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 whatâ€™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 Maleâ€™. As no one said anything at this meeting and of course there was no violence the government couldnâ€™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 Gayoomâ€™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 donâ€™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 shouldnâ€™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 wouldnâ€™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 didnâ€™t know what they might do to you.
We didnâ€™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 Maleâ€™ 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 Maleâ€™ to Girifushi. Youâ€™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 werenâ€™t even taken off for prayers. We were called names the entire time. When they pulled the menâ€™s genitals they said â€œAbdulla Hameed, Abdulla Hameed isthiufaa (resign)â€. 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 â€œopen your mouthâ€ but as we were blindfolded we didnâ€™t know what they would do. I asked them why and they said â€œDo you want water or not?â€ 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 arenâ€™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: â€œWeâ€™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?â€ He then told the guards to get the prisoner into the cell any way they could and that he wasnâ€™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 donâ€™t have any coherent thoughts. There is no reading material, we were forbidden from have writing materials. Thereâ€™s nothing for you to do. Youâ€™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 Iâ€™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 Maumoonâ€™s resignation. The guards didnâ€™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 â€“ 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 wasnâ€™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 Presidentâ€™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 Maleâ€™ for medical treatment. Ibra had a fractured hip. Just before the US Ambassador came, Ibra was sent to the hospital in Maleâ€™. 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 didnâ€™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 wouldnâ€™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 theyâ€™re not the NSS anymore, that they are the police. We said the name may have changed but the people havenâ€™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 wonâ€™t change unless you are there at these protests. Things wonâ€™t change if you withdraw your support because of fear. Most of the detainees would go if there was another protest.
I donâ€™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.