Former police commissioner calls for independent inquiry into jailbreak

Former Commissioner of Police and Jumhooree Party (JP) MP Abdulla Riyaz has called on the government to form an independent commission of inquiry to look into the escape of two convicts from Maafushi jail on Friday (October 17).

“I believe the [escape] of those who should be kept apart from society was due to the failure of an institution to properly fulfil its legally mandated responsibility,” Riyaz said during debate on an urgent motion submitted by Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Imthiyaz Fahmy at today’s sitting of parliament.

The MP for Kinbidhoo also advised strengthening the prisons department and ensuring that it is able to function professionally, claiming that the post of its highest-ranking official had changed three times during the past year.

Competent persons should be appointed to such posts, Riyaz continued, adding that he had confidence in the ability of the security services to find the escaped convicts.

In an appearance on state broadcaster Television Maldives on Sunday night (October 19), Home Minister Umar Naseer revealed that investigations were ongoing to determine whether prison guards were complicit in the escape.

“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 said.


Opposition MPs meanwhile contended that the government’s “negligence and irresponsibility” allowed the dangerous criminals to break out from a high security prison.

Introducing the motion, Imthiyaz said the Maldives National Defence Force’s (MNDF) appeal for MPs to stay in at night was indicative of the prevailing state of fear and the government’s loss of control over “terror activity in the Maldives.”

“We believe this is an alarm bell for the loss of domestic security,” the MP for Maafanu North said.

Imthiyaz’s early day motion or motion without notice was accepted for debate unanimously with 53 votes in favour, which opened the People’s Majlis floor for a one-hour debate.

Public fears over personal safety and security was “a characteristic of a failed state.,” Imthiyaz continued.

Referring to the suspected abduction of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan, Imthiyaz noted Home Minister Umar Naseer’s acknowledgement of the involvement of gangs in Rilwan’s disappearance.

Weeks before Rilwan went missing, Imthiyaz said MDP had alerted the government to the actions of a vigilante group who abducted several young men in June.

The release of suspects who attacked an MDP rally in Addu City was a further sign of the state of the nation, Imthiyaz continued.

“But the government said at the time that the case would be investigated with the utmost seriousness. Police were also attacked,” he said.

“They were caught redhanded from the scene of crime with their faces covered and with wooden planks and iron rods in their hands. But they were all released in less than 24 hours.”

MDP MP Eva Abdulla noted that four murders and more than 30 violent assaults have taken place since the end of Ramadan.

“Death threats have been sent to about 15 journalists and 16 MPs as well as our families,” she said.

Moreover, she added, the main opposition party’s office was torched, crude oil was thrown on the residence of former President Mohamed Nasheed, and the car of MDP Chairperson Ali Waheed’s was vandalised.

“This is the state of the country today. This is one side of the news,” she said.

On the other hand, Eva continued, media reports have revealed that police are unable to identify the source of the death threats, a suspect arrested after a machete was buried in the Minivan News office door was released by the court, and eyewitnesses to violent assaults are scared to testify in court.

Pro-government MPs meanwhile criticised the MDP government’s track record and referred to the military’s controversial detention of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed, the arrests of then-opposition MPs Abdulla Yameen and Gasim Ibrahim, and inmates setting fire to the Maafushi jail on two occasions in 2009.

Hoarafushi MP Mohamed Ismail claimed that the MDP government released 700 dangerous convicts.

MP Ahmed Nihan, parliamentary group leader of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), alleged that the MDP formed a “big cell” within the party to create ties with inmates following the prison riot in September 2003.

Referring to the arson attacks on February 8, 2012, Nihan alleged that the MDP had “sponsored terrorism”.

While the current administration should bear responsibility for the prison break, Nihan assured that the government would control jails.

“People escape from jail in all countries of the world,” he said, adding that he was pleased some MDP MPs were willing to assist and cooperate with the government.


Manhunt underway for escaped convicts

Police have launched a manhunt for two convicts serving life sentences who escaped from Maafushi jail on Friday night (October 17).

Police intelligence learned around 8:15pm that cell mates Ibrahim Shahum Adam, 23, from Galolhu Cozy in Malé, and Fariyash Ahmed, 26, from Javahiruvaadhee in Gaaf Alif Maamendhoo, had broken out, police revealed in a statement last night.

Police asked the Maldives Correctional Service (MCS) around 8:30pm to check their cell.

The pair reportedly escaped through a ventilation shaft from the ‘Pentagon’ unit.

Home Ministry’s Media Coordinator Thazmeel Abdul Samadh told Minivan News today that the suspects might still be in Maafushi.

A joint search effort involving police, MCS and the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) is ongoing to check the area around the prison as well as warehouses and guest houses on the island, Thazmeel said.

The MNDF’s coastguard is searching the sea around Maafushi, he added.

Police said today that an investigating team and an operation team were sent to Maafushi and were currently searching the island as well as nearby uninhabited islands and resorts.

Thazmeel said nearby resorts have been informed about the breakout and stressed that the government was employing “all available resources” to find the escapees.

Police have urged anyone with information of the escaped convicts to call the police hotline number 3322111 or the serious and organised crime department at 9911099.

“Every prison escape is an opportunity for Prison Officers to identify the loop holes and improve the system while we hunt them down,” Home Minister Umar Naseer tweeted today.

In March 2013, Shahum was convicted on terrorism charges in connection with the murder of Mohamed Hussain, 17, from Maafanu Beauty Flower in Malé  in July 2010.

Fariyash was sentenced to life imprisonment for his part in the murder of Mohamed Shihab, from Kaduolhi in Gaaf Alif Villigili, on the island of Maamendhoo in 2006.

Shahum is also on trial for the murder of 21-year-old Ahusan Basheer near the NC Park in Malé. The Criminal Court has concluded hearings of the case and is due to deliver a verdict.

Shahum allegedly stabbed Basheer in February 2011 after he was released by Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed following six months in remand detention. He was later taken into custody from an uninhabited island.

In June 2011, the Criminal Court found Shahum guilty of assault and battery in an unrelated case and sentenced him to one year’s imprisonment.

The victim told the court that Shahum attacked him with a wooden plank after he refused to have tea with him. The victim explained that Shahum was studying with him at an Imam training course and that he had to drop out of the course due to haraassment from Shahum

Shahum was also among nine individuals detained and labelled by police as “dangerous criminals” involved in violent assault.

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has meanwhile blamed the government’s “irresponsibility and incompetence” for the jail break.

In a press statement today, the main opposition party contended that public safety has been lost while murders, violent assaults, and drug trafficking has reached “extreme levels” under the current administration.

The public has been expressing concern with the government’s inability to bring perpetrators who commit crimes in “broad daylight” to face justice, the party said.

The MDP called on the government to conduct a thorough investigation and hold culpable officials accountable.