The last presidential election, held in October 2003, was clouded by the sad death of Eavan Naseem in Maafushi jail in September. The torture and killing of Eavan and the subsequent riots at jail and in Male’, brought the carefully concealed culture of torture in the Maldives to surface. Disturbed by the images of the bruised body of Eavan and the blood-soaked corpse of Abdulla Ameen (Clinton), concerned people resolved to put an end to years of oppression and tyranny. The result was the formation of Maldivian Democratic Party in exile in Sri Lanka in November 2003 and the formation of a reform movement.
Eavan Naseem tortured in September 2003
Abdulla Ameen (Clinton) shot in Maafushi
Five years have passed, and the reformists in the Maldives have achieved major milestones in the road to democracy. However, torture did not end with Eavan; the deaths of Muaviyath Mahmood and Hussain Salah proved that torture is indispensable to the regime in the Maldives.
Torture has returned as an election theme this year, when MDP spoke on torture at a press conference held on Tuesday. Mohamed Nasheed (Anni), the presidential candidate from MDP, outlined the torture he experienced in Maldives jails, Minivan News reports.
“I was detained in Dhoonidhoo jail in 1990. I was severely tortured then,” Anni told an audience in Gaaf Dhaal Thinadhoo on 7 September.
“For over two weeks, I was tied to a chair with my hands cuffed behind my back, exposed to the elements.
“After that, for over ten days I was chained outside the powerhouse. For seven months I was kept in a corrugated iron cell with one wrist cuffed. For 18 months I was in solitary confinement.”
Anni was held in Dhoonidhoo in 1990 over dissident writing and interviews with the overseas press.
Harsh conditions there are detailed in Anni’s application for political asylum in the UK, which he was granted in 2004.
“For the most part I was left in a cell made of corrugated iron measuring four feet by six feet by six feet where I was given bathing facilities once per week and one liter of water per day,” Anni wrote.
“When they felt I was not being co-operative I was punished. For over a week I would not be allowed to sleep for more than ten to fifteen minutes a night. Crushed glass and laxatives were added to my food,” he said. “I was kept in chains and given just half a litre of water per day.”
At Tuesday’s press conference, Ahmed Shafeeq, a famous historian, spoke of torture in Maldives and said he held President Gayoom responsible for 111 deaths by physical or psychological torture.
Shafeeq was arrested and kept in detention for over three months in 1995. Three other writers – Hassan Ahmed Maniku, Ali Moosa Didi and Latheef (Kalhuhuraage) – were also detained. The elderly writers had been meeting at Shafeeq’s house and discussing politics and social issues. At the height of Gayoom’s tyranny, the National Security Service (NSS) were instructed to spy on intellectuals like Shafeeq. Even a conversation within the privacy of one’s home was not immune to prying eyes and ears. A discussion among friends on politics could also be interpreted by the NSS as a plot against the regime.
The NSS, which raided Shafeeq’s house, discovered some of the historian’s personal diaries. In his diaries Shafeeq wrote various bits of information and news he gathered from publications and friends. As Shafeeq’s diaries had information on the high cost of building the presidential palace and other details that were embarrassing to the regime, NSS accused Shafeeq of committing an offense, even though he never published his diaries. In a June 2001 interview with Huvaas magazine, which was translated into English by Maldives Culture website, Shafeeq talked about his diaries.
‘My diaries aren’t harmful. They aren’t printed or circulated. No one sees them except me. No one can read it, so what is the problem? What’s the difference between keeping it in my heart and writing it down? Is there any real difference? No one should be afraid because they are mentioned. Today I have recorded your visit to me… it’s just my hobby.’
Mohamed Zaki, who was arrested in January 2002 and sentenced to life in prison in July 2002 for his involvement in the underground electronic newsletter Sandhaanu, also said on Tuesday that he underwent abuse while in detention, Minivan News reports.
“The senior staff [of the security forces] knew about the torture. I met the brigadier general. They told me, however small or large, they know about it. President Maumoon knows what is happening,” Zaki said.
In the newsletter Resist (Issue 1.27, 16 March 2005), we explored the culture of torture in Maldives, and insisted that Gayoom was aware of torture in the Maldives. In Resist 1.27 we gave reference to a letter Mohamed Zaki sent to Human Rights Commission of Maldives in January 2004, in which he describes the meeting with Brigadier General Adam Zahir, the Commissioner of Police.
“One day on 22 June 2003, during the six months I was kept in Dhoonidhoo prison, I had the opportunity to see Brigadier Adam Zahir from the National Security Service police. During the conversation between us, and in reply to a complaint I made, Adam Zahir said that everything was being carried out according to the instructions of President Maumoon Gayyoom.
He also said that there was nothing the President Gayyoom was not being informed about, regardless how important or minor the matter was. After these words from Adam Zahir, it became clear to me that everything was happening with the full knowledge of President Gayyoom. This realisation was endlessly distressing.”
– Maldivian prisoner of conscience Mohamed Zaki in a letter sent to Maldives Human Rights Commission
In Resist 1.27 we translated and published an article by Ibrahim Luthfy, who was sentenced to life in prison along with Zaki in July 2002 for involvement in Sandhaanu. In the article, published in Dhivehi in Sandhaanu e-newsletter on 19 September 2004, Luthfy recalled his efforts to notify Gayoom of torture in Maldives prisons.
I believe it is the responsibility of each Maldivian to try to stop the torture in prison because it is a sensitive matter related to national safety and public order. I prepared a detailed report of 52 pages about the torture prisoners go through and that I myself experienced. I sent the letter to President Maumoon, members of the cabinet, Attorney General, Justice Minister, Chief Justice, President of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, Chief Judge of Criminal Court, members of the parliament, and all candidates contesting in the parliamentary election of 1999. I also sent this report to many people in Male’ and other islands. With this report I sent a letter to Maumoon explaining that I needed to tell him further details of torture in prison and requested an appointment.
Instead of granting an appointment President Maumoon arrested me and detained me in a small cell in Dhoonidhoo in solitary confinement for three months. When I asked the police why I was being arrested, they replied that it was because I had ‘sent letters to various people accusing the police.’ Six months after I was released I received a letter from the President’s Office. “President tells to inform that an appointment could not be given because Ibrahim Lutfy had not acted correctly,” the letter said.
In Maverick 6.35 (19-20 September 2005), we highlighted the torture prevailing in Maldives and published a report by Ibrahim Luthfy. In his report of 1999, Luthfy had described the horrors of Maafushi prison and sent a copy to Gayoom. Hence, Gayoom was fully aware of torture in Maldives prisons, as we stressed in an editorial note in Maverick 6.35.
Luthfy sent a copy of this report to President Gayoom in 1999. This report details the tortures and unbearable suffering inmates go through in prisons of the country. Hence, Gayoom could not say he is not aware of torture in Maldives jails. Between October 1999 and September 2003, he had four years to improve the conditions of the jails. But he ignored the plight of the prisoners and in April 2003, Ali Shahir died presumably after NSS torture in jail. Gayoom promised Shahir’s family that an inquiry will be made into the death and Gayoom visited Maafushi to observe the conditions of the jail. The government’s inquiry concluded that Shahir died of natural causes. Gayoom did not take any action to improve the conditions of the jail. Lieutenant Mohamed Ashwan, a senior NSS officer at Maafushi, compiled a detailed report of NSS torture in jail, and sent copies to the highest ranking officers of NSS in early 2003. This is evident from 5.2.4 of the report entitled “Investigative Findings on the Death of Hassan Evan Naseem” prepared by the Presidential Commission formed to investigate the death of Eavan Naseem. The report says Ashwan sent a report in early 2003 and a letter on 2 July 2003 to senior officers about torture inflicted on prisoners by the NSS Prison Security Unit at Maafushi. Even after Ashwan’s report no steps were taken to stop NSS torture in jails. Thus this paved way to the brutal torture and killing of Hassan Eavan Naseem and the prison riots and shootings at Maafushi prison in September 2003. Ashwan’s report has been published in DhivehiObserver.com.
The Presidential Commission report on the death of Eavan Naseem also recommended (Section 6.2.3) to widen the roles of the temporary committee formed on 5 October 1998 to advise on the affairs of prison, and the committee formed on 1 March 2001 to look into complaints concerning prison conditions. The Presidential Commission’s report recommends setting up a mechanism for members of such committees to visit Maafushi in the future and see the conditions there. This recommendation indicates that such committees were ineffective and not aware of the jail conditions prior to September 2003.
Furthermore, the Presidential Commission recommended in its report (Section 6.3.3) that prisoners jailed for drug abuse should be separated from hardcore criminals and other convicts. Even after Lutfy’s report told about the availability of drugs in prisons and the culture of introducing new inmates to drugs, no actions were taken to solve the problem till September 2003.
The Presidential Commission also recommended in its report of December 2003 (section 6.3.4) that the people who are detained for investigation purposes should be separated from convicts. Despite Lutfy’s report detailing the horrors he had to face when imprisoned by police for investigations into a civil case, several people continued to be detained and mistreated in Maldives prisons without them being convicted in a court of law.
All this proves that Gayoom and his regime did not bring any positive changes based on the report that Lutfy so honourably compiled and sent them and that Gayoom was fully aware of the NSS brutality in prison.
Download Maverick 6.35 (Ibrahim Luthfy’s report)
Download Resist 1.27
Download Mohamed Zaki’s letter to Human Rights Commission (letter in Dhivehi)
MaldivesCulture.com translation of Mohamed Zaki’s letter (English)
MaldivesCulture.com article on torture in the Maldives
Download e-newsletter Sandhaanu special issue 19 September 2004 (in Dhivehi)
In January 2006 we started a campaign against police brutality, state-sponsored terrorism and the tyranny of the Gayoom regime.
Download the press release about the campaign, and the campaign posters.
“I believe that President Maumoon has to be fully responsible for all inhuman torture in prison and outside prison that had taken place during his rule. If Maumoon and his senior government officials had listened to the complaints of several citizens like me, and those who had suffered, there would not have been any opportunity for the brutal torturing to death of Hassan Eavan Naseem on 19 September 2003. Similarly the cruel act of shooting unarmed prisoners at Maafushi jail the next day and killing three people and wounding about twenty people could have been prevented. And the riots in Male’ on that day (September 20) would not have occurred.”
Ibrahim Lutfy, Maldivian dissident and editor of Sandhaanu newsletter
“The government had never permitted anybody to be tortured or physically harmed in anyway during the stage of investigation and also while a person was undergoing a sentence. If such incidents occur, they happen without the knowledge of the government. So torture during investigation and also after sentencing was never permitted by the government…. ”
Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Asia’s longest ruling dictator