leave, be it because of a need to provide for their families or a sense of duty to an institution that they have helped develop, but it is difficult to remember that when faced with footage of the carnage that was 8th February and the stories that have followed since.

The re-emergence of individuals like Abdulla Riyaz is frightening. He may have undergone a course in customer needs and conducting business through social media, but the nature of the man remains the same. Brutal. Unapologetically so. As such, the use of force although granted to Policemen by law, seems again far too easy a whim for officers to use rather than a measure to be taken in the gravest of circumstances. The fact that they have to be accountable to their actions, that they must provide a greater example is non existent. That Abdulla Riyaz is surrounded by deputies who seem to either share his beliefs or are willing to silently submit to it is scary, that his superiors are opportunistic nitwits like Jameel and FA is even more chill inducing, and most of all that the Police Integrity Commission is powerless is incredibly frightening.

So, how do I feel about the Police now? Scared. Infuriated. Frustrated. And heartbreakingly disappointed. On the 79th anniversary of Policing in the Maldives, I do not wish Police Officers hearty congratulations. Instead, I wish for them a sense of responsibility and understanding of their role in the disruption of a democratic state. I continue to wish that action will be taken against officers who so blatantly violated the Police act and abused unarmed citizens. I call for somebody to be held accountable for the actions of Police officers on 8th February, I call for a re-evaluation of the need of the ‘Special Operations’ Unit and I call for the resignations of Abdulla Riyaz, Hussain Waheed, Abdulla Phairoosh, FA and Jameel, and I call for an early election.

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Warped Waheed

46 days in to this warped world of Waheed as President still astounds me and I remain bewildered at the lengths he has gone to, to legitimise his role in what is no doubt a coup d’etat. Monday was no exception. By-passing the very channels of dialogue – the all party talks – that he himself established in order to resolve this current political crisis, Waheed chose to provoke a showdown between his security forces and thousands of protesters.  His ‘address’ to the Majlis was nothing other than the raising of a finger to the significant number of people who not only question the legitimacy of his so called leadership, but the manner in which he got there and what he has done since.

The ‘riyassee bayaan’ to many in the Police, MNDF and the current regime was seen as personal challenge to the very shaky foundations they forcibly built on 7th Feb 2012. They showed with their actions that they were prepared to do anything to prevent MDP Parliamentarians from disrupting the Majlis, in addition to using excessive force against protesters on the street. The rumours of celebration and adulation in the Police and MNDF mess rooms once Waheed was finally able to get out, what I believe was a summary of the actual address on his 3rd attempt, is a reflection of the extent of politicisation and dependence the current leaders of the country’s security institutions have in the maintenance of this illegitimate regime. More than it being distasteful, it is frightening.

It is because of this that it is difficult to justify Police action for the rest of the day as necessary and lawful. By all means, proper action should have been taken against those who were violent, for instance those who threw rocks at VTV, or those who attacked the Police. However, the Police’s job is to protect, not provoke. Some officers on Sosun Magu that day mockingly patted their chests proudly when the song, ‘Bagaavai Ma Kuveri Kuran’ came on, others raised their middle fingers at the crowd, some just randomly sprayed pepper spray into the eyes of people who weren’t even resisting their orders, others told those being detained, that they would do whatever they want to them. Furthermore, the ripping down of posters and painting over graffiti depicting police brutality did not serve to reassure people of the priorities of the Police.  These days it feels like the Police/MNDF/Waheed are all out to prove that the wishes of the people really are irrelevant. Be it in the question of an election, implementing proper law enforcement procedures, or even in the case of congratulating a President. Intimidation, threats and demands are the name of the game.

I have tried and tried to get my head around why Waheed would do this, why he would go along with this farce of a government, why he would collude with the very people who beat, abused and tortured his and his wife’s family and friends? It cannot be in the interest of national unity – for the nation has never been so fractured. It cannot be to uphold his constitutional duty – for in that case should he not be implementing a MDP manifesto with a MDP cabinet? It cannot be as he said by twitter ‘because he’s trained his whole life for this’ – for there is no glory in this moment.

In the last month and half, Waheed and Co. have only carried out the ceremonial functions of the state. Swearing in, addressing the Parliament, orchestrated meet and greets and obnoxious tweeting. If only he would realise that the chances of him holding onto even a shred of credibility – aside from within the UN world – remains in his ability to distance himself from the old guard, and agreeing to hold elections within this year. Alas, the fear is that Waheed is too far gone. His strings are held too tightly in the grasp of those surrounding him, and it seems his want to shake them off is non-existent. Good luck to us.Image

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Belittling Brutality

The problem with living in a country of just over 360,000 people is the fact that practically every one is a relative, a business partner or a classmate. Add multi party politics into that mix, and things really do start hitting the fan. Not a reason not to have it of course, and in my opinion, most definitely not a reason to shut up, for the sake of ‘peace’, as many have suggested in the last month.

Of course things have been hitting the fan at a faster rate than usual in the last few weeks in the Maldives. Fathers as dictatorial leaders, dissenting uncles, opportunistic in-laws, self-righteous siblings, colourless cousins and protesting mothers to name a few have probably made Maldivian households not the most easiest places to be for many since February 7. No doubt, there are many a family and friendship group going through some very tense conversations. ‘Was it a coup? Is it police brutality? Whose side are you on?

It has taken me awhile to learn this, and maybe with age does come a wisdom tinged with cynicism, that not everybody, no matter how hard you try will get on the same page, and that blood is not thicker than water. So, I may not understand, but I will respect the rights of people who are either members or support political parties other than my own. After all, a multi party system and freedom of expression were issues which people fought hard for, and should not be taken lightly.

The only thing that the remnants of my idealism are having trouble forgiving is the lack of more public condemnation with regards to police brutality. In my opinion, it is unacceptable for anybody, educated or not, political or apolitical, to look at the footage of February 8, of Maldivian Police officers beating the living day lights out of people, and not be sickened by it. As a result, I find myself avoiding certain family members and ignoring certain friends purely for the fact that I am so angry with their silence for the sake of political gain or in the name of ‘public peace’, that I can’t talk to them, let alone look at them. Clearly, I’m not meant to be a politician. I have however decided that even for the sake of keeping the peace, I will not hesitate to condemn those who have jumped in bed with torturers, legitimised a brutal regime or justify attacks by saying, ‘well if you stayed at home, you wouldn’t have been baton charged, pepper sprayed, tear gassed etc.’

If there is one thing that the people – both the colourless and the colourful – must decide to agree on, it is that violence – state sponsored or politically motivated – is intolerable. If you don’t take a stand on anything else, at least take a stand on this. In the naïve hope that a more universal condemnation of brutality will send a message to those leading it, I urge you to let your voice be heard.  You don’t necessarily have to be out on the streets, just make it a point to condemn brutality in any forum, by any means. In your grandfather’s house, in your uncle’s shop, in your favourite cafe’, or on that Facebook page, dont tolerate the brutality of  7th – 8th February or the belittling of it.  We cannot afford not to.

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Keeping up Appearances over Keeping up Democracy?

As expected, Thursday’s events at the Majlis divided opinion. On one side you have the colourless and the coup leaders stating that MDP MPs behaved like monkeys. On the other, you have thousands of protestors celebrating them as heroes. On which side do I stand? With the thousands that peacefully protested on the streets of course.

It didn’t happen without warning. MDP’s Parliamentary Group announced on Wednesday, 29th February that they would not permit an illegitimate leader to address the Parliament, and they didn’t. Did people really expect a simple, polite walkout? Surely as ‘unique’ a coup as this one, deserves as unique a response? So, they shouted, they danced, they held up ‘baaqee’ signs, they physically blocked entrances, they sat on tables and they got beaten up by MNDF’s SPG officers, and in one instance by Mahloof. Worse than engineering and legitimising a coup d’etat? Worse than the brutal beating of protestors on the 7th, 8th of February? Worse than the lack of condemnation over police brutality from Dr. Waheed, the so called life long supporter of democracy and human rights? Absolutely not.

What is it that riles up the colourless and coup leaders so much about the mobilisation of people on the street? Why is that an armed mutiny of a few hundred MPS and MNDF officers can be so easily condoned but a dancing MP is so easily condemned? The colourless bang on about peaceful dialogue, due process and alignment with the constitution. Do they not realise that the right to assembly is guaranteed by the constitution? That, that very constitution came about as a result of the combination of mobilisation of people AND dialogue?

The real crux of the matter may not be that they are squeamish over the behaviour of MPs, but the fact they find it more convenient to criticise real people who care enough to come out on the street, who face riot police and coup leaders and who tell the so ‘called government’ what they think, rather than hiding behind the jargon of etiquette. Or they really don’t realise, unlike many others the severity of the current crisis. Maybe they don’t feel scared, as I do, when they see a MPS/MNDF uniform, they are able to overlook police brutality and they are able to justify a coup as Anni’s just rewards for his dealings with Abdulla Gaazee. Quite simply, they don’t miss the freedoms that 3 years of democratic rule allowed us, because they took it for granted.

There is a reason for protests. It is to show the Abbas Adhil Rizaas and the KDs, and the Jangiya Nazim’s and the international community that it is not just Anni, not just Ibu at the all party talks and not just MDP MPs, calling for an election, but thousands of people. Call the MDP MPs shameless, call the protestors disruptive, call it what you want, but also have the nerve to call a coup a coup.  Condemn violent protestors, but also have the courage to condemn police violence. 7th February’s mutiny was shameless. 8th and 9th February’s brutality was despicable. Worse, is over 24 days of military government legitimised by a puppet dictator and his ‘educated’ supporters.

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