Crucial files relating to an investigation into human remains found on the site of the former Gaamaadhoo prison have gone missing, the President’s Office has claimed.
President Mohamed Nasheed announced on October 10 last year that DNA tests in Thailand had revealed that human bones discovered on the island a year before matched the age and estimated period of death of Abdulla Anees, Vaavu Keyodhoo Bashigasdhosuge, an inmate officially declared missing in the 1980s.
“The mysterious disappearance of Abdulla Anees is an important case in investigating the alleged torture, violation of human rights and killing of many inmates during the previous 30 year dictatorial regime,” the President’s Office said in a statement, announcing the appointment of new members to the Presidential Commission tasked with investigating allegations of police torture and mistreatment of prisoners in custody.
Amin Faisal, Dr Ahmed Ali Sawad and Mohamed Shafeeq were today tasked by the President with investigating the case of the missing files, “as this disappearance points to a deliberate attempt to hide evidence to obstruct an ongoing investigation.”
A senior source in the President’s Office told Minivan News that following the President’s announcement on October 10 last year, police had been asked to investigate the disappearance of Abdulla Anees in light of the discovery of the bones.
“People want to see justice for what happened,” the source said. “Human remains were discovered and there is a strong reason to believe that something bad happened. However it looks like the investigation has been compromised.”
Minivan News understands that the original file was stored at the Department of Penitentiary and Rehabilitation (DPRS), while copies were kept by police. Both sets of documents were reported missing.
Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam told Minivan News that he had met with the unit investigating the case.
“Copies of necessary documents concerning other government authorities had been misplaced, but they have been but found now,” Shiyam said.
No further documents were missing from the police side, he added.
State Home Minister Ahmed Adhil told Minvan News that the two authorities had been searching for the files “for the last couple of days.”
“Police have informed the Home Ministry that they have located copies of the files, but the original was held by the DPRS and is still missing. We don’t count copies of papers so we don’t know whether any important documents are missing unless we find that original,” he said.
Adhil said the Ministry could not yet say whether the files had been misplaced or deliberately removed, although the theft of the documents “is a very close possibility.”
The Home Ministry had requested police investigate the matter, he said.
“We have to reform the DPRS; we’ve been saying that since this government came to power. There are a lot of weak areas in the DPRS and we have to do a lot of upgrading. These sorts of things have been happening for the last couple of years – this is the culture, and it’s time we faced it.”
President Nasheed announced the results of the DNA test last year at the launch of a book by elderly historian Ahmed Shafeeq, who contends that at least 111 people died in custody under the former government.
Nasheed said at the time that he was intimately familiar with Gaamadhoo prison, having spent three years there for dissident journalism in opposition to the rule of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
When he heard that the bones had been found, Nasheed said he had wondered if they belonged to Anees.
A former prison guard, Mohamed Naeem, of Gaaf Dhaal Hoadhendhoo Muraka, had told the police investigators that Anees had died in Gaamaadhoo prison.
Press Secretary for the President Mohamed Zuhair told Minivan News at the time that the Maldivian Democratic Party had voiced concern over the disappearance of inmates.
“There were allegations that some were killed in jail and buried,” said Zuhair.
“There were also allegations that some people were dropped in pits where they made lime for construction.”
Allegations of torture and deaths in custody remain a sensitive political subject in the Maldives, as the opposition has outright denied involvement or complicity in human rights abuses that occurred during the former administration.
Officials of both former and current governments have however spoken about a “culture of torture” they claim still persists in elements of the police and DPRS. Many senior members of the present government, including the President, allege abuse and torture at the hands of the former government.
When he took power in a peaceful transition that surprised many analysts, President Nasheed pledged that Gayoom would be allowed to remain in the Maldives and live in peace in dignity as a former statesman, so long as he remained outside active politics.
However that pledge has conflicted with considerable pressure from within his own party to prosecute the former President and those under his administration for a host of human rights abuses, and allegations of corruption. Frustration over perceived inaction led several senior MDP officials to form a ‘Torture Victims Association’, claiming they would seek redress against the former President in international courts.
Gayoom has shown particular sensitivity to such allegations, going as far as prosecuting local media for defamation for publishing official audit reports suggesting, at the very least, misappropriation of state funds.
Following Nasheed’s statement at the launch of Shafeeq’s book, Gayoom wrote a letter to British Prime Minister David Cameron claiming that Nasheed was waging a compaign of intimidation and harassment against himself and his family.
“In a book authored by this Shafeeq, which was ceremoniously released [on October 10] by Mohamed Nasheed himself, it is accused that I also ordered the man’s arrest and supposed torture in prison. In a country of just over 300,000, it is safe to assume that even one ‘missing person’ would not go unnoticed, let alone 111,” Gayoom told the British PM.
“All such allegations of corruption, mismanagement and misappropriation of funds and property are basedless and completely untrue, as are those of torture, repression, and unlawful detention during my presidency.
“Nearly two years after the MDP government assumed presidency, Nasheed and his government have failed to uncover a single shred of evidence to substantiate any of these allegations,” Gayoom added.
Shortly afterwards, Gayoom declared that he was returning to the Maldives to help the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), of which he remains the ‘Honorary Leader’, campaign in the local council elections.
The MDP voiced its dismay, aware of Gayoom’s continued popularity in many of the islands, prompting Nasheed to controversially warn Gayoom to stay out of the Maldives “for his own safety”, in reference to the death of former presidents who were killed after their resignations.
After the local Council elections Gayoom spearheaded a split in the opposition, disowning DRP leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali whom he had previously endorsed as his successor.
A not uncommon outcome
Political and social turmoil rooted in the dichotomy between revenge and reconciliation is not unique to the Maldives.
Peter Godwin, author of The Fear: The Last Days of Robert Mugabe who visited the Maldives during the Hay Festival last year, observed that a country’s inability to confront or reconcile with its turbulent past led old wounds to fester.
Transitional justice was a vast subject falling between the two clashing camps of ‘revenge’ and ‘reconciliation’, and mired in shades of grey.
“You can listen to each argument and be convinced by both,” said Godwin. “I think it is one of those things where you have to look at each case separately. But the thing that never works is not doing anything about it; moving on and pretending it hasn’t happened.
“Because that is one of the things that has gone wrong in Zimbabwe. It has festered. You can feel the people seething. And the weird thing is that the children of the people killed and tortured are even more taken up with the cause than the parents. It doesn’t fade away – it magnifies with the passing of generations.”
The decision, he said, should lie with the victims and their families, he suggested.
“It’s very counterintuitive. The victims, who were put in jail and tortured – are the main victims who suffered during the authoritarian rule of a repressive regime. These people have the inherent right to decide what to do.
“You would imagine that these people would be the most radical, but a curious thing happens. In my experience – and I’m not alone, my view is shared by a lot of NGOs – the main thing that people who have been through the firing line want is acknowledgement.
“Not an ‘eye-for-an-eye’, just acknowledgement. The further you get away from the actual victims, the more radical you get. The people who didn’t risk their own lives in opposition – they don’t have the authenticity of victimhood.
What countries grappling with the enormity of such problems must do “is ventilate”, he suggests.
“You have to bring it into the mainstream. You have to bring it into public debate. You have to basically talk it through. It’s odd that the solution turns out to be the ventilation of it, as it becomes acknowledged in the media and public discourse, and ultimately in the way people write their own history.”