Amnesty International has called on the government to investigate allegations that police beat and sexually harassed four women detained during an anti-government rally.
“While in detention they were forced to undergo naked body checks on the spurious suspicion of concealing drugs in their genitals. They were forced to strip and squat several times while in prison,” Amnesty stated, after gathering testimony from the women.
“There is no indication that the women protesters were involved in any acts of violence during the rally. Their detention therefore was arbitrary. Cases of molestation and other humiliating sexual acts against women have been reported in the past, but these latest allegations highlight a new police drive to suppress political activity under the pretext of body searching female detainees for alleged possession of drugs,” the human rights organisation stated.
“The beating and sexual harassment of political detainees under the pretext that they are suspected of possessing drugs must end. None of the four women detainees had been arrested on that suspicion so there was no justification for the searches, said Amnesty researcher Abbas Faiz.
Amnesty sought testimony from four women.
Twenty-two year-old Yusra Hussein told Amnesty that she was arrested by four female officers on March 19, who “beat me as they handcuffed me. They beat me on my stomach, which was very painful as I had had a caesarean section in the past. They grabbed my breasts and twisted them.”
After she was taken to Dhoonidoo detention centre, “They beat me with electric cables. I still have marks of their beating on my body. They then forced me to strip naked and made me squat on the floor. They took a urine test and did a body check on me.
“They forced me to sit in that position for a body check several time. Each time I felt sick but they paid no attention. They just wanted to humiliate me as they were shouting filthy words at me all the while,” Hussein told Amnesty.
Aishath Muna told Amnesty that police arrested her after she had taken another female protester to hospital.
“Police had pepper sprayed the protester and she had been feeling sick. When Aishath Muna returned to the MDP offices, two police women arrested her. She said the handcuffs which they used on her were very tight. She complained but they took no notice. She was then taken to Dhoonidhoo detention centre where she was forced to take off her clothes and undergo a body check,” Amnesty reported.
Another woman, 44 year-old Mariyam Waheeda, told Amnesty International that two women police officers who detained her on 19 March beat her “and dragged her along the floor. They grabbed her breasts and twisted them while handcuffing her. She said they took her to the police station and only released her after she convinced them she had not taken part in the protest rallies.”
The fourth woman, Aishath Aniya, “said she had been forced to undergo a urine test, was made to take off her T-shirt, bra and jeans, and was told to squat three times.”
“The Maldives has an image as a luxury holiday destination, and over the past few years, it had established a positive track record on human rights. But the fact is at the moment, not only is repression of peaceful political protest an everyday reality, it has taken an appalling new twist with this cruel and degrading treatment,” said Faiz.
“The government of Maldives must ensure that these allegations are investigated and that those found to be responsible are brought to justice.”
Amnesty noted the police response denying the allegations and recommendation that the women concerned contact the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM).
“HRCM has told Amnesty International that they have serious limitations in terms of trained investigative staff and dealing with human rights issues in a highly politicised environment is an overwhelming challenge for them,” Amnesty noted.
“By referring cases of police abuse of power to the HRCM, when it is clear that such investigations are beyond its capacity, the government is in effect forfeiting its own responsibility to enforce respect for human rights within the police force,” said Faiz.
HRCM had yet to complete investigations into the alleged sexual harassment of female detainees in 2004, Amnesty noted.
“This is the wrong message to give to the police as it will encourage police officers to violate human rights with impunity. The Maldives government must ensure that the right to freedom of assembly and expression is protected at all times.”
HRCM is currently investigating former President Mohamed Nasheed’s detention of chief Judge of the Criminal Court, Abdulla Mohamed. Former Home Minister Hassan Afeef was summoned for questioning yesterday.