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Eye-witness account of events on 12-13 August 2004 at the Republican Square, Male' Maldives
by Ali in Male', Maldives
Dhivehi Observer
14 August 2004

Thursday, 12th August 2004

Eye-witness account of events on 12-13 August 2004 at the Republican Square, Male' Maldives

I went to the Republican Square in Male' at 9pm on 12 August. I went there for a purpose - to call for the release of all innocent reformists the NSS had detained.

NSS officers were constantly photographing us from inside Shaheed Hussain Adam building. There was one officer at the roof of the building with a camcorder, lying low most of the time so that we wouldn't see him. The people around me said let them photograph or do whatever, because we were no longer are afraid. We could clearly see a meeting going on inside this building with lots of uniformed officers, because the inside light was still on. The officers who were shooting us on tape later realized this and switched the lights off.

It was around 10pm, and the crowd was getting bigger and bigger. There were people of all ages. I was with one person sitting on the half-foot wall surrounding the palm trees and playing his guitar. Apparently he had been waiting there for a very long time and wanted to participate in our cause with his music. Others were capturing the moment on their video cameras, digital photo cameras and camera-phones.

Eye-witness account of events on 12-13 August 2004 at the Republican Square, Male' Maldives

Still no word of the detainees. People were getting anxious and shouting for their release. The entrance to the Shaheed Hussein Adam building was walled off by NSS officers. There was another three layers of officers in front. They were standing hand in hand with their fellow officers.

Friday, 13th August
Somebody addressd the crowd over the megaphone. People moved in towards the voice. Others climbed higher to get a glimpse of the scene. As the crowd had grown significantly, I was unable to see who was addressing the people. Word came that this was the NSS asking the people to back off. Some people shouted back that they came here to know why their fellow brothers were detained, and demanded they be released. The NSS officer tried for a while to make the crowd leave and then gave up.

There was a moment of confusion, I saw some people running towards the Atolls Ministry building. I heard people saying it was a fight.

Then Mr Gasim Ibrahim addressed the crowd. He said he had been asked to request us to leave the area. He said our requests will be submitted to the relevant authorities and that it was best if we left peacefully. The crowd said they didn't have faith in the government or any of it's authorities, and said that they were not leaving without the detainees been released.


Eye-witness account of events on 12-13 August 2004 at the Republican Square, Male' Maldives

Somebody addressed the people from in front of Bandeyrige/Bandaara Koshi (NSS headquarters). He identified himself as Brigadier Moosa Jaleel. He was using a pair of loudspeakers mounted on a stand. He tried to explain to the crowd, hoping to get their trust, that he and his officers were aware of our concerns and that he was prepared to work with us to resolve the issue. But first we need to leave the area, he said. People didn't accept a word of his speech. By this time Ameeni Magu was full of people. There was no standing space  between the people. The steel gates to the Bandeyrige were closed.

The crowd made it clear that they were not leaving without their demands being met. After some time, the sound system was moved back inside Bandeyri Koshi.

Later (Endherimaage) Ilyas Ibrahim addressed the crowd and asked them to move back and leave the area. He went on to say that because the crowd was blocking the entrance to NSS, they will not be able to fight a fire if one started in Male'. I heard someone from the crowd then say, 'Is NSS planning to start a fire?' Others called Ilyas 'FPID fraud'.  Several other people addressed the crowd after Ilyas, I do not know their names.

People were now calling for the resignation of some cabinet ministers, namely  Abdullah Hameed (Gayyoom's brother) and Yameen (Gayyoom's brother). Also there were moments when the crowd in unison called for President Gayyoom's resignation.

I think it was Moosa Jaleel, who then said that the requested detainees were on a speed boat and approaching Male' jetty. Later, one of the newly released reformists addressed the crowd and said that he was taken well care of by the NSS while he was in custody. Still the crowd refused to go.

Then Special Majlis member for Male' Ibrahim Ismail (Ibra) called out on the megaphone 'Assalaam alaikum' and the crowd replied the salute back, 'Alaikum salaam'. All the people addressing the crowd began with 'Assalam Alaikum'. I mentioned Ibra's salute because he repeated the phrase a couple of times until there was complete silence. The crowd was eager to hear what he was going to say, unlike the previous speakers.

Ibrahim Ismail said that he was not a person who can move easily among such a crowd. He said he was asked to come and address the crowd because people didn't listen to the previous speakers. He asked the crowd to tell him what their demands were, and he would take these demands to the NSS authorities for their consideration. People told him their demands, which were:
  • Release of the detained reformists
  • Release of Sandhaanu prisoners (writers and reformists)
  • Release of Naushad Waheed (artist and reformist)
  • Resignation of Abdullah Hameed (Minister of Atolls, Gayyoom's brother)
  • Resignation of Yameen (Minister of Trade, Gayyoom's brother )
  • Resignation of the President (Maumoon Gayyoom)


Eye-witness account of events on 12-13 August 2004 at the Republican Square, Male' Maldives

Ibrahim Ismail (Ibra) then told the crowd that he wanted the people to move back into the Republican Square to properly discuss all their issues and submit them to NSS Brigadier Moosa Jaleel. The crowd moved along with Ibra. He was carried by the crowd and seated at the base of the tall flag post in Republican Square. This is the same flag post under which Gayyoom and his supporters allegedly cast a fanditha (black magic) spell to protect his presidency.

When Ibrahim Ismail tried to address the people around the flag post, one NSS officer stood on the platform and harassed the crowd. People were furious and demanded that he go elsewhere. I was told he said, 'I will not move from this location while the flag is hoisted.' People around the platform then removed him from the platform. There was a loud cheer when this happened.

Ibrahim Ismail said he was with the people and he will always listen to the people. He said that NSS Brigadier Moosa Jaleel has assured him that no force would be used against the people if they remained peacefully in Republican Square.

The square was almost full of people now.

The mob sent by Yameen was in full force by this time. They were given megaphones from the NSS and were trying to create trouble among the protesters. This group mainly consisted of youngsters, the sort you normally find behind bars. There were around 30 people in this gang. Their actions and the way they attacked the protesters clearly indicates that they were under protection from the NSS and other higher authority. Al though the gang was hugely outnumbered, they acted very violently. They would not have been able to do this without endorsement from the authorities and protection from the NSS. They had license to be aggressive and violent.

I was told later that Sun Travel Shiyam contributed huge sums of cash for these groups to harass the protestors and incite violence. Their plan was to create disharmony and violence within the crowd, which would be an excuse for the NSS to use force and crush the protestors. But the protesters were already aware of this, and they didn't respond to any attacks from the gangs.

I listened to the gang members to hear what they were talking about. All they said was 'Maumoon Zindabad', and that he was their rightful president.

It was during Fareed's address to the crowd that the first light from the morning sun lit the sky. He was talking about how Maumoon Gayyoom had disgraced Islam for his own benefit. He also talked about his experiences in prison.


Eye-witness account of events on 12-13 August 2004 at the Republican Square, Male' Maldives

Special Majlis member Gasim Ibrahim addressed the crowd and asked them to disperse. He said this gathering was not the way to bring about the changes that we hoped for. He advised everybody to work for change via the Special constitutional Majlis.

7:30 am
Fathmath Nisreen, sentenced to ten years over the Sandhaanu newsletter case in 2002, addressed the crowd. Her speech was interrupted when two uniformed NSS officers and one plain-clothes officer climbed onto the flag platform (this plain-clothes officer later came back with NSS Chief of Staff Mohamed '22' Zahir to impound the sound system). Their intention was to get Yameen's gang onto the platform so they could grab the sound system. The police officers were chased away by the people around the platform. After a moment, the Yameen gang forced their way onto the platform and demanded the sound system be handed over to them. After some heated verbal exchanges, they were removed by people around the platform. The response from the Yameen mob always was very violent. Their sole purpose was to cause physical injuries to the protesters and make them angry.

NSS Chief of Staff Mohamed '22' Zahir approached the sound system with the plain- clothes NSS officer. At first, it seemed Zahir was going to address the protesters, but that was only a gimmick. The two of men grabbed the sound system and tried to impound it. But the protesters intervened and chased them away.

I was very tired and sleepy, so I went home and took a small nap. I wasn't able to sleep, knowing that our brothers were fighting for their freedom and that they were at risk from the brutal NSS forces.

I telephoned a colleague of mine who was at the Republican Square to get an update on the situation. He told me that they were waiting for a reply from NSS Brigadier Moosa Jaleel about their demands for the resignation of Abdullah Hameed and Yameen.

My friend phoned and told me that NSS coast guard has intercepted two dhoanis (boats) at sea. Some prisoners had earlier broken out of Maafushi jail. He also told me that one of the dhoani's was sunk, and the other gassed with tear gas. He then told me that he has heard that somebody (in Male') had stabbed a police officer and he didn't knew if it was one of the protesters or Yameen's mob. He told me not to come to the scene at the moment. He also told me that there is word that a cabinet meeting is underway in the NSS Bandeyrige (headquarters).


Eye-witness account of events on 12-13 August 2004 at the Republican Square, Male' Maldives

I took a shower and went with my praying kit, just in case the Islamic center was full and I had to pray outside. I went to the Republican Square, because there was still time for Friday prayers. The protesters had brought in a diesel generator and a new set of loud speakers. The NSS, with their more powerful speakers, were continually addressing the protesters. I was unable to hear the protesters when the NSS spoke, because their speakers were so loud.

Sheikh Fareed was trying to lead the protestors in their Friday prayers at the Square. Yameen's mob moved in to disrupt the praying crowd. This time, they assaulted the protestors with wicket sticks (used in cricket games, with one pointed sharpened at the end). Fareed gave up and left the Square to perform his prayers elsewhere. I believe he went to Bandaara mosque.

While the men prayed, women kept watch on the sound equipment.

I performed Friday prayers and hurried back to Republican Square. The NSS started their announcements on loud speakers. Didi, a Sandhaanu prisoner, was talking on the crowd's sound system.

NSS was saying (among other things):
  • 'We are here to protect you. We will not let you down. We and you share the same destiny. It's in our national interest to listen to the people. We have heard you. We will work to deliver your requests. Already the government has been informed of your demands. So please leave this area now.'
  • 'Maldives police have been protecting you with their blood. You remember how the NSS protected you in the past.'
The protestors were saying that they are waiting for an answer from Brigadier Moosa Jaleel. There was no reply from NSS about this.

Eye-witness account of events on 12-13 August 2004 at the Republican Square, Male' Maldives

I came home and had lunch, read some DO and took a nap (I was all too sleepy, having stayed awake all night).

I received a call from my brother who was on the scene and he said the police had moved in with force. They used tear gas, rubber bullets and batons, and they had taken in anybody they could.

I started receiving call after call, telling me the same thing. From all the information that I have gathered, here is what happened:

The NSS had decided to stop the protest before sunset. Since all their requests to disperse the crowd were unsuccessful, they drew up an action plan with Yameen. This was to get a young group of boys to throw stones at the NSS, after which the NSS would charge the protesters and beat them up before arresting them.

It happened as they planned. The group of young boys started throwing stones at the NSS. Since the reformers weren't there for violence, they intervened and tried to stop the boys. Most of the people had gone for a rest or to have lunch, so the number of protesters were minimal. As the protesters were busy stopping the boys, the NSS charged them with their batons, shot rubber bullets and sprayed tear gas. They indiscriminately beat up young and old, men and women.

One eye witness told me the following:

'I am a reporter for one of the local newspapers. I have seen many horrible scenes on TV where the soldiers or the police attack demonstrators. The ugliest I have seen, is how the Israelis beat up the Palestinians. But what I have seen today is far worse. This is worse than the Israelis.'

Eye-witness account of events on 12-13 August 2004 at the Republican Square, Male' Maldives
Dhiraagu was forced to stop all Internet services. SMS was stopped earlier in the morning. The Internet was blocked perhaps to prevent any images from getting out to the international media. Gayyoom was trying to cover up, and downplay the size of the crowd.

The Internet is the only media that Gayyoom has not been able to control. I am sure he regrets for having the service in Maldives.

Dr Shaheed speaks on BBC. He says that he would not call this a peaceful pro-democracy demonstration. He says the NSS had to take action because two NSS officers were stabbed. He goes on to say that Maumoon Gayyoom is a very popular president in Maldives.

8:00pm Local news on TVM
Local TV downplays the size of the protestors and calls the gathering 'illegal in every possible sense'.

Sound of police sirens on the roads now and then.

Maldives TV interviews some members of the public regarding the incident. No person of integrity was interviewed. For example, only one shop keeper and one person from sai hotaa (tea cafe), people who by any standards didn't really seem to care what happened to their country, or were too old to be bothered. One very elderly person was asked if the government did the right thing and he replied, 'I think everything that the government does is the right thing, wouldn't you agree?'

And then there was Usmaan Abdulla who was asked specific questions about the day's events. He says that talking against an elected leader is clearly rebellion and should never be done. He then calls on the government to be harsh with the people involved and not to be soft on them. He then goes on to praise Maumoon Gayyoom for the development he has done in the country. He said that if anybody thinks about the developments the current government has provided us, that person's heart will surely overflow with appreciation. He says that the current government has achieved tremendous progress in the health sector, education and social areas.

Everybody who was interviewed was over 50 years old. The reason? Everybody else was at Republican square that day and would not talk pro-government. The government media failed miserably to provide convincing evidence that the general public supported President Gayyoom.

The local news was rather lengthy today. There was an interview wth a Lt Colonel (from the NSS). He tried to convince people that the police were extra kind to the protesters even though the protesters were always aggressive and attacked the NSS officers continuously.

Pictures of the damage were shown over and over again on TV. There was one lengthy shot shown to display the broken chains around the flag platform, as if it was a major loss to the government and done deliberately. Note the inconsistency of TV Maldives on this (way of reporting). The pictures of damage of 20 September 2003 were suppressed and hidden from the public. The damage was downplayed to convince the public that the rioting was done by only a small number of people. But this time, they wanted the public to think that the damage done by reformists were enormous and justified the declaration of state of emergency in Male' and its surrounding areas.

Special Programs on TV and Radio
Special programs are aired on TV and radio to show support for Gayyoom. Letters of praise for President Gayyoom, allegedly submitted by local citizens, were read on TV and radio. Almost of the letters read on TV sounded as if they were written using a default template from Microsoft Windows. What I mean is, they used the same combination of words and phrases.

Maldivians (wanting reform) are united in our thoughts too.

Saturday, 14 August 2004
Local news on TV Cabinet ministers congratulate and praise Maumoon Gayyoom
Cabinet congratulates and praises Gayyoom for his wise decisions regarding the 13 August events . There were smiles on the face of Attorney General Hassan Saeed,  Abdullah Hameed and Foreign Minister Fathulla Jameel.

Friday 13 August 2004 will be remembered in my heart as the 'Black Friday' on which Maumoon shamelessly showed his muscle power to harmless citizens of his own country. The incidents do not deter my resolve to fight for a better life for the Maldivians. This experience has only given me more courage, and I am more determined to stay on course for our fight for freedom with the peace-loving citizens of Maldives to change the current regime for the betterment of all Maldivians. Insha Allah.

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