Minister of Home Affairs Umar Naseer has accepted that loopholes in the prison system allowed two dangerous convicts to escape from Maafushi prison on Friday (October 17)
Ibrahim Shahum Adam and Fariyash Ahmed of Javaahiruvadhee in Gaafu Alifu Maamendhoo were both serving life sentences for separate murder incidents.
Naseer told Television Maldives yesterday (October 19) that the Maldives Police Services will doubtless recapture the two criminals and return them to prison.
Describing the escape during his interview, Naseer said that necessary changes to procedure had been identified which would now be implemented.
“There is no prison in the world from which someone or the other has not escaped from. The strength of a prison system is in how quickly we recapture escapees and return them to their cells,” said the home minister.
“We will find them. The government is willing to use all the powers vested in them to find them, recapture them and return them to prison,” he added.
The search has today expanded to the capital Malé after investigations in Maafushi and neighbouring islands proved fruitless.
Naseer described the layout of the Maafushi Prison as being divided into two subsections, referred to as ‘The Pentagon’ and ‘U2’.
U2 is the facility where criminals who pose daily threats are kept, whereas prisoners in Pentagon get a few hours a day out in the prison grounds. The two escapees were placed in the Pentagon wing of the prison at the time of escape.
Naseer stated that the prison houses over 700 inmates, all of whom are convicted on serious charges including murder, rape, and pedophilia.
The escapees had placed dummies made of pillows on their beds at the time of the routine headcounts, the minister explained, resulting in the guards miscounting.
This particular method of escape was made famous by the 1979 film ‘Escape from Alcatraz’, which was itself based on a 1962 escape attempt from the island prison in San Francisco.
Umar Naseer said that it was common for inmates to be asleep under blankets at these times, meaning that nobody noticed anything was amiss.
“We have now realised that it is not alright for us to just count people in a cell, and that we must instead wake everyone up and have them line up for the count,” Naseer said.
In the meantime, the prisoners had escaped out of a barred window and onto the prison roof before reaching the ground via bed sheets tied together.
The escapees had used a broken saw to cut through 22 bars on the window, with Naseer suggesting that the work had been done in a series of days on the windows, which are about 10 feet above the ground.
Naseer admitted that the saw may have been acquired from the prison grounds as there is currently an ongoing construction project to build a new check post in the U2 wing of the prison.
“This wasn’t planned and done in a single day. It was done under a well-planned systematic attempt,” Naseer said.
Opportunity for improvement
“We can look at this as an opportunity to improve upon the current prison system,” Naseer said, describing the prison system as a “learning experience”.
“We have now noticed loopholes in our way of doing things. In future, we will improve upon them. I can guarantee that no other convict can escape using this technique again,” he stated.
“The prison system is largely manual now. The locks on doors, monitoring the grounds, all of this is done manually. We will in future work to automate these things,” he said.
He revealed that the cells have cameras, but that inmates often avoid being on them by spending time in the attached bathrooms or through other tactics.
Naseer said that investigations are currently being conducted into whether the escape was made possible due to the negligence of prison guards.
“Nothing we have so far found in the investigation indicates any negligence or involvement of prison guards. However, if such a thing comes to our notice, we will take immediate action,” he stated.
While the minister noted that the prison system is being maintained on a tight budget, he maintained that his philosophy is to “make do to the best of our levels on whatever budget allocation is available”.
Naseer dismissed the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party’s labelling of the escape as symptomatic of the government’s failings as a “rant released from a desperate party”.