My Experience Dealing With Maldives Police Service [ We Are All Ahmed Rizwan #FindMoyameehaa ]

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                It has now almost been 15 days since Ahmed Rizwan (@moyameehaa) has gone missing. Instead of speculating about what might have happened to him on the limited information currently available (the only things that are clear at this point in time is that he was most likely abducted, and that there are people that don’t want him found and that there are people who don’t care). I am going to do what he would have wanted me to do; what he has inspired me to do since I came into contact with his works and writings almost a decade ago. I am going to write about what I know for sure. I am going to write about my own experiences; even the ones I’d rather forget.

                My ex-girlfriend and I almost died in 2008. I remember nothing particularly memorable leading up to the incident other than a sense of despair and hopelessness about my failing relationship; which had degenerated into  both partners acting out only the most mechanical and utilitarian parts of intimacy. Pick me up, drive me there, let’s eat some food, let’s ****. It was all falling apart and neither of us wanted to put in the effort of going beyond the repetitions we were already familiar with.

                It was in that haze of melancholic apathy that I went to give her a lift back home from work on my bike; business as usual, a clean transaction, at least we’d be together for a little while. Besides that I felt somewhat obliged since it was already past midnight and the streets of Male’ aren’t exactly the safest place to be walking home from at such an hour.

                On top of the regular dose of crushing claustrophobia, the city seemed to ooze a strange vibe. It was unnerving. I was taking the classic detour going around the outer edges of the island when I suddenly felt as if something was not right and felt a sudden urge to drive straight home. So instead of continuing that endless lover’s circuit, I turned into Majeedhee magu from near the artificial beach area.

                As I idly wondered to myself if I had made the right decision, I noticed a figure standing in the middle of the road opposite the Muni Ufaa Youth Center. The heavy foliage from the trees which grew at the centre obscured the streetlights, which shrouded the whole area in a veil of darkness. I wondered if I should ark away or go onto the opposite lane, but eventually just drove ahead in a straight line, hoping the appearance of the shadowy figure had nothing to do with a sudden growing sense of dread.

                As I neared him, I noticed that he was looking around wildly in all directions and had one of his hands around his crotch. Something was definitely not right. Just before I came parallel with him I felt something warm and sticky on my leg. All rationality suddenly evaporating from my consciousness, I slam the breaks and glare at the person. I do not remember what my exact words were but I angrily asked him what in the world he just did.

                “Goru handanee” (I’m pissing), he slurred back with a whole bunch of expletives thrown in, before whipping his dick around at us again and splashing us some more.

                What happened next is hazy in my memory. I vaguely remember gritting my teeth and starting the motions of getting off my bike. Halfway through that I thought to look left behind my shoulder towards Muni Ufaa. A crowd of people were standing there who I had not even noticed before because of the shadows, and perhaps because I was focused more on the guy who just pissed on me.  As I turned back towards the right I felt a heavy thud and then a crack on the back of the left side of my skull. A chunky piece of wood flies over my head and clanks down diagonally in front of me.

                One of the people in the shadows behind me had broken a heavy wooden beam across my head.

                Everything from that moment seemed to happen in slow motion, or as if I was swimming through some thick liquid.

                I faltered for second that seemed to last for hours. Everything was muffled and far away. Then her voice broke through the fog endlessly screaming “GO!”.

                I snapped out of it and looked down at the dashboard of my bike. It was in third gear and the engine was still running.

                I somehow managed to grip the throttle and accelerate as I began to slump down on the edge of losing consciousness.

                The bike began to move, and the feeling of unstable forward motion combined with her screaming jolted me back awake and I miraculously had the sense to put the gear back down to the second. The sudden escape, and perhaps the fact that I hadn’t immediately crumpled into a heap, had surprised them long enough for me to pick up some speed and put some distance between us. My sole thought was getting her out of there safe.

                I vaguely remember yelling something about calling the ****ing police to the people that I passed by. This made my head feel a bit clearer and as I regained a better hold on the motorbike, I kept accelerating as I neared the corner where Sonee Hardware is.

                “Someone’s coming after us!” she said.

                I looked back, making us go slightly off balance again, to see that someone was indeed chasing after us. Everything was happening so fast that I cannot tell for sure what he was actually holding, but I remember seeing a knife.

                I had to keep going. I kept accelerating and took the corner. I looked back over my shoulder a few seconds later and the runner had stopped.

                “You’re bleeding!” she said. At this point I’d like to note that she was saying quite a lot of things. I don’t remember all of the details, it was a long time ago, and the situation didn’t exactly lend well to crystal memorisation.

                She pressed her hands against where the wood had struck and tried to stop the blood as much as she could. At some point I think she showed me one of her hands as I drove. I don’t remember how I felt about it but I remember a lot of red.

                In this state I somehow managed to find the winding way home through the dark streets of the city. On the final corner I distinctly remember driving against the last one-way road in order to drive straight towards my home.

                I remember parking the bike at an odd angle and being completely unable to move. She ran inside to get help and soon after I heard voices yelling and coming towards me. Arms lifted me up and I was carried through the front door and to the living room, where I was laid down on the tiles.

                As I drifted around the edges of consciousness I saw standing around me in a semi-circle the worried and concerned looking faces of my family.

                I vaguely remember foaming at the mouth as I struggled to tell them what had happened all the while worrying if I was explaining it well enough.

                Now I was in a taxi. My mother, who was sitting next to me, informs me that we’re going to the hospital. She tells the taxi driver what happened and he turns on his emergency indicators and speeds most of the way there.

                When we get there I’m told to sit in a wheel chair. I remember feeling blinded by the lights and an ocean of faces as we entered the main lobby and rushed towards the emergency section.

                Here my memory becomes even fuzzier. Maybe it was when my brain decided it was ok to rest for a bit. I any case I do not remember much of my treatment or surgery other than my mother jokingly saying this was why she said I was stubborn (boa-haru in Dhivehi means stubborn but literally translates into hard headed) and vague memories of sitting in a wheelchair feeling shocked and numb waiting for the police to arrive.

                When they did finally come, it was two officers, and one of them was holding a small notepad.

                After taking my name and address and other details, he asked me to briefly describe what happened, after which he asked if I knew the people that had assaulted me.

                When I said that I had no idea he closed his note book as if to signal that he was done. He didn’t ask me how many people were there. He didn’t ask me what they were wearing. There were so many things he didn’t ask I feel irritated just trying to remember what he did.

                I vaguely remember my mother angrily asking them if that was it, was that the whole investigation?

                They said that I could go to headquarters and give a statement if I wanted, to which I said something along the lines of that I’d give a statement but not at headquarters, and that I’d rather an officer visit me at home.

                Sure, they said. Someone would get in touch. So we went back home.

                After a troubled sleep, I woke up the next day wondering why I had a bandage over the back of my head. A stifling sombreness descended over me as I suddenly remembered why.

                I called my friends and let them knew what happened. My uncle trimmed my hair so the bandage and where they had shaved to put the sutures in wouldn’t look so odd.

                All the while I was gripped with a fear and paranoia that itched at my skin. I kept seeing the vague silhouettes of my assailants everywhere. For a while I couldn’t even stand being near Henveiru for any extended amounts of time.

                No police officers came. No one to tell me what had happened. No one to tell me if they were still out there or not. No one to tell me if I should be worried. No one to tell me shit other than my friends and family.

                Weeks seemed to pass, then as if out of nowhere, we get an imposing looking envelope. Within it was a summons to appear at Police HQ. I read it over and over again several times.

                Surely this couldn’t be right. I’d specifically told them I didn’t want to go to HQ. It was pretty well known that HQ was monitored by certain gangs for informants and witnesses and rumours said that there were staff that provided them with info as well.

                It didn’t even say what it was about; yet disobeying a summons is an offense in itself, so I decided that I had to go despite my paranoia.  

                I walked in and handed the summons over to the woman at the reception desk. I was told to take a chair in the reception area and wait. I wondered to myself if it would be the receptionist who would dob me in.

                After an eternity under the clinical glare of the fluorescent lobby lights someone came and told me to go through one of the doors adjacent to the lobby and was told to take a seat. Even at this point I only assumed that the summons was about the assault. What else could it be about?

                The man sitting across the desk from me in office wear identified himself as something that sounded like corporal (I don’t remember his exact rank) before apologising about not being able to make it to my house to conduct the interview as he “had been quite busy”.

                I remember staring back at him incredulously for a few seconds; as all my suspicions and all the rumours and stories I’d heard about the police being terrible at their job crystallised in front of me into tangible experience.

                He took out a thick file and placed it across from me on the desk. I do not remember if he asked me for my statement before or after this. I mostly remember being pissed off at him for handling my case as if it was some barbers appointment.

                Either way, he opened the file and flipped to a series of police mug shots and began explaining how right after I had been assaulted, a police patrol had come upon the group. The group, which he revealed to be heavily drunk and intoxicated, smashed the patrol vehicle and injured some of the officers who were in it. I do not remember if he said they got backup or if it was the original set of officers, but somehow they managed to arrest most of the people that were there.

                As he flipped through the images I remember being jarred at how familiar they looked yet how different they were from the shadowy paranoia infused version of them in my memory. One of them was a musician who I had taken photographs of earlier at a live show. Photographs I was quite proud of. I wondered what he was doing there.

                He said that the group of people were suspected to belong to a dangerous gang that had already committed several assaults that year. I vaguely remember him saying something about them belonging to a “red list” or them being “red listed”.

                So after taking my statement, and explaining to me how these known and dangerous gangsters had attacked the police themselves, he asked me if I would testify in court with my statement. It was at that point that I began to suspect that he wasn’t really concerned about my case as much as theirs.

                I told him yes, I would testify, but only if I could do it anonymously and only if they could guarantee some measure of protection for me.

                You’ll be right across them in the courtroom he said. It would really help the prosecution, these gangsters had attacked a police officer, he said.

                I stared back at him dubiously. So you can’t do anything? I asked. Even though you just said these “dangerous gangsters” are “red-listed” and were already responsible for countless assaults?

                Yes, he said with a hopeful smile. It would help the case. They attacked a police officer.

                If they get convicted, how long would they be going away for? I asked.

                About three months he said. They would be out after that. It would help the case. They attacked a police officer.

                No way, I thought to myself. No way I was helping this person who couldn’t even be bothered visiting my house. No way was I helping an organisation that didn’t seem the least bit concerned about my safety. Three months was not a long time, and if I was going to be exposed to them during the trial, it meant I’d probably be stabbed and dead in some alleyway for snitching before those months even ended.

Besides, the officer hadn’t really asked me about my feelings at all. About why I wanted anonymity.  About whether or not I felt safe walking around in the city that he was supposed to be protecting.

                All of a sudden as I stared blankly at his face I felt like I empathized more with my assailants than the police. They didn’t attack me because they hated me. I wasn’t some target. They attacked me because I had stumbled into the middle of their drunken rampage and they were in the middle of a drunken rampage because society had given up on them.

                A few months before the incident, I had become familiar with a group of kids who were riding their BMXs on the half pipe that used to be across from Raalhugandu. They loved riding their bikes and they had lovely personalities made even more colourful by their rather interesting vocabularies.

                A lot of them also had scars. The oldest barely looked like he was 15, and they were already riddled with scars. Scars from fighting. Scars from helping defend their older brothers and themselves when they were under attack.  Their lives made the significance of my assault inconsequential in comparison. They were from the poorest neighbourhoods, they had lived the most challenging lives wrought with constant danger and uncertainty, yet still there they were, cracking jokes and trying to become better at riding their bikes; bikes that would eventually get stolen by their enemies, on a half-pipe that would eventually fall into disrepair, because it was individuals that created it, and individuals can only do so much when living under the constant shadow of government apathy and negligence. Youth such as them are the unsung survivors of our constantly growing nation.

                So I told the officer No; that I wouldn’t testify. Why would they need me, when they had several police as eyewitnesses to the attack on the patrol jeep? Why should I risk my wellbeing just to send people that were as much victims of the system as I was of them to jail for three months? And to help a bunch of people who only seemed to see my value as a witness to help bolster their case and not as a citizen and human being? What possible good would that do any of us?

                He asked me if I was sure, and I said I was, and we went back and forth for a few minutes, and that was pretty much it. I left the station feeling betrayed, confused, and full of more questions than when I had arrived.

                Slowly but surely life returned back to normal. Except that it never did. The night of my assault was the night I feared most for my life, and the days following were when I was the most paranoid, but the day I that I attended my summons at Police HQ was the day I completely lost faith in the system.

                In the wake of Rizwan’s disappearance, the Police responded to accusations of inefficiency and negligence by saying that people, the media and political parties should refrain from saying things which may cause distrust in their institution and abilities.

                To which I ask, how can you break a trust which has never existed in the first place?

                Has there ever been a point in Maldivian history when the police have done their job properly? This question may sound preposterous, but please take a few minutes and think about it. When was there a time when the citizens could trust the police to protect them? A time when you could walk up to a random officer on the street, and they’d know you and you’d know them, not because you are a criminal, or they your enemy, but because you recognised each other’s part in the community as being one rooted in altruistic symbiosis?  They working to protect you, and you working to make the community they protect better, so that the lives of people on both sides are enriched. In our criticism of the police, we must not forget that they are people too; people with lives outside of their job, people with families they work tirelessly to support, people with hobbies, people with dreams; unique individuals, just as yourselves.

                If you are a police officer reading this, I hope you see this as reasons to improve, to make your profession as a police officer something both yourself and the community can be proud of. This can only be achieved by the police assessing and improving itself and understanding the importance of community policing instead of current approaches. The most important aspect of community policing is actual dialogue between the police and the citizens they are supposed to protect and serve. All we see you as right now are as traffic police and as riot police. This doesn’t mean this is what we want and neither is it all you were meant for. We want to trust you to protect and serve, so that we as citizens can continue to make our nation better, no matter what our political alliance or personal beliefs.  We want to see you as our friends. Our allies.

                Raising your voice about your concerns and experiences as an individual is the first step in achieving this; whether you are a member of the police, a citizen, or anyone else who is concerned about the future of our nation and the world.

We were all raised in an environment that was hostile to such expression. We were told that everything is OK and to go about our lives no matter what happened, no matter what we heard. Higher powers were taking care of us, higher powers were keeping us safe; and as long as those higher powers were happy, it would continue to be so.

Ahmed Rizwan is not the first Maldivian citizen to go missing and it is unlikely he will be the last.

Where are those higher powers now? Where were they in the past? Where were they when the batons that were meant to protect were smashing skulls against the pavement on the 8th of February 2012 and the many protests before that?

How are citizens supposed to respond to such savagery at the hands of those whose livelihood is about keeping them safe?

Hatred will only spawn more hatred. In fact hatred between citizens and the police is what those higher powers want. In ensures that the police will only serve and protect the interests of those higher powers and not carry out their intended role of serving and protecting the community. It ensures that citizens will regard police as enemies and that productive communication between both parties will never occur.

So what are we supposed to do?

We do what Ahmed Rizwan has been doing his whole life. We continue to do what the people that do not want him found and the people that do not care about his disappearance are constantly trying to eradicate with their hatred.

We will speak out. We will express ourselves. We will listen to each other. We will do what humans do best. We will communicate and we will think.

We will appreciate each other as human beings from a shared heritage; hurtling through space on this planet we call our home.

                We are all Ahmed Rizwan. And if we give up on him, we might as well give up on everything and accept the apathetic utopian future that awaits us; a future born of our silence, self-loathing and material greed.

                We are all Ahmed Rizwan. If we cannot find him, or find the strength to speak out for him and make light the broader social issues that his disappearance represents, surely we have lost ourselves.

                We are all Ahmed Rizwan. Speak out now. He would have done the same for you.


More info on efforts:
#FindMoyameehaa
facebook.com/findmoyameehaa
www.findmoyameehaa.com