Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz was appointed following the change of government on February 7 in what former President Mohamed Nasheed and the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) contends was a police and military-led coup d’état. Riyaz had previously served as Assistant Commissioner but was dismissed by Nasheed’s government in 2009.
Daniel Bosley: Why did you decide to promote so many officers all at once?
Abdulla Riyaz: Well, most of the promotions have been overdue for a long time, and when I took office I looked at the reasons and discussed with the executives, as I have mentioned, that we have been working to restructure the whole organisation which I have done. It has been selected to under directorates which would be able to form some departments, and in the departments there will be several units which will cover the whole country. We have a constitutional responsibility as well as from the police act. We have a lot of responsibilities to protect and serve the people, to keep the peace in society, and to maintain law and order so I thought it is necessary that these arrangements should be made and that is what we have done. All the promotions that we have awarded are based on the promotion regulations.
DB: Is this re-organisation linked to your aim of de-politicising the police force?
AR: Well, there is no politicisation in the police any more. But for the last three years, this organisation has been heavily influenced by politicians. I’m sure all professional journalists, if they have done this analysis or investigation, would find that. Since I have taken office I have looked at some of the issues and have found that some of the promotions have been given just because of political influence. There have been some officers transferred from one police station to others just for the political reasons, so I am here to make sure that I am serving this organisation, also the people of the Maldives, without bias. Today I can say very proudly say that we are working without any political influence, from the President or from the Minister. It is totally, one hundred percent, independently operational now.
DB: So, there have been demotions as well?
AR: No, there hasn’t been any demotion – definitely not so far, and I have no intention to either. If there has been any misconduct, any unlawful act done by any police officer; if they have been found guilty by law or by disciplinary boards, through the due process. If that kind of advise or that kind of verdict comes, I will definitely take those actions [to demote]. I will never hesitate to demote a police officer if they are found guilty of any unlawful act.
DB: There has been a lot of talk about reform and enhanced training; what kind of things do you have in mind for the future?
AR: For the training, our main challenge at the moment is to keep the peace in our society. To do that we have prioritised our operational practice. One of these is drug trafficking; the second is violent crimes, organised crime, counter terrorism, and road discipline – so these are the five main operational priorities that we are going to focus on this year. Most of our resources will go to make sure that we get results in these areas and our training will be focused on that.
We said that we would also want to make sure that we can convince the public and increase the public perception about the trust and confidence in the police, we need to improve that. That is one of the main areas we need. For that we need to assure that the police is not biased, that the police are professional, that we deal without any gender bias or without any political differences of that nature.
So, I am very confident that we will be in a better position to get this [confidence] back. I am pretty confident that we can achieve public trust and confidence. It’s just a couple of months that I have taken office and so far the feedback that I have been getting is very positive, and of course I am open for any comments or suggestions from the members of the public; from which we will definitely make changes to our programmes or our projects.
So mostly, all our focus will be on that. We are doing a lot of training on professional development; investigations to make sure that, rather than on the number of cases we investigate, we concentrate more on making sure that we have more successful prosecutions. Because we have seen in the past a lot of cases that have not been proven at the court of law. That is a big concern for me, so I am working very closely with the Prosecutor General as well to make sure that our officers are trained professionally to investigate, to interview, trained to collect evidence, analyse it, submit reports and present it at the court of law, and make sure we have successful prosecutions. That is the other main area.
We are also very much concerned about our officers safety – I condemn the acts of some of the people who have attacked the police officers. We have not lost any lives but there have been several serious injuries and we had to take a couple of our officers abroad for treatment. A lot of their assets have been targeted and vandalised on the other atolls, on the islands, while they were serving the public. So, one of our concerns is also to improve their welfare and working conditions, plus their working shifts. We know that some of the officers have been working very hard, very long hours and that we need to improve that. For that reason we needed more officers to be recruited into the organisation, which we are going to do this year. We have been approved for 200 more police officers to be included, so they will be initiated this year. We are also seeing that due to the long shifts and fatigue, that we need to make sure that our officers are dealing with the public professionally.
We are getting some of the reports of complaints about police officers’ dealings and because of that reason we have restructure our professional standards. They are responsible to deal with complaints against the police, also to do counselling for officers, and that kind of program has already been initiated. The counselling program will involve almost all of the police officers in the service. It is professional counselling to make sure that they don’t have worries with their families or whatever issues that they have, if that comes back to us, then our organisation will know what are the things we need to improve. These are the main areas we need to improve.
DB: We have already touched slightly on internal disciplinary procedures – have these been changed in any way?
AR: The internal disciplinary procedures all these years has been that, if there is any complaint against the police, the case has to register at the Professional Standards Directorate (PSD). It had to be registered, somebody had to complain. But I have changed it to act that if we hear information from any sources – it is more pro-active. Then the PSD has the responsibility to do an inquiry, and they will also work very closely with the Human Rights Commission Maldives (HRCM), with the Police Integrity Commission (PIC), with Amnesty International (AI) or other organisations who are dealing with these kinds of areas, so they are very pro-active – more proactive than ever before.
Once they investigate the cases, if they feel that there has been a criminal case, then it will be dealt with by the criminal investigation department, whereas if it is a disciplinary issue, it will go through the disciplinary board. We have a disciplinary board of five or seven members; we have changed the board now. Some commissioned officers have been complained about so it has been restructured so very senior officers will be sitting to deal with the commissioned officers and so that is the procedure. If the board decides that action should be taken then I will definitely endorse it. That is how it is done in terms of disciplinary issues and if there is a call for dismissal then I have to write to the Minister for his authorisation. If it is a criminal case it will go to the prosecutor general who will deal with it in accordance with the law.
DB: Could you comment on recent complaints by Amnesty International regarding the treatment of female detainees?
AR: It’s very unfortunate that it has come up. Normally, these kinds of organisations, before they issue a release, they will ask for our comments. They have never done that; I am very disappointed about that. We have given Amnesty full access every time they asked; it is even now open. We have a very open policy. To be honest with you, even during a demonstration, every time we are working on the street, HRCM or PIC is on the ground to watch us. Normally, if we apprehend someone, before we even know their names, HRCM would have registered it by themselves. So it is in the normal cases.
We are giving them access to our reception, we are giving access to Dhoonidhoo island. In fact, they don’t have to ask to visit, they could just go by boat and say that ‘we are here’, they could make surprise visits – feel free, it’s open. Even Amnesty or Open Society or whatever – please come and visit us and see if there is anything we have been doing systematically to harass or do anything. On that matter, I am very disappointed that Amnesty has released that statement without contacting us for our comments. I don’t see that there has been any investigations done, none of our officers was questioned, interviewed – neither by them nor by the police integrity commission, nor by the human rights commission. I don’t think that’s fair and that’s the reason we had to respond to it [with a statement].
DB: Regarding the investigation of the events of February 7 and 8, what are the roles of the HRCM and the CNI?
AR: I can’t talk on behalf of CNI, obviously, but I think they are investigating an overview, that’s how I feel. They are not doing a criminal investigation. I was interviewed as well and I was told it wasn’t a criminal investigation. So I think we will have to wait for the outcome. I think it’s a very positive move by the government, to have an independent commission to make sure how events took place. The HRCM is perhaps doing a part of the investigation, or the PIC is doing some as well, so let’s wait and see how it comes.
DB: You have already mentioned the public sentiment problems, is there anything you would like to add on that subject?
AR: I can understand that this is not the best time for police, there have been a lot of things [that have happened]. What I would like to convey to the members of the public is that the police institution will remain as an institution. People come and go, the leadership comes and goes; the institution will remain. Even for the politicians or the members of the public who are not comfortable with us, I would want to convince, or give the message, that the institution will remain, so we will have to give that respect to the institution. If there is an issue with the commissioner or if there is an issue with any of the officers, I think we will have to follow the processes; if there is any complaint, deal with it. All these institutions that have to be there within our constitution are already there in place, it’s functioning.
I think that PIC, HRCM, Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) are very independently doing the investigations and we should allow that to happen rather than blaming the institutions for no reason. I don’t think that is going to be healthy, either for them, nor for society, nor for us. I think we have to strengthen the institutions, we have to advocate even the members of the public and the politicians as well. The future political leaders must also make sure we give the space to strengthen the institutions.
I think that this is a great opportunity for the Maldives. Why it is great is because now, at this point of time, I can say the police is very much operationally independent. This is the only time I can happily say that. I can see a lot of smiles from the police officers, I can see that they are not exhausted. I have been scared with some of the incidents they have gone through during the last three years – some of the decisions that have come from executive of what to do and what not to do. These things are not here, I don’t get calls from my president. That is why I’m saying that this is a great time and I think that this is a time for our lawmakers to look at how this institution has been politicised, how can we improve for the new leaders; not only the executives but also the commissioners? How strong should the commissioner be to make sure the institution is not politicised?
I think these are the [important] areas and, of course, from all that we have seen about the arrest and detention of the criminal court judge, we can see that the whole thing is coming from the executive’s instructions. So what made the Home Minister and the Commissioner decide to come back and ask for assistance from the police, and the Commissioner to go to Defence, and the Defence Minister asking for the rank and files to make him arrest and all this – we have to look at these things. Do we want this to happen again? No. Do we want change of government like this? No. We are talking about making institutions professional, we are taking about strengthening institutions, we are talking about giving them space to effectively run the main responsibilities for the people.
Police are not there protect the government, police are there to protect the people. We have to differentiate these things, while in my position I have to decide whether my work will be to protect the government or should I use all my legal authority and machinery, the resources that we have, to protect the people. These are the decisions; these are two different things. I think in a democratic society, the policing is always for the people and I am confident that the President has pledged [this], and that was one of the reasons why I accepted to come back to the police. I have my trust and confidence in the president, also in my minister, and even if I get do get any unlawful order, I am confident to say that I will say no and I will never do that. All the actions, all the decisions that we will take will be based on our legal positions, by ourselves. It will never be influenced by politicians.
DB: Has the precedent been set for police to overthrow government when unlawful orders are issued?
AR: I see February 6 as a day when the police have upheld the constitution and the laws of the land. They have been repeatedly instructed and given unlawful orders for which they have [refused to follow] several times. I see that as a day that they have upheld the law and constitution, I don’t see that they have overthrown the government. I see the whole process went very peacefully. I don’t see it as a coup either. I don’t know how it went inside the chambers of the Presidnt or inside his office, but obviously what I have seen is that he was very voluntarily resigning. I saw his resignation speech as well from close by, so I don’t see that there was any coup. I don’t believe the police force have overthrown the government.
In fact, if you look from minute to minute on the sixth, what they have been asking is for one thing – not to give unlawful orders, that’s the only thing they had been demanding. That was with a reason. Why were they at the Republic Square? Because the seniors asked them to stay there. So, the events have unfolded the next day and several things have happened, and the President has decided.
Definitely, I was never involved in any coup. I can one hundred percent guarantee that if there is any investigation from any agency, I can one hundred percent say that I am very innocent in that. Whatever role I played, it was based on national interest, nothing else. We never wanted to see any bloodshed, we never wanted to see anything happen wrong there and that was a time when I thought that the nation had asked for my support or my presence. That is how I was there. Unless, if anything is proven in a court of law, I don’t think I can be convinced otherwise.