Majlis should welcome Guantanamo Bay detainees as Muslim brethren: Shaheed

The Majlis should welcome Guantanamo Bay detainees to the Maldives, Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed has said.

One of the two detainees to be transferred to the Maldives from the United States run Guatanamo Bay prison is a Palestinian. Dr Shaheed noted that Maldivians have a profound love of Palestinians as their Muslim brethren.

He said as Muslims it is incumbent upon Maldivians to demonstrate their love by helping the detainees, reports Miadhu. Dr Shaheed was speaking at the Annual Coordination Meeting of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Member States of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) held at the United Nations Headquarters in New York on 24 September 2010.

Various countries across the world have offered to take in detainees from Guantanamo Bay after President Barack Obama, shortly after taking office, closed the Guantanamo Bay prison established by his predecessor George W Bush as part of the ‘War on Terror’.


Maafushi prison administrators deny media tour of ‘Pentagon’

The media were prevented from getting access to the maximum security ‘Pentagon’ wing of the Maafushi prison yesterday when the sunset, seemingly, caught prison officials by surprise.

“It is too dark now”, Mohamed Asif, Assistant Superintendant of the prison told members of the media who had been waiting an hour for the promised tour. The media were on Maafushi, on invitation from the UNDP, to cover the closing ceremony of a human rights training programme for prison staff it ran in conjunction with state bodies.

Home Affairs Minister Mohamed Shihab, accompanied by UNDP Resident Coordinator Andrew Cox and other officials from the Ministry, were given a tour of the prison. For reasons that remain unexplained, the media were not allowed to join the tour.

“You have to wait until the Minister and his delegation finish the tour”, Asif said, in what appeared to be acquiescence to media requests to join the tour. Members of the media were then made to sit on some beachside loungers, watching the sun go down in the company of a uniformed prison officer. After an hour, they were told the time had come to leave the island. There was no word of the promised tour.

When pressed, Asif told the media that since night had fallen, it was now too dark to see anything.

‘Promoting Access to Justice’ and protecting human rights is the UNDP project under which the training programme for the prison officers was held. 17 prison officers received certificates after a three-day training session by a group of judges from various courts in the country.

Speaking on behalf of the trainees, Trainee Prison Officer Abdul Qadir Ibrahim, said they have now realised that the Constitution is “as essential for life as water itself.”

Inmates at Maafushi prison petitioned President Mohamed Nasheed in July this year for better conditions at the prison. They claimed that over 100 prisoners were being held in cells designed to hold 35, forcing them to take turns sleeping.

When they did get a bed, there were no mattresses, and when there were mattresses there was no bed linen. They alleged that prison officers cited shortage of government funds as the reason for the lack of resources and facilities at the prison.

The media, although on the island and within the premises of the prison when a tour of the prison was being given to government officials and the UNDP, were unable to independently verify any of the allegations as they were not allowed to join the tour.


Prison officers trained in human rights

Seventeen Maafushi prison officers have completed a human rights training programme designed to increase their awareness of the Constitution and the rights guaranteed by it.

The “Human Rights and Constitution Training for Prison Staff” was a project organised by the UNDP in conjunction with relevant state organisations.

UNDP Resident Coordinator Andrew Cox told graduates at the closing ceremony held in Maafushi today that their training would help ensure that prisons are “not just a dead end” but another step towards rehabilitation and reform of prisoners.

The training provided to prison officers was also a further achievement in ensuring that rights guaranteed under Article 2 of the Constitution are integrated throughout the entire judicial process.

Minister of Home Affairs Mohamed Shihab told the gathering that such training was essential for those engaged in such a high-pressure and high-risk profession as that of the prison officers. There have been occasions, he noted, when the repercussions of rapid decisions taken by prison officers working under pressure had been felt nation wide.

Addressing the ceremony on behalf of all participants, Trainee Prison Officer Abdul Qadir Ibrahim said the training had made them all aware that “the Constitution is as essential to life as water”.


Fans and friends seek redemption for jailed reggae musician

The ten year sentence handed down to reggae artist Haisham for possession and use of less than one gram of cannabis is coming under increasing criticism for what many describe as its disproportionate severity.

The Criminal Court on Monday sentenced Haisham Mohamed Rashid, M. Loha, to five years for possession of cannabis and five years for use of the same drug. The sentences are to run consecutively.

Haisham was convicted after being found in possession of a bag which contained the cannabis. He also subsequently tested positive for the drug.

Possession or use of illegal drugs are offences under Section 4 of the Drugs Act 17/77 that carry a penalty of 10-15 years of imprisonment or banishment.

“It is ridiculous that someone should receive concurrent sentences for possession and for use. How can someone use a drug without first possessing it?”, Chairperson of local drugs NGO Journey, Ahmed Adam, told Minivan News.

Adam noted that such concurrent sentences have been increasing lately.

The proposed Drugs and Narcoticts Amendment Bill would combine the offences of possession and use, creating a single offence of ‘possession for the purpose of use’. It would remove the ambiguity in the current Act, and prevent the situation where a judge sentences an offender concurrently for both possession and use.

The new Bill also states that if a person is found with less than 25 grams of cannabis in any form, the courts should assume it was in their possession for the purpose of personal use. If the amount found on the person is less than half of the stipulated 25 grams, the sentence should not exceed six months. If it is more than 12.5g, the sentence can be longer than six months, but cannot exceed a year.

Haisham’s sentences, for being found with less than a gram of cannabis and for its use, is nine years and six months longer than what is proposed in the new Amendment Bill.

The Bill has been pending discussion at the Majlis since 2009. The Majlis is currently on its second recess of the year.

Fellow musicians hold Haisham in high esteem, and describe him as a creative force on the Maldivian music scene.

“It is very sad that someone like him should be jailed,” a 29-year-old musician, who wishes to remain anonymous, told Minivan News.

“It is a bad blow for the Maldivian music industry when such things happen. He works hard, he is trying to make a life for himself – then his freedom is taken away”, he added. “He should have been put on probation. At least then he could still work and make music.”

The issue has ignited the Maldivian blogosphere. Many commentators are drawing comparisons with the recent Criminal Court sentencing of former principal of Lale Youth International School, Turkish national Serkan Akar, who received a Rf 200 (US$14) fine for assaulting children.

In 2009 the Criminal Court sentenced a convicted serial paedophile to six years and in 2010 jailed an HIV positive paedophile, who had sex with two underage girls, to three years imprisonment.

Haisham is described by many as a gentle and charitable family man who “would not harm a soul”. Several have called for a musicians’ protest against Haisham’s imprisonment.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Haisham would serve two five year sentences concurrently. The sentences are to be served consecutively.


Bangladesh to offer Maldives help with diplomacy

The Maldives may soon be invited to use Bangladeshi diplomatic missions abroad to negotiate with the international community, it emerged this week.

Bangladeshi Foreign Secretary, Mijarul Quayes, is drafting a conceptual plan that will allow the Maldives to open ‘outlets’ within Bangladeshi diplomatic through which to conduct its international relations, according to a report by the Associated Press of Pakistan (APP).

The Maldives has only 13 missions abroad and opening ‘Maldivian outlets’ within Bangladeshi missions would help the island nation, the APP report said.

Bangladesh has 60 diplomatic missions worldwide. Offering the Maldives office space within their missions is part of Quayes’s plan envisaging a “new role for Bangladesh regarding the Maldives”.

The offer of diplomatic office space, however, has not yet been made formally to the Maldivian Foreign Ministry.

“Bangladesh may be thinking of making such a proposal but we are not aware of it yet”, State Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem told Minivan.

The Bangladeshi High Commission in the Maldives was unable to confirm or deny the report at time of press.

The government estimates there to be 35,000 Bangladeshi nationals working in the Maldives – over 11 percent of the total population – of which the authorities consider 17,000 to be employed legally.

Maldives-Bangladeshi relations have recently been in the news over allegations of Bangladeshi labourers being trafficked to the Maldives.

Exploitation of foreign workers rivals fishing as the second most profitable sector of the Maldivian economy after tourism, according to conservative estimates of the number of Bangladeshi workers showing up at their commission in Male’ after being abandoned at the airport by unscrupulous employment agents.