Group decries attacks by Maldives police

2012-02-09 09:04

Colombo - Amnesty International said on Thursday that security forces in the Maldives attacked supporters of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed, failed to protect them from counterdemonstrators and detained five members of parliament.

The rights group called on the government of President Mohammed Waheed, who took over when Nasheed resigned on Tuesday, to investigate the attack and ensure freedom of expression in the Indian Ocean island nation.

The nation's first democratically elected president, Nasheed resigned after police joined months of street protests against his rule and soldiers defected. He said on Wednesday he was forced to step down at gunpoint and will fight to return to office, though Hassan and his supporters deny that his predecessor was forced out of office.

Nasheed's supporters rioted on Wednesday in Male, the capital, and seized some remote police stations, but Amnesty International said they had been peacefully marching before police attacked them.

The streets of Male appeared normal on Thursday morning, with traffic filling the rainy streets, and there were no immediate reports of violence on outlying islands.

"We will come to power again," Nasheed said. "We will never step back. I will not accept this coup and will bring justice to the Maldivians."

Freedom of expression

Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific director said the group is extremely concerned about developments in the Maldives, a Muslim nation of about 300 000 people.

"The new authorities must ensure the right to freedom of expression and assembly, and we want to see an investigation into the attack on Mohamed Nasheed and other protesters," Sam Zarifi said.

He added that the detained lawmakers should be freed unless they are charged with crimes under a fair process.

Late on Wednesday evening, Nasheed supporters took control of some small police stations but larger ones stayed under official control, police spokesperson Ahmed Shyam said.

Residents told local reporters that as many as 10 police stations on small islands may have been seized. The Maldives is made up of nearly 1 200 scattered islands, some of which have just a few hundred residents.

Police said they detained 49 people after the riot.

Islamic extremism

Nasheed's party insisted his ouster was engineered by rogue elements of the police and supporters of the country's former autocratic leader, whom Nasheed defeated in the Maldives' first multiparty elections in 2008.

Others blamed Islamic extremists in the Muslim country where some have demanded more conservative government policies.

Hassan, who was Nasheed's vice president, denied claims there was a coup or a plot to oust Nasheed. He said he had not prepared to take over the country and called for a unity coalition to be formed to help it recover.

"Together, I am confident, we'll be able to build a stable and democratic country," Hassan said, adding that his government intended to respect the rule of law.

He appeared to be consolidating his power on Wednesday by appointing a new military chief and police commissioner. He later swore in defence and home ministers, the first members of his new Cabinet.

Nasheed insisted he was pushed from power by the armed forces.

Excessive use of force

"I was forced to resign with guns all around me. They told me, if I don't resign, they won't hesitate to use arms," he said.

The military denied that it forced Nasheed to resign at gunpoint. "There is no officer in the military that would point a gun towards the president," said Brigadier General Ibrahim Didi.

"The military did not call for his resignation, he resigned voluntarily," Didi said, adding that the military is trying to bring peace to troubled areas quickly.

Police official Abdul Mannan Yousuf promised investigations into complaints of excessive use of force by police.

Before the clashes, Nasheed demanded Hassan's immediate resignation as he spoke to about 2 000 wildly cheering members of his Maldivian Democratic Party in Male. Police later fired tear gas at the demonstrators.

"If the police are going to confront us we are going to face them," Nasheed told the rally. "We have to overcome our fear and we have to get strength."

Beaten unconscious

Nasheed's supporters began rioting, throwing fire bombs and vandalising a private TV station that had been critical of Nasheed's government.

Reeko Moosa Manik, a lawmaker and chairperson of the party, was beaten unconscious by police and hospitalised, said his son Mudrikath Moosa.

Nasheed and other lawmakers were beaten as well, he said.

Waheed, who had promised to protect Nasheed from retribution, said his predecessor was not under any restriction and was free to leave the country. However, he said he would not interfere with any police or court action against Nasheed.

Police were investigating the discovery of at least 100 bottles of alcohol inside a truck removing garbage on Tuesday from the presidential residence as Nasheed prepared to relinquish power, said Shyam, the police spokesperson.

Consuming alcohol outside tourist resorts is a crime punished with jail time and even banishment to a distant island.

Judge's arrest

Nasheed's resignation marked a stunning fall for the former human rights campaigner who had been jailed for his activism. He is also an environmental celebrity for urging global action against climate change, warning that rising sea levels would inundate his archipelago nation.

Over the past year, Nasheed was battered by protests over soaring prices and demands for more religiously conservative policies. Last month, Nasheed's government arrested the nation's top criminal court judge for freeing a government critic and refused to release him as protests grew.

Nasheed and Waheed ran as a ticket in the 2008 elections after Nasheed's MDP formed a coalition with Waheed's Gaumee Itthihaad Party, or National Unity Party.

In a news conference on Wednesday, Waheed sought to tamp down fears that Islamists were gaining power.

"They are part of the society; you can't ignore them," he said. "But there are wide range of people with different views, philosophies and ideas about politics. I am planning to create a plural multiparty government."

A UN team is expected in the country later this week.