Comment: We are criminals

The Maldives has the 10th highest prison population rate in the world and our society is set up to perpetuate this rate.

The victory in 2008 ushering in democracy has barely lessened the number of people incarcerated. It has not changed how we treat people who have gone to jail, nor the causes for which so many of our people lose their freedom. It has not made us reflect on the effect this is having on our society. And as a nation we will suffer for this together.

Culture promoting criminality

Before we won the election, politicians on my side of the divide could have claimed that many of the prisoners in jail were the result of political repression.

But the problem goes beyond politics. The problem is societal and the responsibility now falls on each and every one of us to change the direction we’ve been heading in.

The vast majority of those arrested have been sentenced on drug related charges. We have 30% of our youth falling into drugs like heroin, and we are surprised that crime is soaring. We are surprised when gang related violence escalates, and we are surprised that Male’ and islands around the country are no longer safe.

Male’ is now split up by the gangs controlling strictly monitored lines. They hijack each other’s cars and motorcycles and go after one another with whatever weapon they can get their hands on.

For all of us who have nothing to do with these gangs, we just ignore it. We turn a blind eye because that’s what we’ve been taught to do for 30 years.

But political commentary aside, we each let this happen. We live in a small community where everyone knows everything about everyone else. We know when our neighbor is arrested. We know why the boy down the street was taken to jail and why the police kicked down his friend’s door the week before.

But instead of helping them recover and reintegrate, we shun them. We ostracize them and say they are not worth our time. Instead of offering a helping hand, we kick them to the curb as the wasted undesirable elements of our society. But with the prison population so high, it is a large part of our society.

Our prison population rate is the 10th largest in the world, and this is without all the people who have not yet been sentenced. We need to help these people join the working ranks and support our nation to grow. We need to stop abusing them with our indifference, and we have to make it clear to our government institutions and those who work for them, that we will not tolerate abuse against inmates and promote true rehabilitation instead.


We as a society have to help with rehabilitation. I don’t mean drug rehabilitation. I mean we have to teach inmates how to function in society and how to be productive members of it. But the truth is that rehabilitation was never a part of our penitentiary services. In the past, the entire prison institution was based around repression, fear, and control of the unruly elements of our society. The new government is trying to change that and I’ve seen more change in the DPRS (Department of Penitentiary and Rehabilitation Services) than in many of the other institutions, though even the DPRS has been subject to politically based manipulation by jailers, and not just by government sympathizers. However, what about all those people who have not yet been convicted?

These people are kept in police detention facilities. The same kind of facilities which have been responsible for custodial abuse reported recently. In addition to the kinds of abuse described by the inmates on DhiTV, there is a culture of brutality amongst the armed forces which needs to be addressed. Prisoners are constantly manhandled by their guards, whether they behave or not.

Further methods are used to ensure compliance and deal with unruly behavior. Amongst these methods are handcuffing inmates in difficult positions and leaving them for hours at a time under the hot sun, or if it is raining, leaving them out in the cold.

These are people who have not even been sentenced yet! Guilt has not been established. Due process has not been executed. And even if these people had been sentenced, they are still human beings and thereby extended inalienable rights; especially from torture. We suffered these kinds of abuses under the previous administration; it cannot be allowed to continue.


The attitudes within both the Police Service as well as the general populous need to be reformed. The Maldivian Police Service has made phenomenal improvement in how the deal with the citizenry, so there should be no reason why this cannot extend towards those members of society who are placed in their care.

We as society need to care about what happens to inmates. Without reform and true rehabilitation, we will never be able to progress as a nation.

We may have had a democratic election, but we still do not have a free society. The democracy monitoring international NGO, Freedom House, still ranks us as only partly free because of our apathy towards the prison population. We are such a small community.

We are all brothers, sisters, cousins, neighbors, and friends. We have no excuse to allow things to continue as they are. The shackles of tyranny still bind us. It’s time we start chipping away at these bindings, so that one day we will enjoy a free and stable society.

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10 thoughts on “Comment: We are criminals”

  1. Maldivian society as a whole will start caring about prisoner rights only when those that need to be in prison are actually in prison and not roaming around on streets mugging people (or in parliament). So the first step required is to build better prisons where different classes of criminals are kept separately.

  2. Dear Mr Salim Waheed
    Let me tell you what freedom means to me as a Maldivian.Its about my right to live in my share of this land with in the fabric of values we hold as Maldivians. Its the security to walk and enjoy with my family.Freedom comes with choices and responsibility. Responsibilties of parents, teenagers. When was the last time we Maldivians had to be responsible for anything? Sympathizers and proponents of 'freedom' have done much to dilute our social responsibilities.the reason why there is so much criminality is the INDIFFERENCE and double standards in our society to ones own responsibility. it is always someones kid who did that. You and I forget a typical Maldivian divorce his wife marry again in different islands beat the wife and let the kids rot in the system to hand to mouth existence. Perhaps that sums it up for you.

  3. Individual groups have contributed to the sorry state affairs that we see Maldives today
    1. Businessmen's greed to exploit the county and people without paying taxes.
    2. Gayoom's cronyism and corruption to be in power.
    3. Anni's naive and some times politically convenient views of freedom and democracy
    4. Religious fanatics opportunist methods to capitalize on all ills of society to gain power.
    5. The growing wealth disparity during the 30 years.

  4. Yes! Every one recognizes that the route cause of all these evils in this country is the DRUGS, and there’s a vital call for reform the drug policy, as well there must be added focused approach by the police as they seize drug suspects. One year has departed, police was merely capable to hold 2 drug dealers out of 6 most important drug wholesalers, which president pointed out in his speech in an island, however, if you go to police inquire the statistics DEU guys will demonstrate as many as 300 or more than that they have been detained for drug related offences , and the foolishness of this administration is that they will consider that it’s enormous effort by police.. This government is not conscious that it will in fact generate added panic and disorder in prisons after 2 to 3 years .. if we intimately explore we will appear to recognize that nearly everyone arrested for drug offences is below 19 years of age, since of the time-consuming velocity of PG and judges suspects are wandering around male.. Once these youthful boys are sentenced to imprison for 12 years or life.. Subsequently panic and disarray in jail will begin, a that point President cant do anything in relation to rulings of courts ( he has no authority over judiciary but keep in mind he can still amend the method policing ) , so intimately who will fall short? Yes Mr president you’ll be the individual to fail… near the closing stages of your five year term, sure there will be more youths in jail than tyrant maumoon era .. I am stunned by stupidity of your management that they don’t grasp what’s going on more or less in the name of prevent the Drugs, some leading villains there knows if they hold a small guy daily from here and there.. This government officials will be pleased,… however, ask ourselves where are the actual criminals ? Plus where’s the lasting 4 dealers which president and the police is aware of? Why are we still hunting victims of this hypocritical system? Each day I take notice of a police statement “we have detained a person in possession of 1 to 2 grams …. From some atoll or male … and we are investigating”, and finally at the age of 16 he or she is imprisoned.. Finished.. Ruined

  5. Dear Texter,

    I completely agree with you. Freedom does come with responsibilities and choices, because we need to protect that freedom. Building a democratic society means we have both freedoms and responsibility in equal measure, but this message has been lost in the attitudes and belief that democracy means people can do anything they want without taking responsibility for their actions or their society.

  6. I do not have any sympathy for convicted criminals who then go onto fire up further violence within the prison system. These are people in my opinion who should not hold any rights of their own. We can still treat them humanely but these criminals should hot have the right to ask for anything.

    I do however agree that all incarcerated people convicted or on trial who fully corporate with the law enforcement agents should all have the right to be treated with dignity.

    We should not be fooled into an ideology of human rights for the criminals by sacrifising the right of the ordinary person to a good night's sleep.

  7. and criminals need to stop stabbing people on the street...then maybe, just maybe we'll consider including them in our ranks as patriotic Quran wielding law abiding citizens.

  8. Dear Salim

    Indeed we are all criminals BUT the solution is not to release all the prisoners (who are there because they are CRIMINALS).

    The solution lies is making sure that the rest of us who are out of jail don't get locked up. By making sure that the youth or whoever the criminally inclined are, are kept entertained. Ie build better sports facilities etc.

    BTW the running track, the only place for joggers in Male, have now been closed to the public except from 9:00 to 12:00. No wonder people are on drugs!

  9. Salim's argument is lofty. Yet, it is simplistic. Ergo, it is misguided. It is misguided because it implies we should all hug criminals. Nothing wrong with this. Yet, Criminals don't want to hug us. They want to commit more crimes. Give them an inch and they seize a mile. Instead, releasing everyone from jail would be like opening a can of worms. Pandora's box even. It will reduce prison population. But also increase the amount of terrified citizens on the street. Lawlessness will be everywhere. Instead, society should aim at removing those structures that turns young people into criminals. Young people should be told they can dance. They can also eat barbecued food when the sun is subject to eclispse. They should be taught the value of work. And their grandmothers should stop funding these little drug addicts in the making. I thank my friend suzy for editing this message.

  10. Dear Nadya,

    I would never argue that prisoners should just be released. I'm arguing better rehabilitation and a change in the attitude of our society.


    I'm also arguing that Human Rights are universal values. Regardless of what a person does, we cannot treat them as less than human. The police cannot EVER torture. Solitary confinement may be acceptable, but torture!? Are you kidding me?! If you sleep better because someone is being treated like an animal for no purpose, then I feel sorry for your ignorance and your inhumanity.

    And Jessica,

    Damn right we should hug all criminals. You're neglecting the enduring dynamic of Maldivian society. It is interconnected, related, and tied in multitudes of complex webs. I'm not saying murders should ever be released. And how does it possibly make sense to just release people?!!? I'm not saying that. I'm saying that once they have served time, they be welcomed back into the community. I'm saying the they should be given some vocational training in prison, and that there should be a system set up to ensure their reintegration into society. That is how we reduce crime rates!

    Though, yes, i do believe in greater liberalization as well as a greater focus on work.


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