Man wearing a belt representing a cannabis leaf arrested

At 19-year-old man has been arrested in Gaaf Dhaalu Rathafandhoo Island for wearing a belt with an insignia representing the cannabis leaf.

A Maldives Police Service (MPS) media statement read that the man was arrested for “encouraging the use of drugs’” by wearing the belt.

The statement also read that the man was arrested at around 10pm yesterday (December 23) after the police received a tip-off saying that a drug deal was happening. The offending belt was seen while searching the man’s body for drugs.

According to Article 128 of the Drugs Act, encouraging the use of drugs is illegal in the Maldives and is a crime punishable by 3 years of jail time.


Is the government protecting the youth from drugs?

Sunday will mark 100 days since Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan disappeared. As friends and family continue to hope for his safe return, some of Rilwan’s best work will be re-published as a reminder of his talents and dedication to his profession.

This article was originally published on April 23, 2014, following the arrest of 79 young people during the Anbaraa music festival in Baa Atoll.

Last weekend’s raid of the Anbaraa island music festival was defended by police as being part of law enforcement efforts to “safeguard youth and the society from dangers of drugs”.

But how successful are the current methods in keeping the youth away from drugs?

Beginning with soft drugs in the seventies, and later with the introduction of heroin around 1993, the drugs issue became a national epidemic in the nineties with the number of drug-related offenses increasing rapidly since that time.

The National Drug Use Survey (NDUS) of 2011-2012, conducted by the UNODC, revealed that there were 7,496 drug users aged between 15 and 64 years in the Maldives. According to the survey, 72 percent of the drug using population was under the age of 24, and 48 percent of the drug users in the capital Malé were between 15 and 19 years.

A 2003 Rapid Situation Assessment by the Narcotics Control Board revealed that the age at which young people start using drugs ranged between 10-27 years (a mean age 16.8 years).

Those young people are often arrested and sentenced to long periods in prison, while more and more join them in becoming frequent users and addicts.

It has been suggested that Maldivian prison population could be reduced by up to two-thirds if the government would decriminalise the offence of drug use, and propose mandatory rehabilitation.

Rehabilitating rehab

The NDUS report said the Maldives’ response to the drug problem appeared to be skewed heavily towards the criminal justice system rather than health and social welfare systems.

Considering this, the report proposed turning this around by approaching the issue from three broad angles – supply reduction, demand reduction, and harm reduction.

One key achievement in this change was the Drug Act, introduced in 2011 with provisions for treating drug users instead of opting for incarceration. Under the Act, the National Drug Agency (NDA) has been mandated as the lead agency dealing with all issues related to drug prevention, harm reduction, and treatment.

A Drug Court was also formed under the new act as part of a policy shift away from taking a punitive approach against small-scale drug offenses.

Earlier this month, the NDA reported that 101 offenders have completed their drug rehabilitation programme. But how successful is this programme?

Mohamed Shuaib, the CEO of ‘Journey’ – a support NGO for recovering addicts – said the rehabilitation programme in the Maldives had failed completely.

“Three months later they start using again. While a lot of money is spent on these programmes, right now it is just a small prison. There is no good treatment programme there,” he said.

He highlighted various failures ranging from the programme’s structure and staffing capacity, to unrepaired damages at the buildings and the lack of capacity in the programme itself.

Mohamed Rashad – the 24-year-old found dead after a heroin overdose on April 1 – is a testament to this failure. He passed away within 24 hours of being released from the Himmafushi drug rehabilitation centre.
A full programme

Earlier this month, the Drug Court’s Judge Mahaz Ali Zahir said that the NDA had informed the court that one of its centres was full in April last year. Again this month the second centre in Maafushi was also reported to be full.

“People in prisons who have been sentenced to rehabilitation are also waiting for such an opportunity. If this stays this way the [expected] result of [establishing] the Drug Court will not be seen,” the judge has said.

Judge Mahaz called on authorities to speed up the process of sending cases to the court, stating that out of 1,616 cases only 19 were submitted within a month of the incident.

Fathimath Afiya, the Chairperson of the Society For Women Against Drugs (SWAD) said the rehabilitation programme currently only existed “just for name’s sake”.

“We visited the [rehabilitation center] place for an assessment just around the time the new government came to power. And it is true, the programme is there just for name’s sake,” she said.

“There is no stable programme. The place is full. There are so many issues. While the Drug Court is sending more and more people, there is no stable programme for them.”

Afiya said the government had started taking action regarding the issue now, and that SWAD was closely following it.

“SWAD is lobbying to work towards a long term strategic solution, based on a strategic action plan and prevention policy. The government is listening to our recommendations and bringing small changes already.”

She said the importance of following a systematic plan is to work realistically towards a solution instead of having every new government introducing something new with each new term.

Long term reform

Journey’s Shuaib also noted the importance of having a long term plan to addressed the issue.

“There have never been any research and evidence based prevention programmes in the Maldives. It is always an ad hoc approach. Our outreach teams have observed that there are a lot of new users now.”

Shuaib said prevention is of the utmost importance and, since children start using drugs, parental guidance and providing children with information will help them make the right choice.

“Even in the US their policy was using guns and force but it did not work. So now they are reforming their drug policy to focus on prevention. Prevention is more important. Young people who were using hash oil three or four years back are now using heroin,” Shuaib said.

Speaking to Minivan News, one recovering heroin addict said the programme ‘s failure could be connected to the Drug Act itself.

“Every one at the programme does not always want to deal with their issue. Many  just don’t care about it and are there only because they have been ordered to do so. This makes things harder for those of us who genuinely want to get better,” he said.

While Minivan News was unable to get a comment from NDA regarding the issue, all NGOs expressed hope that the programme can be saved, with the agency currently taking steps towards reform.

Supply, demand, and harm

In terms of supply reduction, drugs confiscated by the Maldives Customs Service while being imported to the Maldives in 2013 include 6.98 kg of heroin and 10.73 kg of hashish oil, while the numbers in 2012 were 4.12 kg of heroin along with 8.39 kg of hashish oil.

This is relatively small amount compared to what is being imported to the country, considering the huge demand. The 24 kg of heroin seized by police last month gives an idea of the true scale of the problem.

Last year police dealt with 38 cases of buying and selling of drugs and 130 cases of trafficking drugs, while there were 2,139 drug use cases and 833 possession cases. Even less is done with regards to major drug dealers.

With regards to large-scale drug dealers, previous attempts by former President Mohamed Nasheed to apprehend some of the nation’s most prominent drug dealers failed to bear fruit. Among them, Adam Naseer was found innocent by the Criminal Court despite police finding over MVR6 million (US$461,500) in cash and drugs just outside his home.

In  June 2011, police arrested another ‘top dealer’ Ibrahim ‘Shafa’ Shafaz, finding 896 grams of illegal drugs in his apartment.  This February he left the Maldives for ‘medical treatment’ and has appealed his eighteen year jail term to the High Court from abroad.

While NGOs seem hopeful about fixing the rehabilitation program, a complete change in policy and approach to the drug issue is needed to protect the youth from drugs.

These examples only provide further evidence – if it is needed – that a more efficient way must be devised, moving away from the criminal justice system approach, towards a method based more closely on supply, demand, and harm reduction.

Mohamed Rashad – the 24-year-old found dead after a heroin overdose on April 1 – is a testament to this failure, passing away within 24 hours of being released from the Himmafushi drug rehabilitation centre.


Drugs, mobile phones seized from jails

The Maldives Correctional Service (MCS) has seized a large amount of drugs and mobile phones from the Maafushi jail, custodial jail in Malé and Himmafushi low security ‘Asseyri’ jail.

At a press briefing yesterday (November 2), Superintendent of Prisons Mohamed Asif said MCS has been “continuously searching” jails for contraband as part of wider efforts to improve security.

“After searching Maafushi jail for the past three weeks, we have seized 52 mobile phones and 35 phone batteries,” Asif revealed.

In addition, MCS found 32 chargers, more than 33 SIM cards, and 200 packets of illicit narcotics from Maafushi jail cells, Asif added.

Smuggled items confiscated from the Malé custodial jail include three mobile phones, two chargers, two phone batteries, one SIM card, and one packet of a substance believed to be drugs, Asif said.

“In the same operation, we searched Asseyri jail and found four mobile phones, three chargers, and one phone battery and one SIM card,” he said.

Prison guards checked jail cells at random, Asif noted, praising the “hard work” of MCS employees.

Moreover, a mechanism has been put in place for prison guards to check jail cells once a month, Asif continued, conceding that prevention of smuggling items into prisons completely would prove difficult.

“However, we have commenced numerous different efforts to minimise the extent of smuggling,” he said.

A joint investigation with the Maldives Police Service was underway to determine how the contraband was smuggled into the three jails, Asif said.

The search operation follows the escape of two dangerous convicts from Maafushi jail last month. Police revealed that the pair had sawn off 22 bars on a window in the bathroom of cell number 14 in unit nine of Maafushi jail.

Following the capture of the fugitives, Home Minister Umar Naseer said a dog squad would be used periodically in preventing the entry of illicit drugs into Maafushi jail.

In addition to a new 20-foot wall, surveillance cameras, increased lighting and automatic locks will be used to strengthen security at the jail, Naseer said.

Between 50 and 100 inmates will work for pay in constructing the wall. The MVR4.2 million (US$272,000) wall will stretch for 1.4 kilometers and is expected to be completed by the end of 2015.

Asif meanwhile told the press yesterday that the lack of an outer wall allows access to Maafushi jail on all sides, noting that construction of the 20-foot wall was underway.

Asked about the involvement of prison guards in smuggling drugs and phones, Asif said MCS has started searching guards and employees before they enter the jail.

Asif contended that contraband could be smuggled without the involvement of prison guards or staff, referring to items being thrown into the custodial jail in Malé.

A net has been put up around the perimeters, Asif said, which was, however, “not a total solution.”

Both visitors and prison guards have been caught while attempting to smuggle drugs and phones, he noted.

In May, a police officer was caught while attempting to smuggle drugs into the custodial detention centre in the capital.

In January, police seized mobile phones and drugs from Maafushi jail while a 20-year-old and a minor were arrested in February for attempting to smuggle drugs into the jail.


Women against drugs to provide vocational training for recovering addicts

Local drug prevention and rehabilitation NGO Society for Woman Against Drugs (SWAD) has today initiated a programme to provide vocational training for recovering female addicts in the Maldives.

This programme – conducted in collaboration with the German embassy to Sri Lanka and the Maldives – was launched today at the SWAD vocational training center by chief guests Ambassador Dr Juergen Morhard and Home Minister Umar Naseer.

Speaking at the ceremony, Umar Naseer thanked Dr Morhard for the generous contribution which has allowed the NGO to buy the necessary materials as well as noting his appreciation for SWAD’s extraordinary contribution to the fight against drugs.

“I am sure that every country is struggling in this fight against drugs and so is Maldives, but I am very hopeful that we will see progress in this fight with initiatives such as this vocational training by SWAD,” said Naseer.

In his speech, Dr Morhard stated that drug abuse and trade is the harsh reality of the current world from downtown Berlin to the beautiful beaches of the Maldives, and thanked SWAD for stepping up against drugs in the Maldives.

Speaking to Minivan News after the ceremony, SWAD Chairperson Fathimath Afiya said the aim of the training center is to provide skill building opportunities for recovering addicts in order to make the transition back into society easier.

“Participants will be taught a wide variety of skills such as sewing and carpet weaving which could be marketed towards tourists which would enable the participants to earn an income in a society where there is a lot of stigma towards former drug addicts preventing them from obtaining work,” said Afiya.

The NGO plans to make the project self-sustainable using the income generated by the sales of the goods and has aspirations to have the whole programme run by recovering addicts in the future.

A national drug use survey published in 2012 by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported that 48 percent of drug users in the Maldives feel they are neglected and perceived as outcasts by the local community.

The stigmatisation of drug addicts leads to the creation of a cycle of addiction with recovering addicts relapsing back into drug abuse as an escape from perceived ‘disgrace’ they have brought upon themselves and their families.

Work done by NGOs such as SWAD and Journey – a support NGO for recovering addicts – seeks to break the the addiction cycle with recovering addicts having opportunities to successfully reintegrate into the society as useful and contributing citizens.

The UNODC survey reported that there were 7,496 drug users in the Maldives between the age of 15 and 64 in the Maldives and that 48% of drug users in the capital Malé were between the ages of 15 and 19 years.


Police seize drugs worth MVR525,000 in drug busts

Police have seized drugs with a street value in excess of MVR525,000 (US$34,046) in two drug bust in Malé last week.

According to police media, three Maldivian men aged 32, 33, and 34 were arrested near the Hulhumalé express jetty on Thursday morning (August 7) in an operation conducted by the Drug Enforcement Department (DED).

Drugs with an estimated street value of MVR480,000 (US$31,128) was found in the backpack of the 33-year-old.

The Criminal Court has since extended the remand detention of the suspects to 10 days.

In the second operation, a 52-year-old Maldivian man was arrested with drugs worth MVR45,000 (US$2,918) from a room in the Maafaru guest house Thursday night. The guest house was raided based on intelligence information.

Police also found two cellophane wrapping rolls and a small weighing device.


Crime in Ramadan declined 40 percent, reveals police

The number of crimes reported in the capital Malé during the holy fasting month of Ramadan in 2014 declined 40 percent compared to the same period last year, police statistics have shown.

While a total of 1,476 crimes were reported in the capital during Ramadan 2013, police revealed that the figure declined to 884 this year.

Cases of theft decreased from 544 last year to 226 in Ramadan 2014.

Followed by theft, the second highest number of cases involved traffic accidents with 176 during the fasting month, which saw a slight increase from 163 last year.

While 131 drug cases were registered this year, the figure was 212 in 2013.


Five suspects arrested in connection with gang violence

Police arrested four suspects with drugs and weapons from a residence in the Maafanu ward of the capital Malé last night.

According to police media, police searched Maafanu Badufangige with a search warrant at around 11:00pm and took four men into custody after discovering weapons, four balaclavas, and a packet containing illicit narcotics.

A fifth male suspect was also arrested last night with weapons and drugs after searching a residence in Malé.

The suspect was taken into custody from Maafanu Azma after obtaining a search and arrest warrant.

As part of efforts to curb gang violence, police have also been questioning and frisking individuals “loitering on the streets with no purpose” both after midnight and during the day.


Russian accused of drug-smuggling remanded until trial

Russian national Purtova Angelina has been remanded until her trial for allegedly smuggling 2.5kg of cocaine into the Maldives.

Angeline was arrested on January 27 this year when she arrived in the Maldives from Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Despite being sent to the Prosecutor General’s Office in April, the case has been delayed due to a dispute between the Criminal Court and the PG’s office over the provision of a translator.

Haveeru reported yesterday that Angelina will now be held until her trial has concluded.

The Law on Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances stipulates that a foreign national charged with importing over 1 gram of narcotics will be sentenced to life imprisonment. There is also a possibility of received a minimum fine of MVR10,000 (US$651).


Man arrested with drugs worth MVR700,000

Police arrested a 23-year-old male suspect yesterday while he was attempting to smuggle MVR700,000 (US$45,396) worth of drugs to Addu City.

According to police media, the individual arrived in Gan airport in the southernmost atoll on Maldivian flight Q2-101 with the illicit narcotics taped around his thighs.

The case is under investigation by the Hithadhoo police station.