The Criminal Court has found former principal of Lale Youth International School, Turkish national Serkan Akar, guilty of assaulting children and sentenced him to pay a Rf200 (US$14) fine.
Serkan had denied the charges against him, which included strangling and whipping a child with a belt during an incident last Ramazan.
A report from the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) released in June found that students at the school had been “physically and psychologically abused, discriminated against and bullied,” recommending “that police should investigate the physical and psychological abuse going on at the school as an urgent concern,” and “separate those suspected of physical abuse from the school’s students until the police investigation is concluded.”
A source at HRCM told Minivan News today that “as far as we’re concerned, [Serkan’s Rf200 fine] is ridiculous.”
“This sentence gives people a reason to take justice into their own hands. Why even bother to go to the courts?” the source said.
“This case was supposed to create a precedent for the future protection of children in this country. This is not the precedent we were looking for. We not sure of how to follow through – perhaps request deportation, or at least notify the Turkish government.”
The source added that there was little further that HRCM could do, because with the constitutional turmoil and doubt about the institution’s validity after parliament failed to legilsate for its continuity after the interim period, “we don’t even know if we are supposed to be going to work.”
“There are all these important issues we’re supposed to be working on, such as cases of people who don’t have access to water because their landlords have blocked the water meter even though they are paying rent. There’s nothing the water company can do so people have to come to us. But it’s questionable whether anything we do now has legal [legitimacy].”
Deputy Prosectutor General Hussain Shameem said that the Rf200 sentence ruled by the judge was legitimate under the current penal code, which was originally drafted in 1968 and apparently not reflective of inflation.
“Under the penal code the judge had four sentencing options: up to six months banishment, imprisonment or house arrest, or the fine of Rf 200,” Shameem stated.
“We cannot say that the sentence is unjust, because this is a punishment prescribed in law. But I want to say that the judge had three other options, but chose to fine. Rhe defendant probably had mitigating factors, such as no prior criminal record [in the Maldives].”
Minivan News understands that a revision of the penal code is currently before parliament, but has remained so for four years. Parliament has scheduled 29 sessions to examine the bill, and but all except three have been cancelled or failed to make quorum.
Trying to ascertain which judge issued the sentence, Minivan News phoned the mobile number of the spokesperson for the Criminal Court, Ahmed Riffath, but the person who answered the phone claimed to be someone else.
The Criminal Court’s front desk confirmed the number belonged to Riffath, and that he was the court’s only authorised spokesperson.
Shameen said he did not know which judge actually heard the case, “but [Chief Judge of the Criminal Court] Abdulla Mohamed was on the schedule.”
Abdulla Mohamed did not answer when Minivan News attempted to contact him.
“Our concern was that we wanted to get some incarceration because the victims were children,” Shameem said.
As for deportation, such matters were not part of the court sentencing, Shameem noted, but were rather the prerogative of the administration.
“The immigration chief has the power to deport any person alleged of an offence,” he said.
Serkan has already attempted to flee the country twice after HRCM’s preliminary investigation revealed a past systemic use of corporal punishment, questionable standards of education and suspect teaching qualifications among Turkish staff at the school, but his passport was confiscated at immigration.
Minivan News originally reported incidents of children being violently abused by senior staff in the the school in January, after a parent spoke about the abuse her 13 year old son was suffering.
“He would come home and tell me about the beatings. He told me it depended how angry the principal was – sometimes a leather belt was used,” she said.
“[The violence] has only been towards the boys, but they have done it in front of the girls as well. Just recently a pupil was held by the neck and put up against the wall. Many pupils went home and told their parents they were so scared they nearly wet themselves,” a parent told Minivan News.
Following the allegations the deputy principal at the time, Guvanchmyrat Hezretov, fled the Maldives to be replaced by another Turkish national, Suleiman Atayev.
Atayev and a Turkish teacher fled the country in July, after the pair were also implicated as suspects in the assault case facing Akar.
In May, Minivan News reported concerns raised by parents and members of staff that the school was being operated as a front for a Turkish tax racket whereby businesses in Turkey would evade taxes through charitable giving to institutions in tax-friendly locations such as Male’, and then retrieve these these funds through escalated salaries paid to selected Turkish staff. Minivan News also reported concerns regarding inflated visa quotas for teaching staff, and phantom teachers on the payroll.
In June, HRCM released its report, recommending that the Education Ministry terminate its contract with Maldives-registered company Biz Atoll Pvt Ltd to manage Lale Youth International School, “and hand over management as soon as possible to a qualified party.”
The matter was being reviewed by the Attorney General, prior to his resignation yesterday.
Download the HRCM investigation report (Dhivehi)