Some 22 people died of gang violence in the country since 2008, Home Minister Hassan Afeef informed MPs during Minister’s Question Time at parliament today amidst heightened public concern over violent crimes.
Responding to a query from MP Ahmed Mahlouf about police efforts to curb violent assault and organised crime across the country, Afeef explained that a special operation involving the capital police, special operations and serious and organised crime departments was currently underway.
In addition to increased police patrols, said Afeef, police were working with the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) to expedite cases and hold dangerous suspects in remand detention or monitored house arrest.
Afeef insisted that the government has not released convicts outside of the parole programmes, adding however that police were yet to find “about 300 people” sentenced in absentia.
“Now, as you know, some time ago a large number of people were sentenced in absentia,” he said. “There were about 300 people sentenced in absentia. We have to find out where these people are. We haven’t had complete information about them either.”
Afeef echoed concerns expressed by Commissioner of Police Ahmed Faseeh earlier this month that the main obstacle for effective policing was “the lack of a jail that could rehabilitate offenders and release them back to society.”
The Home Minister also flagged the issue of convicts escaping either directly from prison or during hospital visits in Male’ as a related problem.
Police meanwhile revealed last week that a large haul of dangerous weapons, including knives and a two-foot long sword, were confiscated from four houses in Male’ as part of the ongoing special operation.
Inspector Abdulla Nawaz, deputy head of the serious and organised crime department, on Thursday publicised crime records of “eight dangerous criminals,” most of whom had been arrested more than 10 times on average for offences such as violent assault and burglary.
“We will not hesitate to take a person to court for a third time,” an impassioned Nawaz told press. “If we have to do it for a fourth time, we’ll do it if it’s necessary, and keep him under policy custody for a fourth time if we have to. There is no other way that we can suppress this.”
During the past week, 53 suspects were taken into police custody and 14 were placed under house arrest, while 161 people and 45 minors were stopped and searched on the streets.
Anti-gang violence campaign
The Maldives National Broadcasting Commission (MNBC) meanwhile launched a special campaign last week to educate the public on the shortcomings of the criminal justice system and raise awareness about the challenges to public safety and security.
In a statement condemning Thursday’s knife attack on MNBC sports presenter Mohamed Sodiq, the public broadcaster said that “these brutal atrocities from out of control criminals” were intended to cause fear among citizens “and especially Maldivian journalists.”
Failure to enforce sentences and legal hurdles to securing convictions for “dangerous criminals” are the two main reasons for the worsening crime situation, the MNBC statement said.
While the lack of an Evidence Act and mechanism for witnesses protection has been identified as serious impediments, Deputy Prosecutor General Hussein Shameem told press last week that the absence of legislation was not the entirety of the problem.
“It is true, there are difficulties caused by the lack of Evidence Act,” he said. “For one thing, not knowing what kind of evidence will be accepted by court poses difficulties for us. However, we believe that this is a big opportunity for judges to contribute to the system.”
At last week’s press conference however, Shameem revealed that two eye witnesses to gang violence who had retracted their statements at court have since been convicted to one year imprisonment each after being found guilty of giving false testimony.