Maldives: Wave of arrests and uninvestigated deaths suggest human rights abuse growing

Following public and prisoner protests after deaths of prisoners - the first in the Maldives under the current presidency, over a dozen people have been arrested and there are fears that more arrests may follow. Children's rights are reportedly among those picked up and taken away.

Amnesty International said:

'In response to the recent wave of protests, President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom must take urgent measures to stop the repression of peaceful political activists, and radically reform the criminal justice system to safeguard people's human rights.'

Amnesty International believes that endemic torture and unfair trials, abuse of power by the security personnel, and a lack of clear boundaries between the executive power and the judiciary are at the heart of what sparked civil protest in the Maldives capital Malé last weekend.

Amnesty International said:

'By repeatedly dismissing reports of human rights violations in the country, the Government of President Gayoom has allowed perpetrators to continue to act with impunity. This has effectively perpetuated a cycle of repression eroding people's confidence in the state's institutions to protect their fundamental rights.

'It is high time that government authorities accept their own responsibility and failure to protect and promote human rights.'

The killing of at least three prisoners by the National Security Service (NSS) last weekend and the injury of a dozen more in Maafushi Prison, is only the latest chapter in a catalogue of human rights violations in the country by NSS personnel who function under the President's command.

Amnesty International calls upon the Government of the Maldives to establish a fully competent and truly independent and impartial investigation into the killing of prisoners in Maafushi Prison, and to ensure that those found responsible are brought to justice. This inquiry must be transparent and conform to international human rights standards.

The organisation notes that President Gayoom has ordered an investigation into the alleged killing of one of the prisoners, Hassan Enaam Naseem, by NSS personnel. However, the scope of the inquiry is limited to an investigation of the death of this one prisoner. No inquiry into the deaths of other prisoners and the shooting by NSS personnel at prisoners in Maafushi has been announced.

Furthermore, the President's close involvement in the inquiry threatens to undermine its independence. Speaking on television on 20 September appealing for calm, President Gayoom promised a 'full investigation' into the death of one prisoner. But he added: 'The presidential commission established to conduct the inquiry is an independent commission, and will not be subjected to influence of any government authority'. However, he made it clear that he would give 'directions' to the commission 'personally' and 'without any intermediary'.

'A truly independent investigation means independence from all government authorities, including the President', added Amnesty International.

Amnesty International is also concerned that the government may take severe retaliatory measures against prison inmates at Maafushi. Many prisoners were reportedly held in chains, or deprived of food for over a day following the shooting at prisoners at Maafushi Prison. Large numbers of prisoners have reportedly been sent from Maafushi to Dhoonidhoo detention centre for interrogation. The centre has been notorious for torture and ill-treatment of prisoners.

Background

A fight broke out between two inmates of the Maafushi prison several days ago. One of the prisoners, Hassan Eemaan Naseem, reportedly hit a policeman who intervened. Naseem was then taken out of the prison by the NSS personnel, beaten severely and died, reportedly on 19 September, as a result of the injuries he sustained.

The NSS reportedly kept silent about his death and attempted to bury him secretly. The news of his death however reached other inmates and his relatives. This triggered unrest in Maafushi prison and protests in Malé, where the dead prisoner was to be buried.

Security forces reportedly opened fire on prison inmates with AK47 assault rifles, as a result of which another prisoner, Abdulla Amin, reportedly died from gun shot wounds on 20 September. Over a dozen other prisoners were injured in the shooting, some critically.

As of the evening of 22 September, at least 12 prisoners with serious gun shot injuries had been flown to Colombo in neighbouring Sri Lanka for treatment. One of them died in a hospital in Colombo bringing the number of deaths to three. He had bullet wounds in the chest. Another was kept in an intensive care unit with gun shot injuries in the stomach. Access to other injured detainees was not possible.

The protests were the first reported from Malé during the presidency of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. Protesters attacked government buildings. The Elections Division office was reportedly set on fire, the parliament building was damaged by stones, and records at the High Court were destroyed by angry crowds. At least two police stations were reportedly set on fire. There were no reports of casualties during these riots.

Relevant information

Maldives: New report reveals repression and torture in 'holiday paradise' - press release, 31 July 2003: https://www.amnesty.org.uk/news_details.asp?NewsID=14768

View latest press releases