Asian Centre for Human Rights

Dedicated to promotion and protection of human rights in Asia

 

ACHR REVIEW
[The weekly commentary and analysis of the Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) on human rights and governance issues]

Embargoed for 11 May 2005
Review: /72/05

Maldives: Still Dark
Fatimath Nisreen Courtesy:
Dhivehi Observer,
Maldives

On 9 May 2005, Fatimath Nisreen, a prisoner of conscience of Maldives, was granted presidential amnesty and released from prisons. She was arrested along with Ibrahim Moosa Luthfee, Mohamed Zaki and Ahmed Ibrahim Didi in 2001 for circulating an Internet e-mail magazine, Sandhaanu, critical of the government. They were sentenced to rigorous imprisonment. While Lufthee managed to flee while on treatment in Sri Lanka, Mohamed Zaki and Ahmed Didi continue to remain under house arrest. They have been given life imprisonment which was later reduced to 15 years jail.

President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom of Maldives is reportedly considering meeting the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour soon. Asian Centre for Human Rights in its report, Maldives: The Dark Side of Life of 30 March 2005 recommended that the government of Maldives “sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to provide technical cooperation assistance for the drafting of the new constitution.” ACHR in its subsequent response of 13 April 2005 to the comments on the ACHR’s report by Dr Ahmed Shaheed, Chief Spokesperson of the government reiterated the same.

The visit of President Gayoom has so far been kept secret. While the release of Fatimath Nisreen is welcome, it appears to be a part of image building rather than starting a process which will end the repression on the political activists as well as Gayoom’s family rule and establish multi-party democracy.

The reports of repression on the political activists in a country with only 300,000 populations belonging to a homogenous group continue to pour in.

On 10 April 2005, Ibrahim Hussein alias Landoo Ibrahim was reportedly arrested while he was standing as a spectator to watch the National Day celebrations at the Republic Square in Male’. The authorities had been allegedly following Hussein ever since he lodged a complaint at the High Court against the Trade Minister Abdulla Yameen, brother of the President, for flouting election regulations as a candidate in the parliamentary elections of January 2005. He was reportedly arrested “with reference” to concealing “the existence of a design to commit an unlawful act against the President” under section 32 of the Penal Code and exciting “enmity, contempt or disharmony amongst any section of the Maldives population towards the Government established by Law in the Maldives” under section 38 of the Penal Code. However, the police investigators primarily questioned him as to why and by whose persuasion he lodged an election complaint at the High Court against the Trade Minister Abdulla Yameen. Hussein was released from detention on 28 April 2005.  If convicted, Hussein would be sentenced imprisonment or exile for a period between 5 years and 10 years and fine between Mrf. 5,000.00 and Mrf. 10,000.00 under section 32 of the Penal Code and imprisonment or exile for a period not exceeding 2 years under section 38 of the Penal Code.

After the demonstrations in Male on 13 August 2005, Chief government spokesman Dr Ahmed Shaheed stated, “The anti-government demonstrations that led to the imposition of an emergency in the Maldives on Friday (13 August 2004) were hijacked by Muslim fundamentalists who do not have any democratic agenda.” Since then the Government of Maldives has been looking for opportunities to unleash a reign of terror against the socalled Islamic terrorists.

At around 11.30pm on 30 April 2005, a team of policemen raided the house of Mohamed Zahidh in Feydoo Island in Addu Atoll. The police arrested him and took away a pen drive, floppy disk and an essay written by Zahidh five years ago titled “What is independence?” The policemen did not have any search or arrest warrant.  They took Zahidh to his work place, the Maldives telecom company, Dhiraagu in Feydoo Island, searched the IT equipment in the company and confiscated the computer. On 1 May 2005, the police shifted Zahidh from Faydoo Island police station to Gan Police Station.  On the early morning of 1 May 2005 when Zahidh’s wife reportedly called the police to enquire about the reasons for the arrest, police refused to divulge any information. Thereafter, Zahidh has been reportedly shifted to Dhoonidhoo Detention Centre in Male. An 8 pm daily news on the Maldivian state- run national television on 2 May 2005 reported that Zahidh is an extremist and that he had been the cause of unrest in Addu Atoll Gan Island.  He is still under the custody of the police and being held incommunicado.

At around 1.30 am on 1 May 2005, one uniformed and 6 plain clothes policemen reportedly broke into the house of Ismail Faiz, searched all his belongings and arrested him. When the Ismail Faiz, his brother and mother wanted the policemen to produce search and arrest warrants, they threatened to arrest all the members of the family on charges of obstruction of investigations.  The policemen took Faiz with his laptop and other IT equipment to the police station. Later in the evening from 3pm to 5pm on the same day, the police took Ismail Faiz to his work place, the Maldives telecom company Dhiraagu, and searched the IT equipment in the company. Thereafter, they brought him back to police station. When family members telephoned the police to know as to why Faiz was arrested, the police refused to provide any information. Later on, police reportedly informed family and friends of Ismail Faiz over the telephone that he was being held with regard to theft. But according to a report of The Associated Press, dated 5 May 2005, the deputy Spokesperson of government stated that one person was being held with regard to terrorism and Islamic militancy. Although the article does not refer to Faiz by name, the reference to his place of work led the family members believe that it was Faiz. But according to the lawyer of Faiz, who met Faiz on 5 May 2005, he was being held with regard to crimes related to the internet and information technology.  He is still under detention as on 8 May 2005.

Maldives police in the Gan Island reportedly picked up Ali Sawaadh from his home on 5 May 2005 without any charge. He is the younger brother of Mohamed Zahidh, also a detainee and is student of a GCE Advanced Level. When asked by the family members as to why he was being held, the police replied that they did not know. Sawaadh was allegedly maltreated during detention. After two days of detention, he was released at 22.30 hrs on 7 May 2005.

At 1.30 pm on 5 May 2005, police in Gan island reportedly arrested Ahmed Moahmmed alias Chilli while he was at the taxi centre where he was employed. When Chilli’s wife reportedly questioned the arresting officer as to why her husband was being held, the officer did not give any reason for the arrest. Another co-detainee reportedly informed that Chilli was dragged by his shirt collar and hands while handcuffed to the back. As on 8 May 2005, Chilli was still in the custody of police in Addu Atoll Gan island. The charges have not been made clear.

Torture by police is rampant in Maldives. Mohamed Maaish was admitted to Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) in Male’ on 21 April 2005 after being allegedly severely beaten by police. Maaish was reportedly arrested at 1.30 am on 14 April 2005 by four policemen on suspicion of drug abuse. He was handcuffed behind his back and kept in a solitary cell in Male' police station where he was severely tortured. The police allegedly stripped him naked in his cell, asked him to kneel down and kicked his back with their boots. Maaish reportedly had tell-tale signs of torture like bruises and cut marks on his back. Police claimed these wounds were self-inflicted.

President Gayoom must realize that piecemeal efforts for building his image and blaming the socalled Islamic fundamentalists cannot convince the international community. President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom must publicly state his commitment to allow multi-part democracy within a specified time frame. The process must start by allowing registration of the political parties, in particular, Maldivian Democratic Party, allowing registration of NGOs, in particular consider the registration of the “Reporting Network for the Relatives of the Persons in Judicial Care”, releasing all the political detainees including Ahmed Falah, Mohamed Fauzi, Mohamed Zaki and Ahmed Ibrahim Didi and others held under house arrest, and withdrawing charges of charges of high treason against those who participated in the peaceful demonstrations in Male on 13 August 2004.

One wonders how would President Gayoom and Dr Shaheed explain their reform programmes to High Commissioner Louise Arbour and the international community when political parties and NGOs cannot be registered in Maldives.

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