Maafushi jail inmate dies of apparent natural causes

An inmate serving a 10-year sentence for drug abuse died at the Maafushi jail last night of what appears to be natural causes.

Ahmed Lishan, 23, complained of chest pains to prison guards during a head count at the low security unit, home ministry media coordinator Thazmeel Abdul Samad told Minivan News.

“He was taken to the island health centre where the doctor pronounced him dead,” he said

Thazmeel said the inmate is believed to have died en route to the health centre around 8:55pm last night. The cause of death remained unclear and the authorities were awaiting a report from the doctor, he added.

While rumours of a custodial death began circulating on social media last night, both Lishan’s family and the human rights watchdog have said there were no signs of physical abuse when the body was brought to the cemetery in Malé.

A family member told Minivan News that Lishan had been admitted at hospital with chest pains about six months ago. Lishan had sustained an injury to the chest when he was hit by a ball while playing sports at the jail.

He had been complaining about the pain getting worse, the relative said.

The family was informed of his death around 9:00pm last night.

The relative said the family does not suspect foul play as the authorities had shown the inmate’s body to his father around 1:30am. The body was brought to Malé for burial at the family’s request and was reportedly laid to rest after dawn prayers.

However, a source familiar with the matter alleged that prison guards had ignored pleas from Lishan’s cellmates to take him out for treatment after he complained of chest pains.

The source claimed Lishan was dead when he was taken from the cell. The Maafushi jail has not had a resident doctor for a month, he added.

The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) has meanwhile launched an investigation. An HRCM team visited the Aasahara cemetery to inspect the body.

The commission said that it will share findings with the authorities after concluding the investigation.

In February 2014, Ibrahim Azar, an inmate serving a five-year sentence for drug abuse, suffered severe head injuries after being attacked by two cellmates. He died in April last year while undergoing treatment in India.

On April 9, police began investigating an incident in Addu City where a 28-year-old detainee suffered extensive burns to his back. The victim was being held at a cell inside the Hithadhoo police station ahead of transfer to a detention centre.

The HRCM is also investigating the case and the authorities have yet to reveal how the detainee caught on fire.


High Court upholds acquittal of police officer accused of assaulting Hussain Solah

The High Court has upheld a Criminal Court verdict acquitting a police officer of charges over assaulting an inmate in 2007, who was later found dead floating in Male’ harbour.

Corporal Ahmed Shah (Haa Dhaal Vaikaradhoo, Prim Rose) was accused of assaulting inmate Hussein Solah (Seenu Hithadhoo, Naazukeege) on April 12, 2007, three days before Solah was found in the harbour near the Atolhuvehi Detention Centre in Male’.

Shah was prosecuted on request of the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM), which obtained witness statements from three detainees who claimed Corporal Shah assaulted Solah in custody.

A seven-month investigation by the HRCM found that there was “not enough evidence to say for certain that Solah was [ever] released from custody.”

Police denied any wrongdoing and claimed Solah was released on April 13, informing HRCM that the inmate was suicidal and exhibited symptoms of heroin withdrawal.

In November 2009, more than a year after charges were pressed against the police corporal, the Criminal Court ruled that Shah was not guilty on the grounds that the witness statements were not sufficient evidence for a conviction.

The court noted that as Corporal Shah was in charge of the jail at the time, the witnesses were likely to be prejudiced against the senior officer.

Following the verdict, Head of the HRCM Legal Department Mohamed Shafaz Wajeeh told Minivan News that the court had a set a precedent of not considering witness statements from detainees without corroborating evidence.

Shafaz said he believed the case represented progress as it had been the first time such charges were pressed against a serving police officer.

The state however appealed the Criminal Court verdict at the High Court, which ruled (Dhivehi) yesterday that the verdict could not be overturned as the prosecution was unable to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt.


Hussain SolahHussein Solah, 27, was arrested on drug related charges in Hithadhoo on April 9, 2007 and brought to Male’. Police claimed he was released on April 13, but he did not contact family or friends, and was found dead in the harbour outside the detention centre on the morning of April 15.

In January 2008, the HRCM requested criminal charges be filed against Corporal Shah, based on its findings and three witness statements.

In June 2009, the HRCM expressed concern that the case remained stalled at court as no hearings had been held for a year at the time.

Deputy Prosecutor General Hussain Shameem told Minivan News in June 2009 that a total of three hearings were conducted by the Criminal Court since March 2008.

At the last hearing on October 21, 2008, said Shameem, the issue of transferring proceedings to a court house near the Hathifushi low risk jail for a witness who was serving a sentence there was discussed.

HRCM Media Official Jeehan Mahmood, currently a member of the commission, told Minivan News at the time that the HRCM considered the case a custodial death.

A police media official meanwhile confirmed that Corporal Shah was serving in the police force and had not been suspended.

Under normal procedure, he said, a police officer who had a complaint filed against him or was involved in an ongoing court case would be suspended.

“But this is the Human Rights Commission’s allegations and it’s based on witness statements from three prisoners,” he said. “They don’t have any other evidence besides that.”

Waiting for justice

The discovery of Hussain Solah’s body sparked protests in the capital and Addu by the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

Former President Mohamed Nasheed, then-chairperson of MDP, was beaten and arrested by police near the Aasaharaa cemetery  in Male’ on April 15, 2007, the day Solah’s body was found in the harbour.

Solah’s family meanwhile rejected the findings of a postmortem conducted in Sri Lanka, which showed that the cause of death was drowning.

On April 28, Solah’s body was buried in the Aasaharaa cemetery without the consent of the family.

Speaking to Minivan News in June 2009, Hassan Zareer and Waheeda Ahmed, Solah’s parents, said they were still waiting for justice for their son’s “murder”.

Zareer said police called on the night of April 13, 2007 and said his son was going to be released.

“When the HRC checked the cell they found his bag, his clothes and a chit that he had with him,” Zareer said.

Zareer said he was convinced that his son was killed by police.

“I was surprised because it was a holiday and the court usually doesn’t finish cases that soon,” he said.

Police asked him where Solah should be sent to in Male’ and he told them to send him back to Addu.

Zareer found out his son was dead when he saw the news on TV on April 15, he said.

He added he did not accept the explanation from police or the post-mortem conducted in Sri Lanka.

Further, he referred to security cameras outside the detention centre, which police could have used to prove that Solah was released.

“We just want to know who is responsible,” said Zareer. “We don’t want money or anything like that.”

The family was planning to submit a petition to parliament requesting an inquiry into the death.

“I think about it all the time. It is in my heart every day,” said his mother.


Police integrity commission calls for revised procedures after clearing police of suspect’s death

The Police Integrity Commission (PIC) has ruled that the Maldives Police Service was not culpable for the death of 20 year old Abdulla Basith Zubair whilst in their custody, although it has called for revised safety procedures when holding suspects.

Head of the PIC Shahindha Ismail told Minivan News that a five member independent panel ruled after reviewing evidence, which included medical reports, that police were not accountable for Zubair’s death after he was taken into custody last month for alleged drug offences. The five members of the PIC panel that rule on cases are initially nominated by the president before being put before the Majlis for approval and do not contain any serving police members, according to Ismail.

Zubair was reportedly found dead on the morning of January 14 after he was taken into custody where police said he had tested positive for the presence of illegal drugs in his system.

His death was confirmed after he later was taken to hospital after being discovered by officers who the police service had claimed thought he had been asleep.

Ismail confirmed that although the police were not being held accountable or found to have treated Zubair inappropriately, the case had served to highlight a lack of familiarity and training among officers in dealing with potential addicts or drug offenders when they were held in custody.

“One thing we have noted with some other cases as well, is that special processes are required regarding the handling of drug users in custody,” she said. “We think these suspects need to be hospitalised and not left alone in a cell. Also, at present some officers may not be familiar how to handle such cases.”

According to Ismail and the PIC, the problem represents a wider issue regarding police procedure for holding suspects in custody, as well as ensuring the protection of its officers as outlined under article 19 of the Police Act.

In an attempt to try and ensure officers are better trained and prepared for the challenges posed by holding suspects, the PIC has announced it will be hosting a two day workshop to try and outline minimum standards for holding suspects at police stations and custodial centres from 27 – 28 February.

Along with measures for handling possible drug addicts and users, Ismail claimed the workshop would attempt to outline procedures for a wide array of custodial issues including the administrative requirements of officers on duty.