“Torture In The Jails Is Not Finished”: Mariyam Manike

On 19 September 2003, prison guards beat to death 19-year-old prisoner Hassan Evan Naseem in Maafushi jail after he was suspected of creating a disturbance in the prison.
Evan was taken out of his cell to be savagely beaten by at least eight security officers with planks and batons. He died late that night in Malé’s Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital. His death would change the Maldives irreversibly.
In the prison, an uprising sparked shootings by prison guards that injured 17 and killed three inmates. Outside the prison, Evan’s mother, Mariyam Manike, refused to let her son leave this world quietly.
She uncovered his battered body, delayed his burial, and insisted the public should know of his brutal killing. Demonstrations and riots began in the capital, Malé. Maldivians had lost patience, and demanded reform from President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, then in power for 25 years.
Mariyam Manike, made instantly political by her son’s murder, became a key member of the reform movement, which built momentum in parliament and on the streets. Five years after Evan’s death, the country stands on the brink of its first ever multi-party presidential elections, the culmination of that process of change.
Mother of five and political activist Mariyam Manike, now 46, speaks to Minivan News about her memories of the past five years.
What is your recollection of Evan Naseem’s death?
On 20 September 2003, at 2am, a guard came and asked me to call Ismail Moosa, who was the head of the jail then. I didn’t realise how important it was. But I called and Ismail Moosa asked me to come to the hospital. I questioned him, and he said, “A sad thing happened last night. He died last night.” He swore he didn’t know how it had happened.
I went to the hospital, and at first, the police said I could not see my son’s body until a doctor had examined him. Dr Ahmed Razi came, he examined him, and then allowed me to go in.
I went into the room with his body. Only Evan’s head was uncovered. But I saw that both his eyes were soiled, and something was coming out of his nose. There was sand in his ears.
The nurse and the police were holding on to the cover. By force, I took it off up to his stomach. I saw that he had been tortured and beaten. I screamed, “They killed my son.”
The nurses came with stretchers and they tried to give me an injection, because I was screaming. My friend told me they were going to give me an injection, so I kept screaming, and they left.
How did the public come to know of his death?
I wanted the authorities to release the body, but no one would take responsibility and say the body could go. Eventually, a staff member at the hospital told me the report was done, and they were not holding onto the body any more.
They took Evan to the cemetery, Aa Sahara, and immediately they made preparations for burial. But I told them they couldn’t do it. “He’s my son. You can’t do this without my approval,” I said.
The man assigned to prepare the body told me Evan should be buried as soon as possible, because his body was going bad. I told them: “The body cannot go any worse than it is right now.”
Many people were in the cemetery. I did not let them bury him, or let the police come in. I wanted people to know.
President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom came. He lied on the “Siyaasath” programme last week [in which Gayoom said he had not been informed of the prison shooting that followed Evan’s death].
When he came to see me at the cemetery, I told Maumoon there was a shooting in the jail. I heard it on the phone – people had three or four mobile phones in the jail then. I received a call from someone in jail, who said, “Even now they are shooting.” I heard it. And I told Maumoon. He said he didn’t know – he was not aware of it.
I couldn’t sleep for two months afterwards. Even now when that day comes, it is as if he died yesterday. I hope and wish that no mother or father will have to see such a day.
Who do you believe was responsible for Evan’s death?
The President of Maldives and police commissioner Adam Zahir. Also Adam Mohamed, “Fusfaru” [National Security Service captain, who was tried for taking part in Evan’s murder, but sentenced to six months for “disobedience to order”].
The smallest chance I get, I will hold them responsible for it. If the law allows it, I will take legal action. We will never forgive anyone who is responsible for what happened to him. Even at the court, myself and his father wanted the death penalty. We did not want to accept blood money. It is God who should pardon them. Maumoon cannot pardon. [Eight security officers sentenced to death for Evan’s killing saw their sentences commuted to 25 years in jail.]
Torture in jail still continues – it may not be as it was then, but it still happens. A boy’s knee was broken because he prays too much. A boy’s shoulder was broken.
How did Evan end up in jail?
Evan was taken to jail not long after he started to use drugs. He was jailed at 17 for six years. My sister and I had given him up to the police, because we wanted him to have the chance of rehabilitation treatment.
He was on house arrest prior to rehabilitation, but then he got into a fight with the brother of a police officer. His sentence was immediately changed to jail, even though the law states the sentence can only be changed to jail after the second [drug] offence.
This area is all full of drugs: there is always a group that sells drugs here. They are sent to jail one day, and the next day we see them on the streets. We have to live in this tiny house, so the kids go out onto the streets. And the friends and neighbours are on drugs, so this is how it goes. It has not changed – there was a group sentenced recently but a new group came, and now it’s the same again.
You have spent time in jail yourself, is that right?
Yes, after August 12-13 [protests in 2004], I spent 57 days in jail. I was tortured a lot – no other woman would be tortured like this.
They came into this house to arrest me, and beat me. They took me in a bus, using foul language. They took me to Banderige [the treasury building]. They put me in a room and about 20 or 30 people came and beat me with their ankle boots, and kicked me everywhere. When I bent down, they took off my veil and hit me in the pelvic region. They blindfolded and handcuffed me, and tied my ankles.
They said, “We are taking you to the same place where Evan Naseem was killed. We will take your entire family. By coincidence you’re wearing the same handcuffs Evan Naseem wore.”
One of my sister’s friends, who was in charge of me, escorted me to the toilet. I thought I was bleeding but I was blindfolded and my hands were cuffed still. Someone came and hit me, I think with a stick, on my head. Then I blacked out.
That night they took me to Girifushi, the police training centre, still blindfolded. I told them I was injured and they took me to a gynaecologist. I was bleeding and the doctor gave me medication, and the bleeding worsened. I spent seven days in Girifushi, then in Dhoonidhoo detention centre in the small cells for 50 days. It was better there, with no torture.
Yes, I had participated in August 12-13 protests, but I didn’t do anything against the law. When Ibrahim Ismail (Ibra) was talking, I asked for the microphone and said two things: to let me into the court hearings, and for the death penalty for the people who killed my son. That’s all I said.
Later, I went to India twice for medical treatment for my internal injuries resulting from the beating. It was better after that, but I still have some problems.
Were you ever involved in politics before Evan’s death?
No – I was never a political person before that. Only afterwards. But from the hospital on, I knew I had to get people in the streets. I told everyone who came there to go on the streets and say someone has been killed in jail.
I believe the only political party is the Maldivian Democratic Party. They began this reform, and they are the only party who took action amid all the fear and intimidation. I have been with them ever since the party formed. Everything they do, I am involved with. MDP is very strong now.
Is it true that Evan’s killers are no longer in jail?
Yes, it is true. I attended all the court hearings. The men who killed him are on house arrest now. For possessing one gram of drugs, people are sentenced to 25 years. But child abusers and murderers are not jailed.
Do you believe others suffered the same fate as Evan? And have things changed?
Many, so many. And even though things have changed a little, torture in the jails is not finished.
I want to tell all parents not to let this pass by. If we allow it, it will continue to happen.