â€œItâ€™s about justice. It has always been about justice,â€ said Jennifer Latheef, member of the Governing Council of the Maldivian Democratic Party and human rights activist, tossing back her head in a gesture of defiance.
Miss Latheef was charged and sentenced to ten years imprisonment on charges of terrorism on October 20, 2005, for allegedly having hit a policeman with a stone when a large percentage of the capitalâ€™s inhabitants took to the streets in a spontaneous fit of rage on September 20, 2003.
The incident which resulted in acts of arson directed at the High Court, the office of the Elections Commissioner and several police vehicles and a police sub-station were sparked by the brutal killing of Evan Naseem by the security forces, an inmate of the Maafushi jail, on September 19, 2003. The subsequent jail riots took a further toll on innocent lives the following day when the same security personnel in Maafushi jail opened fire on unarmed inmates, killing four and seriously injuring seventeen others.
Surprisingly deviating from the hard-line stance taken by President Gayyoom, the regime has of late begun to make conciliatory gestures towards the opposition. Several MDP activists arrested during street demonstrations were recently released. Yet â€“ even more surprising was the fact that Gayyoom had apparently decided to issue a Presidential pardon for Jenny Latheef.
â€œIâ€™m not about to get all excited over some comments made by Gayyoomâ€™s mouthpiece,â€ said Jenny, presently under house-arrest, referring to the recent remarks publicly made by Shareef, the government Spokesperson.
â€œI have not been informed of anything officially.â€
â€œI could have evaded going to jail by remaining in Colombo. Despite the terrorism charges lodged against me by the regime, and well aware of the way the judiciary works here, I still came back to Maleâ€™ because I believed in justice.â€
Further responding to Shareefâ€™s announcements about a Presidential pardon for herself, said Jenny:
â€œGayyoom has publicly acknowledged there are shortcomings in the justice system. He has said that justice ought to be meted in accordance with the wishes of the people.â€
â€œInitially when the Attorney General built his case against me, he stated that we â€“ meaning Xia, Shabir, Alex and Ikulla, Ahmed Moosa and myself â€“ would be tried together. Assuming he has decided to release me, it is only just that what applies to me should apply to the others as well.â€
â€œAnyway â€“ the investigation and the trial itself was a travesty of justice.â€
As part of the pre-conditions to all party talks, the MDP had proposed that all political prisoners be released unconditionally. Jenny, who remains unperturbed at having to spend ten years in jail, echoed the same sentiments.
â€œOnly a few of the detainees were released. The majority are still under arrest â€“ whether it be Maleâ€™ arrest, house arrest or jail â€“ and their liberty is equally important to me as my own freedom.â€
â€œIâ€™m definitely not interested in a pardon. I am innocent. I am not a terrorist. I went out on to the street to protest against a grave injustice. All I am interested in is seeking justice and I am prepared to face any eventuality to achieve my goals.â€
â€œI cannot talk about justice and turn my back on injustice.â€
When questioned whether if she had a message for President Gayyoom, she responded:
â€œI pray to Allah that Gayyoom does the right thing by my people.â€