A 35 year-old inmate was found hanged in his cell in Maafushi jail on Tuesday morning, according to Home Minister Hassan Afeef.
Speaking to press this afternoon, Afeef said Abdul Munnim, H. Cozy Corner, who was serving a sentence on drug-related charges, was found dead at around 11.35am in the fifth cell in unit three.
The deceased was alone in the cell today as his cell mate was in Male’ for medical treatment, Afeef explained.
The Home Minister promised a full and thorough investigation “to determine if there was any foul play and if we believe anyone else is culpable, we will take legal action against them.”
A team of journalists was allowed to visit Maafushi jail later in the afternoon by the Department of Penitentiary and Rehabilitation Services (DPRS) under the Home Ministry.
The family of another inmate in Maafushi jail told Minivan News that some inmates claimed to have “heard a man shouting last night.”
“The inmates knew about his death this morning when prison officers told them about it,” the family member said. “The prisoners said they remember hearing a man shouting that night.”
“The prison officers said that it was a suicide and that he hanged himself using a bedsheet,” he continued. “But that cell he was in when he died is a very small cell and there is no way a person could hang himself to death because that cell will not have enough height.”
The source further claimed that according to prison officers, the deceased was found in a sitting position and his neck was tied to the fence.
“Besides, prison officers are always on duty and it would be impossible to commit suicide in that cell because that’s not a regular cell,” he said. “Prisoners are put there usually when they are caught with something illegal like a mobile phone. The inmates heard that he was put there after prison officers found a mobile [in his possession].”
The source alleged that prison guards told prisoners that the man died of torture and that guards tied his neck to the fence using a bedsheet.
Home Minister Afeef and State Minister for Home Affairs, Mohamed ‘Monaza’ Naeem, currently in charge of DPRS, were unavailable for comment at time of press.
The President’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair meanwhile told Minivan News that he believed there was “no institutionalised torture permitted under this government,” adding that torture by prison guards would be “a criminal act.”
“There’s no regimen of punishment that could be described as torture,” he said. “Inmates are under lock and key and are looked after. This government does not condone torture and if someone is accused of such a despicable offence, it will be investigated.”
A senior government official noted that it was possible there still existed remnants of “a culture of torture” among staff in the DPRS persisting from the former government, which faced many allegations of custodial abuse.
In March 2009, Minivan News reported that five heroin addicts died of either overdose or suicide in the space of one month.
On 20 March, Abdullah Shiham, 33, an inmate at Maafushi jail serving a 25-year sentence for drug possession, was found dead in his cell. Police revealed at the time that the inmate died of a benzodiazepine overdose.
A forensic examination of drugs seized had uncovered that heroin sold on the streets was laced with benzodiazepine, a class of psychoactive drugs, according to police.
The combination of benzodiazepine with opiates is known to lead to coma and even death.
A week after the inmate’s death, a 33-year old woman hanged herself in Male’. According to her family, she had been in the local rehabilitation centre some years ago and had been sent abroad for treatment on many different occasions.
She committed suicide two months after police caught her with a small amount of heroin and was subsequently fired from her job.
The night before, on 24 March, police rescued a drug addict in Male’ as he attempted to hang himself.
Earlier in the month, another drug addict, a 29-year old woman, was found hanged at her house. She was reportedly denied the chance of rehabilitation by the authorities.
Over 70 percent of inmates in Maafushi jail were incarcerated for drug abuse, possession or drug-related offences.
A discussion paper on judicial reform prepared in June 2005 noted that between February 2000 and September 2003, there was a 243 percent rise in persons serving prison terms, of which 80 percent were convicted of drug offences and 75 percent of those were under 30 years of age.