The media were prevented from getting access to the maximum security ‘Pentagon’ wing of the Maafushi prison yesterday when the sunset, seemingly, caught prison officials by surprise.
“It is too dark now”, Mohamed Asif, Assistant Superintendant of the prison told members of the media who had been waiting an hour for the promised tour. The media were on Maafushi, on invitation from the UNDP, to cover the closing ceremony of a human rights training programme for prison staff it ran in conjunction with state bodies.
Home Affairs Minister Mohamed Shihab, accompanied by UNDP Resident Coordinator Andrew Cox and other officials from the Ministry, were given a tour of the prison. For reasons that remain unexplained, the media were not allowed to join the tour.
“You have to wait until the Minister and his delegation finish the tour”, Asif said, in what appeared to be acquiescence to media requests to join the tour. Members of the media were then made to sit on some beachside loungers, watching the sun go down in the company of a uniformed prison officer. After an hour, they were told the time had come to leave the island. There was no word of the promised tour.
When pressed, Asif told the media that since night had fallen, it was now too dark to see anything.
‘Promoting Access to Justice’ and protecting human rights is the UNDP project under which the training programme for the prison officers was held. 17 prison officers received certificates after a three-day training session by a group of judges from various courts in the country.
Speaking on behalf of the trainees, Trainee Prison Officer Abdul Qadir Ibrahim, said they have now realised that the Constitution is “as essential for life as water itself.”
Inmates at Maafushi prison petitioned President Mohamed Nasheed in July this year for better conditions at the prison. They claimed that over 100 prisoners were being held in cells designed to hold 35, forcing them to take turns sleeping.
When they did get a bed, there were no mattresses, and when there were mattresses there was no bed linen. They alleged that prison officers cited shortage of government funds as the reason for the lack of resources and facilities at the prison.
The media, although on the island and within the premises of the prison when a tour of the prison was being given to government officials and the UNDP, were unable to independently verify any of the allegations as they were not allowed to join the tour.