For real reform, the reform meetings must go on

On the 9th June 2004, President Gayoom launched his democratic reform programme. Since then, pro-democracy meetings have been banned, peaceful rallies have been brutally suppressed and pro-democracy activists imprisoned and tortured. The Maldives has become markedly more authoritarian and markedly less democratic. To Maldivians and international observers alike, the reform programme rings hollow. Allowing reform meetings would be a real step to get it back on track.

Democratic reform needs to be conducted in a democratic way. Listening to the demands and concerns of the public about the way they would like their country to be run is essential to make change a success. Democracy is, after all, about the will of the people.

Outside the Male’ elite, there is little understanding of concepts such as democracy and human rights, let alone constitutional change and political pluralism. This is why the reform meetings are so important. They provide forums not only for democratic participation but also for education.

The experience of the last meetings are testament to this. Not only was the turnout exceptional but the quality of the debate and the feedback from participants was also extremely positive. People said it was great to be able to express their views. They also felt that they really learned something.

President Gayoom appears to have banned the meetings because he did not like the criticism his government was receiving. This is hardly mature politics. One only needs to see the abuse hurled back and forth in the British House of Commons each week to know that whining about insults isn’t going to cut much ice with foreign observers. Nor does it demonstrate the President’s commitment to freedom of expression.

Allowing the reform meetings however, would give the President’s battered reputation a much needed boost. He has been mauled by the international media in the last two months and his popularity in the Maldives has hit new lows. This would be a way to try and repair some of the damage. It would also counter the opposition’s charge that the President is just tinkering with the existing system.

The reform meetings are an essential pre-condition for real democratic change in the Maldives. They must be allowed to continue.

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15 Minutes Interviews: a Black Friday Detainee

15 Minutes Interviews: a Black Friday Detainee
12 November 2004
Minivan News
Minivan News spends 15 Minutes with a Black Friday Detainees. For the safety of the interviewee, Minivan News has not published their name
Q1) You were involved in the 12-13th August pro-democracy demonstration. How did it feel participating in one of the few demonstrations in recent Maldivian history?
Exhilarating. That night, you felt things would have to change. With the government seeing so many people demonstrating, steps would have to be taken. But there were also anxieties that as soon as the crowd thinned out the government would break it up. So getting the crowd to stay there was very important. In the morning when it started to get hot it was a problem. If we could just have maintained the numbers until evening the government may not have been able to break it up.
Seeing all those people talking about the abuses they had gone through, asking for freedoms of expression, asking for changes and demanding accountability. That was the main thing. Everyone was smiling, thinking its amazing what’s happening here. There were even old women, young women, women wearing Buruga, men, children, everyone.
People from all walks of life were there, not just the elite. People I would never have expected to be there were there. We all felt part of something that was very big and monumental. It felt like we were making history. Never before had so many people, not asking, but telling the government that it needed to change and reform. As a people, Maldivians had been suppressed for so long, now they were responding to that suppression.
Q2) President Gayoom and Dr Shaheed have stated that there were incidents of violence at the demonstration. Did you witness any of these?
No, there was no violence, not from the crowd. Every time someone got angry, others would calm him or her down, sit them down and get them to speak to get it off their chest.
We did hear the story of the policeman being stabbed. We also heard about people being paid by Ablo Yameen and Ablo Shaheed to create violence to give an excuse for breaking up the demonstration and saying afterwards it was violent. I saw a group of young men armed with sticks and iron rods when I was going home. I heard that these people were paid by the government to cause trouble.
The government was waiting for violence so they could move in. As long as the rally was peaceful the government could not do anything about it, or at least it would have been more difficult to justify. Two days prior to this demonstration people silently gathered at the tetrapod monument in Male’. As no one said anything at this meeting and of course there was no violence the government couldn’t do anything. Ablo Yameen was paying people then to provoke the crowd but people just sat silently. That scared the government. This time they wanted to attack the people. They made sure they had an excuse.
At the time of the break-up, the crowd were waiting for answers to the demands the people made of the government. People gave a list of cabinet members who they wanted to resign and demanded President Gayoom’s resignation too. Moosa Jaleel told us to wait and he would come back with an answer to our demands. The government answered with the riot police.
Q3) Dr Shaheed has said that some of the detainees will be tried for inciting public hatred and acts of violence at the demonstration. What are your thoughts on this?
Nobody said anything that incited violence. I don’t know where the government is coming from on this. The rally was peaceful for over 12 hours. The only violence committed was by those paid by the government.
If asking for the resignation of President Gayoom is inciting people to violence then we did it but that is a ridiculous position for the government to take.
Sheik Fareed said that we were all equal and shouldn’t fear anyone but God. He talked about the youth drug problem. He said that the addicts are not criminals but victims. Zuhaira [Umar] talked about how government officials misused property and she read a statement from Anni [Mohamed Nasheed]. But at no point did anyone ask the crowd to do anything violent. In fact, people who spoke were asking the crowd to remain peaceful. Nobody wanted violence as they knew that if the demonstration turned violent it wouldn’t serve any purpose, the government would just break it up.
Naushad Waheed talked about his torture in prison. People who were there, at some point in their lives, their families, friends, someone would have been the victim of torture and ill treatment. People were asking for justice.
Q4) President Gayoom is adamant that there is no institutionalised torture in the Maldives. Do your experiences in jail over the last two months support his claim?
There was psychological torture, there was physical torture. Even though people treated me better than other prisoners, it was still really bad. You didn’t know what they might do to you.
We didn’t resist arrest but as soon as we were blindfolded and handcuffed the police started hitting us. The entire time we were at the NSS Headquarters in Male’ we were blindfolded and handcuffed. Initially we had our legs cuffed too. Some people had their hands cuffed behind their backs and their feet cuffed and were made to lie on their front. They were like that for nine hours.
We could see flashes as the NSS took photos of us. They were also really rude to us. The most frightening point for me was the boat ride from Male’ to Girifushi. You’re in open sea, blindfolded and handcuffed, with cops who hate you and are threatening to throw you overboard. I had nightmares about being thrown overboard for days afterwards.
Once we arrived at Girifushi we were kept blindfolded and handcuffed and made to sit outside on a chair. We were hit, beaten up, hit on our spines, people were made to lie on their backs and the police walked over them. Men had their genitals pulled. Women were sexually abused and threatened. The cuffs weren’t even taken off for prayers. We were called names the entire time. When they pulled the men’s genitals they said “Abdulla Hameed, Abdulla Hameed isthiufaa (resign)”. There was so much anger in the police. They took it very personally.
If we moved at all we were hit. I tried to cross my legs and was hit because of it. The guards would say “open your mouth” but as we were blindfolded we didn’t know what they would do. I asked them why and they said “Do you want water or not?” So I opened my mouth and they poured water in.
Fifteen hours after having arrived at Girifushi, our blindfolds were taken off. Eight days later our handcuffs were removed. We only had mats to sleep on. Lying with your hands cuffed with no pillow is difficult. You get pains all over you back, your neck and shoulders. You can sleep for half an hour or so but then you wake up because of the pains in you shoulders. You try and shift positions to get more comfortable but there really aren’t many positions to can lie in with your hands cuffed.
After our transfer to Dhoonidoo we were better treated. But at one point we heard the warden yelling at the top of his voice. A prisoner was refusing to go into his cell because he had asthma and would like a more open cell. The warden screamed: “We’re not the ones who have let go of our dignity and respect and come to jail. What do you want? An A/C room?” He then told the guards to get the prisoner into the cell any way they could and that he wasn’t going to take responsibility for any physical abuse encountered. It was quite a shock to us.
You find that your mind regresses in prison. You don’t have any coherent thoughts. There is no reading material, we were forbidden from have writing materials. There’s nothing for you to do. You’re in this tiny cell. You watch what the lizards are up to, what the ants are doing, you watch the hens. Two months seems like a long time but every day was the same. I was there for two months but I feel I’m still in August.
You wondered what they are going to do with you. There is nothing to charge us with. Nobody felt like they had done anything wrong. All the prisoners were so supportive of each other. They would never let your spirit go down. We felt part of a group who were on the same wavelength. Everyone was still chanting in jail for Maumoon’s resignation. The guards didn’t stop us.
Q5) When you were in prison, did you hear about what the MDP was doing to get you out?
We heard that the EU fact-finding mission had come and spoken to Ibra and Miryam Manike. We heard that the European Parliament had voted to impose sanctions on the Maldives – an aid ban and a travel ban on government officials. We also knew that the US Ambassador and Amnesty International had come. We knew that there had been a lot of international pressure on the Maldives.
Q6) How did that make you feel?
Very hopeful. Hopeful that there would be some changes to the system. With international pressure the government would be forced into making changes. It wasn’t so much for our own release that we were hopeful. With so much attention and the international community, finding out that the Maldives is not paradise but hell for the people who live there, we hoped that there would be political reform. At the same time, we felt that being in jail was achieving something, that we had a purpose. That lifted our spirits.
With all the international attention, the government was forced to look into the conditions of our treatment and there was a President’s commission into jail welfare. A month after that, we were given mattresses instead of reed mats to sleep on.
The international visits also led to medical care being provided to us. We got to visit a doctor, although there were unable to deal with any specialist complaints. However, there were some detainees, Ibra for instance, who were denied being able to go to Male’ for medical treatment. Ibra had a fractured hip. Just before the US Ambassador came, Ibra was sent to the hospital in Male’. Female guards were also brought to Dhoonidoo for the first time.
Most of the guards were really young. They understood that we were prisoners who were different but they didn’t really understand. But when the international diplomats started visiting us, the guards – and the warden in particular – got intimidated and started giving us better food so we wouldn’t tell the diplomats what the real conditions had been like. Of course, we told them what had been happening anyway.
The warden of Dhoonidoo kept trying to justify what he was doing. He was telling us that he was trying to fight to get us reading material. He was nervous. I think he realised he was probably abusing the next government. But he was very transparent, after all, this was the warden who had instructed his guards to get the asthma prisoner into their cell any way they could.
The guards would tell us that they’re not the NSS anymore, that they are the police. We said the name may have changed but the people haven’t. The guards were also frightened of being exposed.
Q7) If there was another pro-democracy protest in the Maldives would you be afraid to go, given what happened to you after the last one?
No. Things won’t change unless you are there at these protests. Things won’t change if you withdraw your support because of fear. Most of the detainees would go if there was another protest.
I don’t think anything will change in the Maldives without more protests. The more people that come out, the higher the chances of change. All these years Gayoom has been living under the illusion that he has 99% support in the Maldives. I think seeing all those people come out in August came as quite a shock. I think it really scared him.

Minivan News spends 15 Minutes with a Black Friday Detainees. For the safety of the interviewee, Minivan News has not published their name

Q1) You were involved in the 12-13th August pro-democracy demonstration. How did it feel participating in one of the few demonstrations in recent Maldivian history?

Exhilarating. That night, you felt things would have to change. With the government seeing so many people demonstrating, steps would have to be taken. But there were also anxieties that as soon as the crowd thinned out the government would break it up. So getting the crowd to stay there was very important. In the morning when it started to get hot it was a problem. If we could just have maintained the numbers until evening the government may not have been able to break it up.

Seeing all those people talking about the abuses they had gone through, asking for freedoms of expression, asking for changes and demanding accountability. That was the main thing. Everyone was smiling, thinking its amazing what’s happening here. There were even old women, young women, women wearing Buruga, men, children, everyone.

People from all walks of life were there, not just the elite. People I would never have expected to be there were there. We all felt part of something that was very big and monumental. It felt like we were making history. Never before had so many people, not asking, but telling the government that it needed to change and reform. As a people, Maldivians had been suppressed for so long, now they were responding to that suppression.

Q2) President Gayoom and Dr Shaheed have stated that there were incidents of violence at the demonstration. Did you witness any of these?

No, there was no violence, not from the crowd. Every time someone got angry, others would calm him or her down, sit them down and get them to speak to get it off their chest.

We did hear the story of the policeman being stabbed. We also heard about people being paid by Ablo Yameen and Ablo Shaheed to create violence to give an excuse for breaking up the demonstration and saying afterwards it was violent. I saw a group of young men armed with sticks and iron rods when I was going home. I heard that these people were paid by the government to cause trouble.

The government was waiting for violence so they could move in. As long as the rally was peaceful the government could not do anything about it, or at least it would have been more difficult to justify. Two days prior to this demonstration people silently gathered at the tetrapod monument in Male’. As no one said anything at this meeting and of course there was no violence the government couldn’t do anything. Ablo Yameen was paying people then to provoke the crowd but people just sat silently. That scared the government. This time they wanted to attack the people. They made sure they had an excuse.

At the time of the break-up, the crowd were waiting for answers to the demands the people made of the government. People gave a list of cabinet members who they wanted to resign and demanded President Gayoom’s resignation too. Moosa Jaleel told us to wait and he would come back with an answer to our demands. The government answered with the riot police.

Q3) Dr Shaheed has said that some of the detainees will be tried for inciting public hatred and acts of violence at the demonstration. What are your thoughts on this?

Nobody said anything that incited violence. I don’t know where the government is coming from on this. The rally was peaceful for over 12 hours. The only violence committed was by those paid by the government.

If asking for the resignation of President Gayoom is inciting people to violence then we did it but that is a ridiculous position for the government to take.

Sheik Fareed said that we were all equal and shouldn’t fear anyone but God. He talked about the youth drug problem. He said that the addicts are not criminals but victims. Zuhaira [Umar] talked about how government officials misused property and she read a statement from Anni [Mohamed Nasheed]. But at no point did anyone ask the crowd to do anything violent. In fact, people who spoke were asking the crowd to remain peaceful. Nobody wanted violence as they knew that if the demonstration turned violent it wouldn’t serve any purpose, the government would just break it up.

Naushad Waheed talked about his torture in prison. People who were there, at some point in their lives, their families, friends, someone would have been the victim of torture and ill treatment. People were asking for justice.

Q4) President Gayoom is adamant that there is no institutionalised torture in the Maldives. Do your experiences in jail over the last two months support his claim?

There was psychological torture, there was physical torture. Even though people treated me better than other prisoners, it was still really bad. You didn’t know what they might do to you.

We didn’t resist arrest but as soon as we were blindfolded and handcuffed the police started hitting us. The entire time we were at the NSS Headquarters in Male’ we were blindfolded and handcuffed. Initially we had our legs cuffed too. Some people had their hands cuffed behind their backs and their feet cuffed and were made to lie on their front. They were like that for nine hours.

We could see flashes as the NSS took photos of us. They were also really rude to us. The most frightening point for me was the boat ride from Male’ to Girifushi. You’re in open sea, blindfolded and handcuffed, with cops who hate you and are threatening to throw you overboard. I had nightmares about being thrown overboard for days afterwards.

Once we arrived at Girifushi we were kept blindfolded and handcuffed and made to sit outside on a chair. We were hit, beaten up, hit on our spines, people were made to lie on their backs and the police walked over them. Men had their genitals pulled. Women were sexually abused and threatened. The cuffs weren’t even taken off for prayers. We were called names the entire time. When they pulled the men’s genitals they said “Abdulla Hameed, Abdulla Hameed isthiufaa (resign)”. There was so much anger in the police. They took it very personally.

If we moved at all we were hit. I tried to cross my legs and was hit because of it. The guards would say “open your mouth” but as we were blindfolded we didn’t know what they would do. I asked them why and they said “Do you want water or not?” So I opened my mouth and they poured water in.

Fifteen hours after having arrived at Girifushi, our blindfolds were taken off. Eight days later our handcuffs were removed. We only had mats to sleep on. Lying with your hands cuffed with no pillow is difficult. You get pains all over you back, your neck and shoulders. You can sleep for half an hour or so but then you wake up because of the pains in you shoulders. You try and shift positions to get more comfortable but there really aren’t many positions to can lie in with your hands cuffed.

After our transfer to Dhoonidoo we were better treated. But at one point we heard the warden yelling at the top of his voice. A prisoner was refusing to go into his cell because he had asthma and would like a more open cell. The warden screamed: “We’re not the ones who have let go of our dignity and respect and come to jail. What do you want? An A/C room?” He then told the guards to get the prisoner into the cell any way they could and that he wasn’t going to take responsibility for any physical abuse encountered. It was quite a shock to us.

You find that your mind regresses in prison. You don’t have any coherent thoughts. There is no reading material, we were forbidden from have writing materials. There’s nothing for you to do. You’re in this tiny cell. You watch what the lizards are up to, what the ants are doing, you watch the hens. Two months seems like a long time but every day was the same. I was there for two months but I feel I’m still in August.

You wondered what they are going to do with you. There is nothing to charge us with. Nobody felt like they had done anything wrong. All the prisoners were so supportive of each other. They would never let your spirit go down. We felt part of a group who were on the same wavelength. Everyone was still chanting in jail for Maumoon’s resignation. The guards didn’t stop us.

Q5) When you were in prison, did you hear about what the MDP was doing to get you out?

We heard that the EU fact-finding mission had come and spoken to Ibra and Miryam Manike. We heard that the European Parliament had voted to impose sanctions on the Maldives – an aid ban and a travel ban on government officials. We also knew that the US Ambassador and Amnesty International had come. We knew that there had been a lot of international pressure on the Maldives.

Q6) How did that make you feel?

Very hopeful. Hopeful that there would be some changes to the system. With international pressure the government would be forced into making changes. It wasn’t so much for our own release that we were hopeful. With so much attention and the international community, finding out that the Maldives is not paradise but hell for the people who live there, we hoped that there would be political reform. At the same time, we felt that being in jail was achieving something, that we had a purpose. That lifted our spirits.

With all the international attention, the government was forced to look into the conditions of our treatment and there was a President’s commission into jail welfare. A month after that, we were given mattresses instead of reed mats to sleep on.

The international visits also led to medical care being provided to us. We got to visit a doctor, although there were unable to deal with any specialist complaints. However, there were some detainees, Ibra for instance, who were denied being able to go to Male’ for medical treatment. Ibra had a fractured hip. Just before the US Ambassador came, Ibra was sent to the hospital in Male’. Female guards were also brought to Dhoonidoo for the first time.

Most of the guards were really young. They understood that we were prisoners who were different but they didn’t really understand. But when the international diplomats started visiting us, the guards – and the warden in particular – got intimidated and started giving us better food so we wouldn’t tell the diplomats what the real conditions had been like. Of course, we told them what had been happening anyway.

The warden of Dhoonidoo kept trying to justify what he was doing. He was telling us that he was trying to fight to get us reading material. He was nervous. I think he realised he was probably abusing the next government. But he was very transparent, after all, this was the warden who had instructed his guards to get the asthma prisoner into their cell any way they could.

The guards would tell us that they’re not the NSS anymore, that they are the police. We said the name may have changed but the people haven’t. The guards were also frightened of being exposed.

Q7) If there was another pro-democracy protest in the Maldives would you be afraid to go, given what happened to you after the last one?

No. Things won’t change unless you are there at these protests. Things won’t change if you withdraw your support because of fear. Most of the detainees would go if there was another protest.

I don’t think anything will change in the Maldives without more protests. The more people that come out, the higher the chances of change. All these years Gayoom has been living under the illusion that he has 99% support in the Maldives. I think seeing all those people come out in August came as quite a shock. I think it really scared him.

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MDP Welcomes Minivan News

Following the success of Minivan Radio, which broadcasts to the Maldives each evening, the online news channel Minivan News has been launched.

Minivan News is committed to bringing its readers objective news coverage and high quality analysis. Using credible sources, Minivan News will be updated with daily news from the Maldives and abroad and commentary and opinion from its panel of independent columnists.

The Maldivian government continually dictates what the state-run press in the Maldives can and cannot publish. Moreover, the Maldivian government continues to ban independent media channels and attempts to block independent radio and news websites.

The MDP, by contrast, is committed to freedom of expression and as such strongly encourages the establishment of a free press in the Maldives. The MDP further believes that for press to be genuinely free, it needs to be free from all political interference. In this regard, the MDP will have no control – nor will seek to control – the editorial content of Minivan News or any other news channel.

The MDP welcomes the addition of a new independent news channel for the Maldives, complementing existing e-newspaper Dhivehi Observer and e-newsletters Fassangu and Sandhaanu.

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Maldives democracy protestors march on London

A protest is underway in London today to highlight the continuing repression of human and civil rights in Maldives. Protestors will focus on the plight and deteriorating health of about twenty pro-democracy detainees who are into a fourth day of a hunger-strike.

No actions or words would be used to distract tourists from visiting the Maldives, the U.K based NGO Friends of Maldives, who organized the protest said in a statement.

Participants and activists would distribute thousands of leaflets that include articles, photographs and graphics on the human and civil rights violations prevalent in Maldives.

Over fifty activists will oversee the peaceful demonstration, being staged to garner international attention to the Maldives government’s blatant and brutal stifling of dissent and opposition.

Prominent dissenters have been jailed and tortured, amidst growing concern that many are forcefully being with-held from contesting forthcoming general elections for which the application deadline is November 15th. Other high-profile opposition figures are actively being intimidated from running in the elections, polling for which is slotted for the 31st December, Friends of Maldives said.

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Escalating dismay over official disregard of detainees’ hunger strike

Family members and friends of pro-democracy detainees have expressed escalating dismay and anguish over what they describe as politically motivated disregard by the regime over the deteriorating health of those on hunger-strike. The detainees are protesting their prolonged and unnecessary detention.

The Maldivian Democratic Party is following up on all practical means available in addressing appeals to prevail over the Maldives government and the international community for intercession over this alarming situation.

Of increasing concern, from appeals brought forward by family members and friends are the weakening health of Hon. Ilyas Hussein Ibrahim MP, Mr.Shuaib Ali, Mohamed Ziyaad MDP Councilor, Abdulla Rasheed, Ismail Asif and Saaz Waleed. Their failing health is reported to be causing distress to their families as they have not taken any food the past four days.

On 7th November 2004, the warden at the interrogation center Staff Sergeant Ibrahim Manik, requested the wives, relatives and friends of those on hunger strike to go to the interrogation center on Dhoonidhoo Island. Five close associates of the detainees did speak to them. Sources quoting the detainees say that the detainees believe that it is up to the detaining authority to normalize the situation.

The continued detention of those protesting, friends believe, is to thwart their opportunity to participate, some to contest, in the forthcoming general elections, for which the application deadline is the 15th November.
Hon. Ilyas Hussein, member of the peoples Special Majlis (constituent assembly) for North Ari Atoll is much respected people’s representative. Writer, publisher and activist, Hon Ilyas Hussain is a people’s politician, a proudly proclaimed slogan on all his correspondence.

Mr.Shuaib Ali, a pro-democracy activist of repute and a would-be candidate in the forthcoming general elections, is believed to be alternating between unconsciousness and fainting spells. His worsening health is causing much distress to family members and friends.

Mr. Mohamed Ziyaad, Mr. Abdullah Rasheed, Mr. Ismail Asif, and Saaz Waleed www.maldiviandetainees.net are much respected and successful activists of the Maldivian Democratic Party. Relatives believe that their continued detention is an unconstitutional punishment by the regime for their very visible efforts in recent days on behalf of the Maldivian Democratic Party. Sources from their families claim that their investigations were over, that there was nothing going on, and that they are just being kept to annul their rights to participate in the general elections. Family members have alleged personal animosity by the regime, especially of certain police officers towards these detainees.

Over eighteen other inmates are reported to be on a hunger-strike the past four days.
Pro-democracy prisoners in the Maldives began a hunger-strike on 4th November in protest against their continued detention by the government of President Gayoom. The prisoners, who have been in jail for over 70 days without charge, are refusing to take food because of what they believe is the political motivation behind their continued detention. Detainees have continued to refuse food throughout from the respective times of beginning their protests in hunger.

At least five of the detainees on a water-only existence are now believed to have resolved to refrain from taking anything to drink, should official disregard for their situation continue. Serious health-risks are of major concern as the detainees, deprived of basic nutrients are also susceptible to hypothermia or heat stroke. Other health risks include damage to muscle and bone tissue, dementia and fainting spells, potentially permanent brain damage, damage to internal organs, potential failure of internal organs and death (which could happen at any time, depending on the state of the detainee’s health.).

Initial reports indicated that 23 prisoners were on hunger strike, which started on the evening of November 4th in Dhoonidoo and Maafushi Jails.

The prisoners were arrested along with 500 others – including 14 MPS – following a 12,000-strong peaceful pro-democracy rally in the capital island, Male’ on 12-13 August, 2004. President Gayoom also imposed a State of Emergency and night-time curfews in the crack-down that followed the protest.

Although the State of Emergency was repealed by President Gayoom in October and many of the detainees have had their detention transferred to house arrest, over twenty-five detainees remain in prison, in solitary confinement. Amnesty International and the Maldivian Human Rights Commission have expressed deep concern after reports of some of the prisoners being tortured and sexually abused whilst in jail.

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) shares the concerns of the detainees about the political motivation for their continued detention. President Gayoom called parliamentary elections for the 31st December, 2004. In May 2004, the MDP shocked the regime by winning over 70% of the seats in the elections to the constituent parliament. Many of those in prison are would-be MDP candidates for the upcoming election.

The MDP calls on the government of President Gayoom to release all political prisoners in the Maldives immediately and unconditionally. President Gayoom continually exult the international community on his commitment to democratic reform in the Maldives. The MDP feels the continued imprisonment of pro-democracy campaigners is an affront to the President’s much talked-of reforms.

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U.S.-based Group Calls for concrete action on democratic reforms

Following a three-week visit to the Maldives to assess the political climate in the archipelago the Washington-based National Democratic Institute (NDI) has called upon Maldivian President Gayyoom to “take concrete and prompt action” on democratic reforms above and beyond what the leader promised in June 2004.

A four-man delegation traveled throughout the Maldives at the invitation of the government and with funding from the United National Development Programme in October and met with a wide group of government representatives, pro-democracy activists, business and religious leaders and members of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

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Pro-democracy prisoners on hunger-strike in the Maldives

The Maldivian Democratic Party
PRESS RELEASE
Colombo, November 5th, 2004

Pro-democracy prisoners in the Maldives are staging a hunger-strike in protest against their continued detention by the government of President Gayoom. The prisoners, who have been in jail for over 70 days without charge, are refusing to break their traditional Ramzan fast because of what they believe is the political motivation behind their continued detention. Initial reports indicate that 23 prisoners on hunger strike, which started yesterday evening (November 4th) in Dhoonidoo and Maufushi Jails.

The prisoners were arrested along with 500 others – including 14 MPS – following a 12,000-strong peaceful pro-democracy rally in the capital island, Male’ on 12-13 August, 2004. President Gayoom also imposed a State of Emergency and night-time curfews in the crack-down that followed the protest.

Although the State of Emergency was lifted by President Gayoom in October and many of the detainees have had their terms of detention reduced to house arrest, over twenty-five detainees remain in prison, in solitary confinement. Amnesty International and the Maldivian Human Rights Commission have expressed deep concern after reports of some of the prisoners being tortured and sexually abused whilst in jail.

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) shares the concerns of the detainees about the political motivation for their continued detention. President Gayoom called parliamentary elections for the 31st December, 2004. In May 2004, the MDP shocked the regime by winning over 70% of the seats in the elections to the constituent parliament. Many of those in prison are would-be MDP candidates for the upcoming election.

The MDP calls on the government of President Gayoom to release all political prisoners in the Maldives immediately and unconditionally. President Gayoom continually tells the international community he is committed to democratic reform in the Maldives. The MDP feels the imprisonment of pro-democracy campaigners is an affront to the President’s much talked-of reforms.

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Why Male’s Gangs Won’t Speak To Police

State media are broadcasting images of six men wanted in connection to gang fighting which has plagued the capital for over a week. But while police have been unable to track down their suspects in an island less than 2.5 square kilometres in size, Minivan News journalist Susannah Peter, who arrived in the Maldives less than three months ago, was able to meet two of the wanted men for coffee last night.

Here, the two fugitives and other members of the Kuda Henveiru “family” tell her why the police can’t infiltrate their world. They describe police aggression towards gang members, and explain the family will protect them because none believe the authorities will investigate the fighting fairly.

Scapegoats?

Ahmed Alif Rauf, 21, and Ahhmed Simhan, 21, greet me cheerfully as I am ushered inside a brightly lit, cosy front room. One of their friends offers me a cup of coffee, while another “family” (they prefer not to use the word “gang”) member draws up a seat.

Yet both men, members of the Kuda Henveiru group, one of two main gangs in Male’, are hiding from police who want them in connection with the street violence that allegedly led to the death of their fellow “brother” Chotey last Sunday night.

Alif tells me they fear they “will be made scapegoats” if they turn themselves in before Hussain Razeen (Raburry) leader of rival gang Bosnia and also wanted by police, is arrested first.

“The Government support Raburry and Bosnia,” he claims. “So the police don’t want to arrest him, even though they have heard he is back in Male’.

“If we are arrested first, the police will blame it all on us, even the death of Chotey [Ali Ishar, a fellow member of the Kuda Henveiru family who died after a knife attack last Sunday]” Alif says.

“Why would they do anything to harm a brother, one of their closest friends?” another gang member interjects, shaking his head sadly. “They wouldn’t do that, it makes no sense.”

At this point, another young man enters the room and perches on the sofa, looking slightly nervous and edgy. He is introduced as an eyewitness to Chotey’s attack, and asks not to be named.

He says he saw two rival gang members near Chotey’s house, and rushed back to warn his “brother.” But it was too late. Chotey had gone to a nearby shop, and was attacked when he left.

The eyewitness has named three men he says were among those who stabbed Chotey, although Minivan News has withheld the names.

Police have been trying to get in touch with the eyewitness, he tells me. “But I’m afraid they will arrest me,” he says, twitching slightly. “Because I know Raburry did this, and they don’t want to have to arrest him.”

He adds he has received “death threats” from Bosnia members since the attack on Chotey. “I am scared for my life,” he says quietly. “And I’ll never forget what I saw that night. I have nightmares about it.”

Police Aggression?

News of Chotey’s death sparked unrest throughout the capital, amid accusations of police heavy handedness.

“They only get there once the trouble is over, and then cause unrest,” says Alif, grimly.

And he claims police intimidate Kuda Henveiru members even as they gathered to pay their last respects to Chotey late last Sunday night.

As, “brothers” gathered along with “mothers, sisters and children,” at Malé’s Artificial Beach, a Kuda Henveiru haunt, police and Star force officers arrived.

“We were preparing go to the cemetery, where Chotey’s body had been taken, when one of the STAR Force officers pushed a brother,” one member claims.

“And they started hitting women and children, arresting some and not others,” he says. “It was one of the scariest times I have had, because I was worried women would get hurt.”

Trust

Gang members have named ten of the “family members” they arrested, although the sister of a member, who does not want to be named, tells me “they arrested many more, but will not tell us who they are.”

And police, who arrested her brother, “beat him repeatedly” with truncheons, while they waited to take him to the station. Her brother, who she says is still in custody, suffered leg and head injuries, and is now in Malé receiveing medical treatment.

Police Media Coordinator Sergeant Shiyam told Minivan News last week he “could not comment” on allegations of police violence. And of course many people will doubt claims made by anonymous gang members.

But what is clear is that distrust of the authorities among Malé’s powerful street gangs is obstructing the investigation into Ali Ishar’s death and the violence surrounding it. And if the distrust is not breached, more violence will result.

“We don’t believe Ishar’s family will get justice from Government or Police,” says one brother. “We’ll have to fight ourselves to get justice for him. There won’t be deaths, but there will be violence.”

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