Assaulted inmate flown to Sri Lanka for medical treatment

Officials from the Home Ministry have confirmed to local media that Ibrahim Azar – critically injured during a jail fight in Maafushi prison last month – has been sent to Sri Lanka for medical treatment.

According to a report on the incident shared by the Maldives Correctional Services (MCS) with parliament’s government oversight committee earlier this month, Azar had requested to be transferred from his cell more than an hour before the assault.

A person familiar with the matter told Minivan News that Azar was attacked by his cell mates after calling prison officers when a fight broke out between two of his cell mates on February 24.

“Azar was kept in A-B/Unit-3 of Maafushi Prison with two other inmates, and that day the two inmates had an issue and started fighting,’’ the source said.

“Azar called the prison officers and the prison officers talked to the two that were fighting and resolved the issue – but as soon as the prison officer left they started fighting again.’’

He added that Azar called the prison officers once more, though the fighting had stopped by the time officers arrived and so the guards left the cell again.

“It repeated three times, and after the fourth time prison officers were called Azar was attacked by his two cell mates,’’ the source said.

The source alleged that Azar’s cell mates attacked him using a razor blade. He received multiple wounds to his body, and his head was allegedly banged against the cell wall or the metal fence.

However, officials from the MCS had denied that any “sharp objects” were used in the assault when asked by MPs at the oversight committee meeting.

The source meanwhile said that the hospitalised inmate was “very skinny” and “very weak.”

“After the attack the prison officers had to wrap him inside a mat to carry him outside due to bleeding, his head was smashed,” he said.

“The inmates have to shake the metal fences to alert the prison officers if anything is happening otherwise they will pretend they did not hear,’’ he said.

“If one cell starts shaking the fences all the other cells will start shaking the metal fence.’’

MCS report

According to the one-page MCS report, on February 24, Prison Corporal Mohamed Mujthaba, the ranking duty officer at the time of the incident, was informed by guards of unrest in cell number 12 of unit three, wing one, at about 5:25pm.

Mujthaba questioned the prisoners and was asked by two of the three inmates in cell 12 – Ali Ashwan of Ma. Oasis Villa and Azar – to be transferred to a different cell.

“However, when [the inmates] were asked to explain the reason for wanting to change cells, they refused to do so until they were taken out of the cell,” the report revealed.

At about 6:00pm, the report stated, instructions were given to transfer the inmates, but the third inmate in cell 12 – Ahmed Liushan, also from Ma. Oasis Villa – obstructed prison guards who attempted to take the other inmates out of the cell.

At about 6:50pm, Mujthaba and Emergency Support Group officers made their way to the cell upon hearing a commotion from the unit, finding the “severely beaten” Azar inside.

Negligence in the prison was also reported to have led to violence in December 2010 after inmates attempted to inform prison officers of the illness of a cell-bound inmate.

After officers failed to respond to pleas from inmates, prisoners reportedly shook the bars to gain the attention of officers – who were subsequently alleged to have beaten the inmates causing the disturbance.

“Nobody cares for the inmates, only some politicians speak about it, but only for political purposes and not with the intention of correcting anything,” said a source close to the incident at the time.


Home Minister Umar Naseer orders preparations for death penalty

Minister of Home Affairs Umar Naseer has released an order on the Maldives Correctional Services mandating the implementation of the death penalty.

“I order the Maldives Correctional Services [MCS] to implement the death penalty – as sentenced by the Supreme Court – through the use of lethal injection, and to make all necessary arrangements for the implementation of such sentences, and to obtain all necessary equipment for the implementation and maintain the set-up at the Maafushi Prison,” read the order signed by Naseer and made public at a press conference today.

The home minister’s decision comes just days after a death sentence was handed to Hussain Humam Ahmed on charges of murdering the moderate religious scholar and MP Dr Afrasheem Ali in October 2012.

The order was received by MCS Commissioner of Prisons Ahmed Shihan at today’s event.

Naseer stated that the order is in alignment with the draft bill on death penalty implementation which the state has made ready for submission to the parliament. He confirmed that advice had been sought from the attorney general prior to the signing of the order.

“We will not wait for laws to be drafted and passed. The law allows for implementation, and it is at the discretion of the home minister to order implementation,” Naseer said, adding that – should a relevant law be passed in the future – the state would then abide by the new laws.

Implementation only after appeals

The home minister further stated that the death penalty will be implemented only after all appeal processes are exhausted. If the sentenced fails to appeal his case, the state itself will initiate all avenues of appeal prior to the implementation of the sentence, he added .

Naseer said that while the order applies to all pending death sentences, and not just the ones that come after the issuance of the order, the state will not seek to expedite any of the existing appeal cases.

“The government will not interfere with the work of the judiciary, either to expedite or slow down a process. The bottom line is, the death penalty will only be implemented once all the appeal processes are completed,” he stated.

“Regulations on how this penalty will be implemented have already been compiled. Media will have access to the centre of implementation, but not will be allowed inside. The MCS now must run training programs for those who will be involved in this work and they will also begin work on establishing the necessary set up,” he continued.

“While this order does not detail a specific deadline for completion of this task, the MCS will have everything ready by the time we will need to implement such a sentence.”

The minister added that, in the case of minors sentenced to death, “I think the rule is to wait till they turn eighteen for implementation of the sentence. It will be done in accordance with international treaties we have signed”.

Naseer stated that, as Home Minister, he would need to sign a specific order to authorise the execution of each individual person sentenced to death.

A source at the Home Ministry stated that, although there are approximately twenty individuals currently sentenced to death, all cases are being appealed at the High Court and have not yet reached the Supreme Court.


While death sentences continue to be issued in the country, these have traditionally been commuted to life sentences by presidential decree since the execution of Hakim Didi in 1954 for the crime of practising black magic.

In May last year, the UN country team called for the abolition of death penalty in the Maldives, stating: “in view of the country’s more than 50 year moratorium, the United Nations call upon the Maldives to take the opportunity to reaffirm its commitment to its international human rights obligations, and abolish the death penalty”.

Earlier in 2013, calls for presidential clemency to be blocked resulted in then Attorney General Azima Shakoor asking the High Court to decide upon the matter.

Azima further drafted a bill in December 2012 favouring the implementation of the penalty via lethal injection. This was met with opposition from religious groups including Jamiyathul Salaf, which called for the draft to be amended in favour of beheadings or firing squads.

In June 2013, Dhivehi Qaumee Party MP Riyaz Rasheed submitted a bill asking for death penalty to be implemented by hanging. The bill was rejected by 26 votes to 18, with no abstentions.

During campaigns for 2013 presidential elections, incumbent President Abdulla Yameen stated that “murder has to be punished with murder”. Yameen revealed that, although he was previously not an advocate of the death penalty, he “had a change of heart” due to “murders that have become too commonplace”.


Inmates to work on Thilafushi road construction

Fifty inmates are to start work on a road construction project on industrial Thilafushi Island on Saturday as part of a re-integration program, the Ministry of Home Affairs has said.

Speaking at a Monday night event on President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom’s policies on youth development, Home Minister Umar Naseer said 70 percent of Maldivian prisoners fit into the youth demographic.

“There is no country in the world where detainees are not made to work. This administration’s aim is to make detainees in our jails work in various government projects. To bring them out of their current situation,” the Home Minister said.

When criminals remain in detention without work, society is deprived of major youth contribution, and forces the government to employ foreign laborers, Naseer said. Further, the state spends a high amount on prisoner care, while families of prisoners are driven to financially difficult situations, he said.

While the labour program is voluntary, detainees will be selected based on their disciplinary records while in prison and suitability for the work. They will be paid a stipend; half of which will be taken for development of the detention centers, and detainees will be given the choice to either save the remaining earnings or to send it to their families.

Naseer predicted that by the end of 2014, 400 out of 730 detainees will be working on some project, thereby preparing them for reintegration into society.

In order to prepare detainees for such work, vocational training programs will be introduced in Maafushi Island prison in the near future, he also said. The program will desensitize them to work environments, and hone a number of skills.

“Through these trainings we will be able to create electricians, air conditioning unit repairmen, and many other skilled workers. Our hope is that someday, society will benefit from services by those currently in our prisons,” he said.

DPRS to oversee detainee workers

According to the Home Ministry, the Department of Penitentiary and Rehabilitation Services (DPRS) are to oversee the program.

State Minister for Home Affairs Hussain Manik Dhon Manik said DPRS guards will keep watch over inmates and emphasized that special focus would be given to ensure that detainees do not have any opportunity to smuggle in illegal drugs or other contraband into the prisons.

“We will not be negligent in any aspect of guarding detainees. We will not allow any illegal acts to be carried out even in their work environments,” he asserted.


HRCM calls on authorities to ensure inmates are able to vote

The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) has issued a statement calling on authorities to ensure that inmates detained at state penitentiaries and police custody are able to vote during the presidential election.

The HRCM stated that the police, human rights and Gender Ministry as well as the Department of Penitentiary and Rehabilitation (DPRS) should complete the things they have to, in order to make sure all persons detained in their facilities are able to vote.

The commission said it had sent a letter to the Supreme Court to discuss the verdict regarding the issue.

On September 5, a source within the Maafushi Prison told Minivan News that more than 200 inmates were not registered to vote because they do not have national identity cards. The source claimed that inmates have to pay the prison department to renew their ID cards but that there are inmates in the cells who have no way to get money.

He said that inmates have contacted politicians and been told it is  the responsibility of the Home Ministry to make ID cards for all the inmates who do not have them.

The source also claimed that inmates have complained about both the Prison Department and the Home Ministry stealing the money the government had given them to get ID cards for inmates.


Criminal Court cancels hearing into Afrasheem murder after prison authorities fail to produce suspect

The Criminal Court yesterday cancelled a high-profile hearing into the brutal murder of MP Dr Afrasheem Ali, after the Department of Penitentiary and Rehabilitation Services (DPRS) failed to produce the suspect to the court on time.

Minivan News contacted Chief Judge of the Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed to query about the case, however he had not responded at time of press.

Criminal Court Spokesperson Ahmed Mohamed Manik also did not respond to Minivan News at time of press.

Local media reported they had been unable to clarify as to why he was not produced to court on time. Neither Criminal Court or the DPRS have said anything on the matter so far.

Dr Afrasheem Ali was stabbed to death on the night of October 1, on the staircase of his home.

State prosecutors have accused Hussain Humam, along with Ali Shan – who is also facing the same charges – and a minor identified as ‘Nangi’, of going to the residence of Dr Afrasheem and murdering him with a machete and a bayonet knife.

Humam initially confessed to the murder, but later withdrew his statement claiming it had been extracted under police duress.

During the last hearing, held on July 11, a forensic expert told the judge that one of the DNA samples taken from Humam’s jeans matched a DNA sample taken from Dr Afrasheem.

Humam’s lawyer challenged the forensic evidence, contending that while Dr Afrasheem was murdered between 12:00am to 1:00am on October 1, and Humam was arrested at 1:45am the same night, there was a window for police to put Dr Afrasheem’s DNA sample on Humam’s jeans. and asked the expert if he was able to determine at what time Humam’s jeans received the sample.

The expert stated that Humam’s jeans were received for testing the following day, on October 2.


Elections Commission delays publishing amended voter registry

The Elections Commission (EC) has said it has been forced to delay the publication of an amended voter registry for September’s presidential election as a result of the number of complaints filed by the public.

The amended list of voters was originally due to have been published today in the government gazette.

EC Vice President Ahmed Fayaz said that despite the delay, the commission was in “full swing” with its preparations for the presidential election scheduled for September 7. He added that the commission was presently working to address a number of concerns, including assuring that the legitimate electorate were not deprived of their right to vote due to preventable issues.

According to the latest EC records, the electorate presently consists of 240,302 individuals – 31,008 more voters than the number of participants in the 2008 presidential election.

The statistics indicate that 123,565 males and 116,737 females are presently eligible to vote on September 7.

Voter registry to be “hopefully complete by week’s end”

Thaufeeq informed local media that the commission had received 2,790 complaints based on the initial voter registry, adding that verifying these complaints had proved to be highly time consuming.

“When we are verifying complaints about deceased people being listed in the voter registry, sometimes we need to actually send staff to the addresses in question to carry out verification of the claims. It’s this verification process that is taking up time,” he was quoted as saying.

Thaufeeq stated that with the commission’s staff working day and night to complete the required amendments to the voter registry, he remained hopeful that the final list would be published by the end of the week.

Thaufeeq further called on citizens and political parties to extend their cooperation in checking whether the amended list had addressed the previously lodged complaints.

“It is also very important that each individual checks the voter registry within five days after it is published to ensure that their details are correctly included in it,” he continued.

Previously, EC President Thaufeeq stated that the commission was confident the voter registry would be completed by a deadline of June 14.

He said at the time that the amendment of the voter registry had gone “better than expected”, despite challenges remaining in notifying all the complainants about the changes made to the list, as is required according to regulations.

Ballot boxes

The EC said it estimated approximately 500 ballot boxes would need to be set up for the vote on September 7.

“As per our current estimate, 495 ballot boxes will need to be set up countrywide, but that number may still increase,” Thaufeeq was quoted as telling local media.

According to the existing EC plans, 122 ballot boxes will be placed in Male’ City: 48 for citizens registered in Male’, and an additional 74 for citizens registered in other islands who live in Male’. While ballot boxes are to be placed in other inhabited islands, 55 tourist resorts will also have polling booths stationed in them.

Resorts which do not have a minimum of 50 eligible voters working in it will not have a dedicated polling booth. Instead, the Elections Commission is appealing to management of such resorts to allow staff to travel to the nearest island to place their votes.

Additionally, all jails and detention centres in the country will have ballot boxes, as well as other nations which have a minimum of 100 Maldivian citizens living in them. These countries are said to include India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and the UK.

Concerns pending solutions

EC Vice President Ahmed Fayaz has however expressed concern that the identity cards of hundreds of inmates will have expired prior to voting day.

“We have been discussing the issue with them. The renewal of identity card requires a fee to be paid, and the Department of Penitentiary and Rehabilitation Services have told us that they do not have sufficient funds to carry out ID renewals for the inmates,” Fayaz said.

“In the end, the only viable solution is for the concerned state authorities to find a solution for this,” he said.

Political parties contesting in the upcoming election have previously spoken to Minivan News about their respective concerns over registration and identity card renewal ahead of the vote.

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)’s Membership and Campaign Committee member Ahmed Shahid spoke of such concerns, alleging that based on the current situation, “it doesn’t seem as though the state is really trying to solve the issues prior to the elections”.

“From the information we have gathered, we understand that approximately 40,000 identity cards will expire before September 7. According to the the information we have, the Department of National Registration has the capacity to issue about 350 or so cards a day. This suggests that the 40,000 people from the electorate will not all be able to get the cards renewed before the elections,” Shahid said at the time.

Earlier this month, Government-aligned Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Ahmed Nihan said the party was continuing to come across issues within the recently published election registry due to incorrect information and the inclusion of voters now believed to be deceased.

He said that with an estimated third of the population also having moved from their home islands to the capital in recent years, correct registration would be another vital issue in the lead up to September.

Nihan claimed the EC therefore “has a lot of work to do” in the lead up to September to ensure its database of registered voters was both up-to-date and correct.

“The government also has to try and provide the funds for the EC and also participate with international stakeholders to get the assistance to ensure elections are free and fair,” he said.


Cameroonian inmate held in Maldives prison dies in hospital

A female inmate serving a 25-year sentence in a Maldives prison died Saturday (December 29, 2012) after being admitted to Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) in critical condition.

Local media reported that the woman – a Cameroonian national – was suspected to have died as a result of complications linked to AIDs.  These claims were denied by a senior official at the Department of Penitentiary and Rehabilitation Services (DPRS), who spoke to Minivan News on condition of anonymity today.

‘’She was admitted at IGMH months ago after doctors at the prison found her medical condition to be very serious,’’ the source said. ‘’We contacted the Cameroon mission and tried to take her to her family.’’

The DPRS source claimed that permission had been obtained to send the inmate back to her home country. However, she was unable to be transported due to the serious nature of medical conditions she had been suffering from.

‘’Here at the DPRS, we do not have one single medical record of her or any other document that confirms she had AIDS,’’ the source said. ‘’I therefore cannot confirm the news in the local media.’

The DPRS Official told Minivan News that the woman was suffering from heart diseases and other related medical conditions.

‘’On previous occasions she was taken to IGMH twice while she was in prison,’’ claimed the source.

Newspaper Haveeru reported today that it understood the deceased, who had been sentenced back in 2011, had been diagnosed with AIDS.  No details were provided in the report on how has the newspaper had confirmed details of the condition.

AIDs concerns

Statistics indicate that HIV infection rates have been limited in the Maldives over the space of the last two decades, although health officials in the country have begun to raise concerns about the potential risk of cases spreading.

Late last year, senior Maldivian health figures confirmed that a two year-old child had tested HIV positive.

In October, Minister of Health Dr Ahmed Jamsheed Mohamed claimed it was only through “incredible luck” that HIV had not spread across the Maldives, considering the prolific levels of unprotected sex and intravenous drug use.

While accepting that HIV infection rates remained relatively low in the Maldives, Minister of State for Health Lubna Zahir Hussain has previously said that efforts needed to be increased across all sectors of society to tackle attitudes towards high-risk behaviours that allow the virus to be transmitted.  Lubna also heads the National Drug Agency (NDA).


Home minister blames Second Chance rehab scheme for crime “surge”

Home Minister Dr Ahmed Jameel has blamed a current “surge” in crime partly on the Second Chance rehabilitation programme run by the former government, which he alleged released prisoners, sometimes with “heavy sentences”, for political purposes.

After telling local media this week that over 200 convicted criminals released under the scheme has been returned to prison over allegedly having re-offended, Dr Jameel pledged more former Second Chance inmates deemed or suspected as posing “a danger to the public” would be returned to custody.

The now-defunct Second Chance initiative has received significant media coverage this week after a former inmate released under the programme, 29 year-old male Ahmed Murrath, confessed to the murder of prominent lawyer Ahmed Najeeb in Male’.

However, the former manager of the initiative, Aishath Rasheed, has claimed she was surprised at reports of a large number of inmates released under Second Chance now being returned to prison. Speaking to Minivan News this week, Rasheed raised concerns about a lack of rehabilitation measures for young people imprisoned for smaller offences such as drug use in the country since the Second Chance programme was terminated.

Second Chance was established to help address concerns that a majority of the Maldives’ prison population were young people incarcerated for minor drug offences. Rasheed has maintained that the resulting long jail terms handed to young people – in some cases even over minor drugs offences – “were destroying their lives”.

According to the UNDP’s “Prison Assessment and Proposed Rehabilitation and Reintegration of Offenders Report”, which was published last year, 66 percent of all prisoners in the Maldives at the time of report were in jail for drug use or possession, often small quantities.

The majority were males under 30 years of age with education below O-levels, the report added, claiming the Maldivian prison population could be reduced by up to two-thirds if the government would “de-criminalise the offence of drug usage and propose mandatory rehabilitation”.

“Political advantage”

Home Minister Jameel has contended that the Second Chance initiative had been set up by former President Mohamed Nasheed “without a legal basis or justification”, in an attempt to pick and choose convicts for release on the basis of their political allegiance.

“Nothing prevents me to take back to prison all those released under the Second Chance programme found committing further offences for the safety and security of our people,” he said. “I have abolished Second Chance after assuming this [Home Ministry] portfolio to prevent ‘undue political advantage by convicts in the correctional system’ which was the policy of the Nasheed Government. I intend to take back all dangerous criminals back to prison as part of process to make our home and streets safe.”

Jameel added that the country’s legal system already included mechanisms by which prisoners could obtain early release under certain circumstances.  He claimed these legal mechanisms had been negated by the Second Chance initiative.

The mechanisms include clemency, which was provided under the Law on Reduction of Punishment and Clemency and considered only under “exceptional circumstances”, according to Jameel. He added that applicants for this mechanism were required to be reviewed by a specially established clemency board.

A second method to obtain early release is provided in the form of a parole programme overseen by a multi-sectoral board that decides on the eligibility of each candidate.

“Both of these programmes were abandoned to directly pick and select convicts from prison for Second Chance,” claimed Jameel. “Indiscriminate release of convicts without regard to the nature of the offences and selecting convicts based on their political association and belief demonstrates the underlying purpose of the Second Chance programme. Not only one or two of those released has been caught again for committing further offences, but several arrests made to regards to serious offences found second chance convicts.”

When contacted by Minivan News about the number of prisoners released under Second Chance that had since been returned to custody, the Maldives Police Service said it could not confirm a figure at the time, forwarding the enquiry to Home Minster Jameel.

The home minister said that “more than 200” people released under the programme were believed to have re-offended.

The Second Chance programme was stopped back in February directly following the controversial transfer of power that brought Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s coalition government to power.

The Home Minister claimed back in March that a total of 1879 criminals were incarcerated for various offences during Nasheed’s term, but only 621 remained in prisons while 1258 have been released with no clear procedure.

After shutting down Second Chance in February, the programme’s responsibilities were instead tasked to the Parole Board and Clemency Board, which were re-formed in the intervening weeks.

However, both boards have been criticised in recent years for being “slow and ineffective”, by Second Chance’s former manager Aishath Rasheed, who claimed to be “very much surprised” about reports of the number of prisoners released under the programme now being returned to jail.

An estimated 439 inmates were released during the life-time of the Second Chance imitative, each of whom were said to be thoroughly evaluated and approved by the courts, according to Rasheed. Any former inmate found to have violated the terms of the release were sent back to the prison to complete their jail term. She added that the 439 inmates released under the scheme were mostly young people held on minor drug offences.


Rasheed, also a former member of the country’s parole board until resigning after the new government came to power, claimed that she had first heard about possible cases of prisoners released under the Second Chance committing criminal acts back in March. She stressed that it was therefore important to verify whether the suspected offenders were in fact released under the scheme and if they had been guilty of re-offending.

Beyond serving to secure an early conditional release for prisoners, Rasheed stressed that the programme was also designed to provide educational and rehabilitation programmes for inmates – initiatives that she claimed were not being provided at present.

“The idea was to give a chance to everyone in prison for rehabilitation, but the programme has been stopped, we had offered O-level training and spiritual classes,” she said. “However, within two days of Second Chance being finished they have stopped the O-level programmes and the yoga and spiritual classes. We had very technical and experienced instructors for these programmes, but I’m not sure they have been replaced by anything.”

Rasheed claimed that in closing down the programme, Home Minister Jameel had not looked at the programme and its respective benefits – a model used in many other countries to rehabilitate prisoners.

“In Singapore and New Zealand for example, there are very productive Second Chance-style programmes,” she said. “Due to the structure of our Department of Penitentiary and Rehabilitation Service (DPRS) we were only just starting out with these type of rehabilitation programmes.”

Speaking to Minivan News in March, Rasheed claimed that the Parole and Clemency board “did not have the technical expertise to continue the program”.

“I was a member of the parole board. Both boards exist as mere names. Some members do go for the meetings but have to go back home because the meetings cannot be held due to lack of quorum,” Rasheed said at the time.

However, as of last month, a new parole board set up by President Waheed had begun assessing the eligibility of inmates for release after they had undergone months of rehabilitation programmes.

Parole and rehabilitation

Present Parole Board member and Spokesperson for the Department of Penitentiary and Rehabilitation Service (DPRS) Bilal said that although the Second Chance programme had been terminated in February, prisoners would be still be eligible for potential parole and rehabilitation.

“The present government decided not to continue with Second Chance, there have been examples where prisoners had violated the conditions of their release and had been returned [to jail],” he said. “Second Chance as a programme was seen as a failure.”

Bilal claimed that the main functions of the Second Chance programme could still be met through the existing parole programme ran through the DRPS.

“Under parole, a prisoner under 25 for example must serve one third of their sentence, the parole board will then decide on the candidate’s release,” he said.

As of next month, Bilal claimed that a reintegration programme was being launched to help prisoners released on parole to acclimatise to life outside of prison for their first month back in society.  Vocational programmes in fields like electrical maintenance were also said by Bilal to currently be on offer at the detention centres of Maafushi and  Dhoonidhoo.

“We have planned to start basic education programmes soon as well as more advanced O-level courses. We are having meetings today with the Education Ministry on this,” he claimed. “We expect these programmes to be starting soon.”

Rehabilitative focus

Back in May, Lubna Mohamed Zahir Hussain, Minister of State for Health and Family saidthe upcoming establishment of a entirely new drug court in the country was indicative of a major shift in ongoing government policy over the last three years from a solely punitive approach to a more rehabilitative focus for minor offenders.

The Health Ministry insisted at the time that the new regulations provided distinct measures to assist small time drug abusers, while cracking down on larger-scale traffickers based in the Maldives and the wider South Asian region.

Hussain claimed that under this new legal and judicial system, the NDA was now looking to focus to rehabilitate prisoners found guilty of minor drug offences – something that had not been possible through the prison service previously.

“Seventy percent of prisoners currently being held in jails on drug offences have never been given treatment whilst they are incarcerated,” she claimed at the time.

Hussain added that recent amendments to national drug laws would compensate for the loss of rehabilitative programmes such as Second Chance – at least for minor drug offenders.

“The essence of the Second Chance programme is seen in the new drug law,” she said at the time.

Prison fears

Ali Adyb of the Journey NGO, which runs a drop-in centre in Male’ as well as outreach programmes across the country’s many atolls, told Minivan News earlier this year that he believed a long-term policy of criminalising drug users in the Maldives had failed, in part, because of a failure to segregate prisoners convicted of petty theft with more serious crimes.

“We are aware of people who have actually become addicted to drugs whilst in jail here,” he said.

Journey stressed that even for convicted addicts who were no longer being held in the country’s prison system, the stigma of having a criminal record for using narcotics led even qualified people to struggle to find a job upon their release.


Inmates Creativity Fair reveals creative side of jail

“I’m improving my painting, and it’s helping me make improvements in my life. It’s now an interest.”

Adam Arif is four years into a 25-year sentence at Maafushi jail. Participating at the 2012 Inmates Creativity Fair, held in the National Art Gallery from January 12 to 14, he said the arts program has improved daily life at Maafushi, and that the fair was a good chance to see the Male‘ community.

“The art projects allow them to gain valuable skills and hold a normal routine while in prison,” said Mohamed Asif, Assistant Superintendent of the Department of Penitentiary and Rehabilitation Services (DPRS). Inmates who choose to participate in the government-sponsored program work from 9 am to 12 pm, break for lunch, and then again from 1 pm to 3 pm. “It’s like a full job,” he explained. “Otherwise they’d just be sitting behind bars.”

Organised by DPRS, the fair was hosted by inmates and DPRS staff wearing orange tee-shirts sporting the logo “Accept Me”. Paintings, jewelry, handbags, model ships, plant arrangements and even vegetables available for sale were produced by the 80 to 100 male and female participants from Maafushi and Asseyri, most of whom were not formerly artists. They receive Rf900 (US$360) per month.

But business could expand.

“We’ve had a lot of positive comments from people, requesting us to open a shop because they want to buy more. We plan to launch a website to sell the prisoners’ artwork at the end of next month”, Asif said.

With most objects sold by 8:30 pm on the last evening of the fair, Asif estimated that the fair earned Rf1 million (US$64,850). However, he was careful to point out that the earnings are not a profit.

“The money goes back to the government, and is incorporated back into the budget and used to provide more tools for art projects,” he said. “The problem is, actually, we want a revolving fund. We’d like to sell and make a profit and then be able buy more materials and repeat the process. But at the moment, because of legislating governing financial procedures, we aren’t authorised.”

Although the inmate arts program is funded by the government, Asif believes financial autonomy would improve the program. “We are going to introduce a prison club, like the police club, so we can have our own budget to buy and sell,” he explained.

While Asif pushes for independence within the practice of prison reform, he acknowledges that significant improvements have been made in the past few years.

“There is renovation being done at Maafushi, Asseyri, and how they are going to build a new prison at Nanaykurandhoo,” he pointed out. Although the parole system is far from strong, Asif noted that the 2011 Second Chance Program had released 337 inmates since its inception in September, only 30 of whom had returned to prison, mostly from drug relapse.

Maldivian prisons currently house approximately 1000 inmates–0.3 percent of the national population. Nearly three-quarters of the prison population has been incarcerated for drug offences.

According to a 2011 report released by the United Nations Development Program, however, the prison system is poorly equipped.

“The problem in the Maldives is that there aren’t proper prisons,” co-author and UNDP program specialist Naaz Aminath told Minivan News in a previous article. “There is no structure to support the prisoners who are there.”

Inmates surveyed complained about a lack of structure in prison life, listing torture, inhumane treatment, drug availability and false hope from politicians as key factors.

“Plus, there isn’t much to read there,” Aminath explained. Only Asseyri and Maafushi prisons have ‘libraries’–rooms with a few books located outside the gated complex. “It’s risky to go there because it’s not within a protected area, and there simply aren’t enough staff to organise daily library trips. Really, I wouldn’t even call it a library.”

When asked which rehabilitation programs were most needed, inmates most commonly requested religious education (86.4 percent), counseling therapies (76.1 percent) and life skills (75.1 percent).

While the Second Chance program is re-integrating prisoners into society, other steps are improving the situation behind bars.

In 2011, an education program helped over 100 prisoners prepare for their O-levels. A much-anticipated Drugs Bill was passed during Parliament’s last moments of 2011, re-structuring the court procedures for those accused of drug offenses and offering an overhaul of the rehabilitation system. Asif further anticipates that a Prisons and Parole Bill which was sent to Parliament in June 2010 will be approved by March of this year.

Speaking at the fair’s opening ceremony on January 12 President Mohamed Nasheed, himself a former inmate of Maldivian prisons, said the emerging democratic system and reviews of the Constitution have contributed to improvements in the prison system. The President added that cooperation within the community would be measurable by initiatives taken to formulate prison reforms.

Comparing current prison conditions to those of the former regime, the President further stated that existing and pending legal framework offers a second chance for criminal offenders and asserted that torture and oppression faced by prisoners in this country were a thing of the past.

A comment book at the fair revealed an array of positive public responses. Supportive comments such as “this is the best thing I’ve done in 2012 so far” and “this shows that all the prisoners need is guidance in becoming useful people in society” were interspersed with statements of support from former inmates and suggestions for an inmate’s music group, football team and body-building club.