You cannot teach an old dictator new tricks.
As the Maldives continues to experience the reversal of their democracy, the Maldives Police Service was out on the streets once again yesterday, demonstrating their tired old Gayoom-era tricks.
Early Tuesday morning, an unprecedented number of police arrived at Usfasgandu, the protest site on the south eastern side of Male’, where pro-democracy protesters led by the MDP have been demonstrating for months calling for early elections.
Armed with a search warrant, they forcibly evicted the protesters from the scene. Hundreds of police men and DED officials then combed through the area, later claiming to have recovered such criminal loot as a box of condoms and a potentially illegal “brown substance” – conveniently wrapped in MDP membership forms, lest anyone doubted their story.
The scenes evoked memories of March 19, when a joint police and military raid on the previous MDP protest camp at the nearby Raalhugandu area recovered more unlawful substances and cans of illegal alcohol, that were rather thoughtfully stored by the protestors in convenient MDP branded boxes, presumably with a large colourful arrow pointing towards it.
Those familiar with the Maldives’ painful transition to democracy would remember a time when the police were routinely employed by the state to harass and intimidate dissidents and crush all opposition.
Those times, it is evident, have come roaring back.
“Rule of law”
According to the Police narrative, the mutiny that culminated in the toppling of the first democratically elected government was ostensibly led by patriotic police officials who were disillusioned with the ‘unconstitutional orders’ they were being handed by the elected leaders.
In keeping with that noble spirit, hundreds of police officers publicly renewed their vows to “uphold the rule of law” in dramatic television footage captured at the Republican Square on that fateful morning.
It is the pride of any nation to have a Police Service that espouses such fanatical devotion to the “rule of law”.
Yet, one can’t help but call into question the sincerity of the Maldives Police Service’s newfound love for their constitution, and their hastily arranged commitment to the ‘rule of law’.
What is one to make of the brazen criminal actions of the rogue Police and military personnel who went on a public rampage, ransacking the MDP party quarters and beating up their activists?
How does one explain away the storming of the State broadcaster and airing on it content from a private TV propaganda outlet belonging to businessman politician Gasim Ibrahim – who is alleged to be among the primary financers of the coup d’état?
What does one make of the intensely politicised nature of a police department that appears to stop just short of publicly swearing allegiance to a certain political party run by a former dictator?
Exactly which law were the Maldives Police Service upholding when they threatened and physically assaulted elected MPs and the democratically elected President of the Nation? Under which clause of the Police Act did they assault some of their own senior officers inside the Police HQ on the day of the coup d’état?
Certainly, the rule of law could not be more violated than when the Police continued to dismantle the Usfasgandu camp site last night, in direct contravention of court orders forbidding them from doing exactly that? From their actions, it is plainly obvious that the Maldives Police Service couldn’t care less about “the rule of law” – which continues to be the ruse employed to explain away their treason on February 7.
For their part, Waheed and his newly appointed Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz have also publicly lauded the police for their unapologetic actions on February 7th, hailing it as a great example of ‘upholding the rule of law’.
There has been no investigation, and not a single police officer or military personnel has been booked for the brutality and wild excesses of that dark day.
Instead, in keeping with the Gayoom-era tradition, the Police have been richly rewarded for their services. For their troubles, the newly installed regime has lavished the Police and military with a record number of promotions, and monetary rewards.
Waheed – the problem, not the solution
With his various public utterances about ‘National unity’ and pledges to uphold the constitution, Waheed has attempted to project his regime as some kind of force for stability.
Unfortunately, Waheed’s appeal to ‘unity’ appears to be about as hollow as the Police Service’s professed love for the ‘rule of law’. He continues to eagerly defend the indefensible by refusing to take action against identified cops, who brutalised civilians in full public view and continue to do so with impunity.
While his helmeted riot cops continue to beat back thousands of angry protesters every week with their batons and shields, Waheed appears to not be interested in even acknowledging their sincere grievances. Instead, in the months following the coup d’état, he has lost no chance to colour the supporters of the MDP – by far the largest political party in the country – as ‘terrorists’.
It must be noted that the MDP led protests that have continued unabated since February have been largely non-violent, marked by weekly rallies and public forums – and often music, dancing, exhibits, videos, and speeches.
Yet, during the latest raid yesterday, Police again took into custody several MDP leaders, including MDP spokesperson and MP Imthiyaz ‘Inthi’ Fahmy, and a couple of elected MDP councillors. When enraged protesters poured out onto the streets again last night, the Maldives Police Service responded yet again with heavy-handed tactics.
Apparently pleased with this campaign of intimidation, Waheed’s Home Minister Mohamed Jameel Ahmed said on his public twitter account, “I commend the way our MPS attend (sic) Usfasgandu”.
From delaying tactics and misinformation, to harassment and intimidation, Waheed’s regime appears to have played all its cards since February 7th, and yet it is clear that the protesters simply aren’t willing to go back indoors until their demands are met.
The fact of the matter is that the continuing unrest – where a significant percentage of the population feels robbed of their legitimate government in highly questionable circumstances – can only be resolved by free and fair elections, and ensuring justice for the victims of mindless police violence.
These are absolutely essential for the public to restore their confidence in the government and heal the deep rifts with the security forces.
However, thus far, Waheed has shown no inclination to quit his stalling tactics, keep his erring ministers in check, ensure justice is served to the criminals in uniform, or stop his posturing against international bodies like the CMAG, or actually let the public have their say as a way out of the crisis.
Thus, it naturally follows that Waheed is the problem and not the solution – for he and his newly adopted network of Gayoom cronies are exactly what lies between the public and their vote.
To maintain this unsustainable status quo, Waheed has resorted to the same tactics that Gayoom did – namely, taking the Maldives Police Service off their leash and letting them loose upon the public, assigned with the singular task of cracking down on dissent with impunity.
Thus, the regime that was brought to power in a hail of batons, shields and tear gas continues to be sustained by the same ugly means and the country as a whole continues its free-fall into a dissolute police state.
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