President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, on Tuesday, asserted his stance on anti-police remarks, stating that he did not believe such sentiments welcomed reform or were equivalent to advocacy for change.
During the press conference held at the President’s Office, a first since the COVID-19 prompted restrictions were initiated, President Solih spoke in defence over the continued public hostility towards Maldives Police Services (MPS).
Fresh criticism surfaced following discussions over the newly proposed ‘Police Service Bill’, which led to a number of lawmakers making disparaging comments about the country’s law enforcement.
In the course of the debate, certain parliamentarians declared they had no confidence in the authority's abilities to protect and serve, and expressed wishes to reign in the powers bestowed to police.
“This leads to unrest, hate and division”, remarked the president.
The conversation on police reform piques during a period within which the authority’s cooperative efforts are invaluable.
Round-the-clock police work has proved and continues to be essential in providing services to Maldivians in all islands with stringent travel bans, lockdowns and quarantine measures placed country-wide as part of Maldives’ response to the ongoing global COVID19 pandemic.
Referring to the above, the president classed front-line efforts by police personnel as “key sacrifices” made to prioritise public safety.
President Solih further noted that he intends to, nevertheless, ensure reform for both police and military services and develop their capacity as well, acknowledging that as with many other institutions, the country’s security services are in need of reform.
The Police Act currently in effect was ratified in 2008. While amendments recently proposed to the parliament include a number of widely-accepted changes, some have cast doubt over the transfer of certain powers to the parliament, which had previously laid with the state.
Since the end of President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s time in office, police reform has remained a hot topic in Maldives. During the aforementioned tenure, a number of human rights abuses were carried out by the authority, giving rise to public distrust.
The discontent reached an all-time high during 2012’s alleged coup d'état, infused by the ousted Maldivian Democratic Party claiming that security forces had threatened "bloodbath" if President Mohamed Nasheed chose to remain in power.
At the time, several Maldivians attained injuries that they attributed to police brutality, during the numerous demonstrations that followed.
According to research conducted by Amnesty International and Human Rights Commission of Maldives, Maldives Police Service were found to have disregarded human rights principles during public order situations, specifically in administering protests, investigations and in public interactions.
Local chapter of Transparency International, ‘Transparency Maldives’ further elaborates that regressive actions by police reflect the low level of trust, adding that by 2015, only 40 percent of the public held confidence in the police, itself a dip in trust compared to 2013.
In 2019, a paper on police reform published by Transparency Maldives recommended that MPS introduce a code of conduct that adheres to Article 8 of the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC), establish integrity management systems, ensure the promotion system is merit-based and transparent, and introduce mechanisms for further transparency of police work.
This week, the police drew added ire for their swift intervention during the 'Majlis Heylavva' (Awaken the Parliament) protest organised by leftist political movement Navaanavai. Assistant Commissioner of Police Abdulla Fairoosh defended the move tweeting, “This isn’t the time to organise demonstrations".
Although no arrests were made and no injuries were sustained by protesters, concerns were raised over police inaction to disburse the coalition-led protest, which pivoted around defending police, and was held on the same day.
The subject of police reform has, in the last few months, gained considerable traction internationally as well, largely spurred by the racially-motivated murder of George Floyd in Minnesota, United States of America by four uniformed officers, during an arrest for allegedly using a counterfeit bill. Since, protests have erupted worldwide calling for an end to systematic racism and as a show of unity against both ethnic oppression and police brutality.
A key electoral pledge of the Solih administration, and on set for the first 100 days, is a return to constitutional rule and the restoration of citizens' democratic rights. Under the above, rebuilding the public's faith in law enforcement was categorized as particularly vital, and a police reform program commenced at this time.
However, in the months that followed, little else was reported.