Q&A: Mother of Rubeena, held without trial for over four years

Indian national Rubeena Buruhanudeen has been held in Dhoonidhoo detention centre for four and a half years on charges of murdering her ten-month-old child.

The 30-year-old is also facing charges related to attempted suicide – a criminal offence in the Maldives – but has been awaiting sentencing since late August 2010.

This interview with Rubeena’s mother, 58-year-old Shafeeqa Beevi, was conducted by KP Rasheed, and originally published (in Malayalam) on Asianet News – republished here with permission.

Four years have passed after Rubeena’s imprisonment. Why didn’t anybody take this case seriously?

There was no one to help us. We are a poor fishermen family of many difficulties. We struggle to make both ends meet by selling fish and helping others as housemaids. My husband cannot offer any help as he has fallen ill. Economically and socially, we come from the lowest strata.

We cannot speak or write English and we don’t know how to complete legal formalities. Yet, I have been walking to different government offices for the last four and half years. Nothing worked out.

I have three daughters and one son. The elder one Safeena was married to a fisherman called Shihabudheen. The second daughter was married to another fisherman. Rubeena is the third child. My only son, Sabeer Sha works in Saudi Arabia as a house driver. He has been there for seven months.

We managed to marry off our first two daughters with the help of relatives and residents of the locality. The dowry and the gold were a big burden on us. We had pawned the documents of the house and land for the marriage of our elder daughter. As we couldn’t return the money within time, we faced the threat of legal confiscation of our house. Had it not been for the  fisheries department’s waiver scheme, we would have lost our house and ended up in the street.

How did Rubeena’s marriage talks take place? Did no one protest marrying her off to Maldives?

There was one Naseema who would come to our house occasionally. She is from Bimapalli. Once I told her about my daughter. I asked her to look for a groom in her locality. She called me after some days and told there is one guy from Maldives. He is disciplined and rich, you can meet him if you come tomorrow.

The next day we set off to Bimapalli in a bid to meet that guy. We were going to Beemapalli for the first time. We met Naseema there, she took us for a walk through many corridors and reached a house. The guy was sitting there. He looked like a middle aged man in his 50s, not a young guy. He was limping on one leg. The very moment we saw him I told my daughter to forget about it. I told her that he is not suitable, he is very old. She resisted: “Mom, let’s see if it works out.”

Meanwhile, unfortunately, we met an acquaintance there. Her house was next to the premises. Once I returned from her house things had fallen apart. Raheem and Anwar who were the relatives of Naseema were also present there. Anwar used to visit Maldives. He talked to my daughter and convinced her. They made her agree to the marriage.

She didn’t listen to my protest. “Dear mom, I’m not going to get married unless you had to take care of me, you cannot look after me all the time. So this may be for good. They say he is a nice fellow”. This was her response.

We told the matter to her father after reaching home. “If it’s Male’ then let it be,” he responded. The next day I, her father, and others went to Beemapalli. His name was Hassan. He was 45-years-old. Some of his relatives were also present. Since the language was different neither we understood what they told nor did they understand what we told. Anwar and Raheem interpreted what was being spoken. From there Hassan put a ring on Rubeena’s hand.

How could the marriage be fixed without knowing the groom?

There was no other way. They had already convinced and brainwashed her. And if not this, I was incapable of thinking about arranging another marriage. Her father was also helpless. They told that he is a rich man in Maldives having seven houses to give out on rent. Naseema, Raheem and Anwar repeatedly said that he was good and will take care of her.

They told me that this is our good fortune. She had been trapped in their words. Though I had doubts, I didn’t get an opportunity to cross-check.

He gave us Rs15,000 for marriage expenses and told that there is no need of gold and dowry. One of his relatives named Thasleema begged me to go ahead with this marriage saying that he liked her very much. She promised that Hassan will pay our debts. All of his property will be going to Rubeena, she said.

Anwar translated these things as we don’t know her language. Then the things progressed in a hurry. Mahallu committee expressed their skepticism when I informed them. They asked, whether this marriage to Maldives is needed? When I said there is no other way, they agreed.

Marriage function was held at Rareeram Lodge, near Trivandrum Medical College on July 28, 2008. That is a lodge where Maldivian people come and stay. They stayed here for 8 days after the wedding. They stayed in Rareeram and his friends’ houses nearby Kumarapuram. He soon arranged her passport and other documents to take her to Maldives.

It looks strange! A wedding in such a hurry? That too without knowing the whereabouts of the groom…

The Maldivian weddings in this locality are usually done like this. They will marry the poor, destitute girls in these regions and take them away. The poor parents won’t have the chance to know the details and enquire about them.

There is a lot of such Malayali girls in Maldives. He spent around 30,000 for the wedding. He gave a small golden necklace as Mahar. It was the only thing to say as gold. He had told that he will help us to pay the debts. But it didn’t happen.

Did anyone of you go to Maldives with Rubeena? Did you know the situation there?

No one did. We had no money for that. We don’t have the passport either. Our situation is beyond your imagination. Everyone thought that she would be safe there. She called me after reaching there. She shared a shocking news. Hassan had betrayed us. She told me that his former wife had run away from him to rescue herself from the tortures.

That is why he came to Kerala in search of a new wife. In his first wife, he had six children and they were staying with him. I was shocked, I enquired this to the people who arranged this marriage. I was shocked to know that a document he brought for the marriage was his divorce certificate.

It was written in English, none of us were able to read it. It was written in that document that he had married a girl earlier and she eloped and then he divorced her. But nobody told us all these things during the time of marriage.

What else did she tell you on that day?

She told me that she was fine despite all these things and she told me to not be worried about her. When I called her later she told me the situation was better. She might have found it luxurious since she had experienced extreme poverty in our house. She tried to console me all the time. But I could understand she was not very happy there.

After one year she gave birth to her son Ahmed Sohaib in August 2009. After that she had never talked to me in a happy mood. She told me that her husband’s behavior has become worse. He started torturing her, he started neglecting her. My daughter started telling that she is fed up there. Every time she called, she cried a lot.

One day she asked me: “dear Mom, will you take care of me, if I come home?” It was disheartening, I cried. I told her to come back and I would look after her going for coolie jobs. I told her that we can live happily with whatever we have.

Did she call you after reaching Maldives?

Yes, she used to call. Every time she cried. When I started scolding her asking why she did go again, she became upset and said “Mom, at least you don’t abuse me”.

Rubeena told me about Hassan’s affair with one Malayali nurse who worked there. Earlier, she had a friendship with my daughter. Rubeena had told me about another girl who is a friend of the nurse who supported Hassan’s affair. I forgot her name.

It was on May 28 that she called me from their home for the last time. She said she would send me some money and call me on June 2. She didn’t call me on the day she said. It never happened before. So I was a bit scared. I told my son to call Habeeba in Male’. Habeeba is a relative of Hassan.

Habeeba told him about what had happened to my daughter. He told this to my elder children, not to me. They told it to me.

I heard that she killed her son and attempted to commit suicide. I was shattered. With the help of my son I called to several numbers there to know what really happened. But none of them received my call. After that nobody told me anything. Even Hassan didn’t call me nor did he pick my call.

I informed all the things to the relatives here as well as the Mahallu committee. I requested them to do something. I went in search of Naseema and Raheem many times. I couldn’t find them or get them on phone.

I was sure that she will never do such a horrible thing. She will not kill her son, because she loved him so much. And I know that she will not attempt to commit suicide. We have already suffered bigger hardships than this. We didn’t think of ending life at all those times. Though she was very fragile, she was mentally strong.

When did your daughter call again?

One day she called me. And she wept and cried telling me that she is in jail. I asked her what happened. She swore upon Allah that she didn’t kill her son. She told she was trapped and betrayed. She can speak only three minutes, then the phone will be disconnected. If we call back they won’t allow her to speak.

We were allowed to call her at least once in a month. She told all the things happened after many such short telephone conversations.

What did Rubeena say? And what happened?

My daughter repeatedly told me that the intimacy between Hassan and that nurse became strong, he kept her in one of his houses. She told me that she went there and questioned why she was staying there, to which the nurse replied saying: “Hassan told me to stay here”.

She [the nurse] closed the door when I started questioning her, explained Rubeena.

“Hassan was provoked when I reached home, he threatened to kill me. Afterwards he said you and your son can return to your home, I agreed to that, but suddenly he came up with a condition; that he won’t give his son, ‘you can go back to your house without our son’. I disagreed. He knows that I couldn’t live without my son, we quarreled with each other. He threatened me again.”

“It happened that a day later, he arranged a party for his friends at our home. I made Biriyani and juice for them. The nurses were also at the party, they gave me a juice, me and my son drunk the juice. Soon, my son fell asleep and I went to sleep with my son. Then I woke up at the hospital. I asked for my son, then the nurse and her friend told me that I killed my son by pressing a pillow on his face. I was shocked. I denied this. There were some policemen too, they handcuffed me. Only after many days they gave permission to call her mother from the jail.”

The fake charges against Rubeena are that she killed her 10-month-old baby by suffocating him with pillow, and attempted suicide on the same day. The nurse gave the witness statements.

What does Rubeena say about the murder?

She has no clear idea about who killed the boy. Rubeena says that she was asleep while the incident took place. However, from the later developments and the way Hassan behaved, she doubts his principal involvement in the heinous act. Rubeena is clueless who added poison to the juice and what happened thereafter.

What is the status of her marriage now?

Hassan visited the jail after two years; he said that she could go home and for that she has to sign some papers. He insisted she sign the divorce papers and promised it would enable him to complete the procedure to send her home.

She had called me asking what to do. I told her not to sign. He kept visiting her and insisting. She finally signed the divorce papers, dreaming about returning home. That was a trap, he didn’t make any attempt to get her out of jail, he cheated her once again.

As far as we are aware, Rubeena was trapped in the case. She is languishing in a foreign prison for four and half years. What did you do to save her?

From the very first day, I have been trying to contact people seeking help. I couldn’t find the Beemappalli guys who were involved in her marriage. Everybody asked to file a complaint. We don’t know English. One of my relatives prepared a complaint in English and I had met several leaders.

I have met Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, A Sampath MP, our MLA, the police DGP, district collector among others. They all promised to do the needful. Nothing has happened yet. I also went to the Maldives Consulate at Thiruvananthapuram. They informed me that they cant do anything about it.

They, however, gave me the address of the ministry and police department of Maldives. I sent the complaint to those addresses. I didn’t get even an acknowledgement. I met the chief minister with the same complaint once again. We are from a poor fishermen community; we don’t know how to get these things done. There was no one to help.

It was after the release of Jayachandran master, I renewed my hope. He had met Rubeena in jail and she had given him my number. He contacted me over phone and I explained everything I knew. He is now taking initiative, along with his friends, to save Rubeena and many other victims in Maldivian jails.

Are you optimistic about the latest developments?

I had completely lost my hope. But now, things are apparently changing. My hope has been restored. Many people who have never seen me or are even connected to me are trying to bring my daughter out of that prison. I heard that the effort could become successful only if the state and central governments effectively intervened.

If everyone tries together, I hope she might return home. I have explained about the developments to my daughter. She is also hopeful, now. In Maldives also, some people are trying to help her. I pray for her early release. I hope to see her before I close my eyes.

This interview was translated by Shahida A, Ayoob Rahman and Navas Machingal



Related to this story

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High Commission celebrates India’s Independence Day with flag-hoisting ceremony

The High Commission of India celebrated India’s Independence Day yesterday (August 15) with a flag-hoisting ceremony in Malé.

Some 350 people, including High Commissioner Rajeev Shahare and Indian expatriates working in the Maldives, along with a number of locals, attended the ceremony at the High Commission premises in the capital.

The flag-hoisting ceremony was followed by a rendition of the Indian national anthem.

According to local media, Sahare said in his remarks at the function that almost 50 years have elapsed since the establishment of bilateral relations between India and the Maldives.

A series of events were held to mark the three-week long India Maldives Friendship Festival (IMFF) to celebrate the Independence Days of Maldives (July 26) and India (August 15), including a cricket tournament, a friendship walk on August 8, and a cultural evening and magic show at the Olympus Theatre on August 12.

The Friendship Association of India and Maldives meanwhile conducted a ‘Let’s Talk’ seminar last night on the topic of expatriates in the Maldives.

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Cricket tournament held to celebrate India-Maldives friendship

A cricket tournament for expats and locals organised by the India Club Maldives (ICM) in association with the High Commission of India was held from July 25 to August 1.

The ICM T10 Cup was part of a series of events to mark the three-week long India Maldives Friendship Festival (IMFF) “as part of the celebration of Independence days of Republic of Maldives which is on 26th July and that of India on 15th August,” the High Commission explained in a press release.

“The four teams which participated in the tournament were Team Maldives, Team Sri Lanka, Team Bangladesh and Team India. The tournament was conducted on a league basis and seven matches were played in the League stage,” the press release stated.

Team Maldives were crowned champions after beating Team Sri Lanka in the final.

At the closing ceremony, HE Rajeev Shahare, High Commissioner of India (also chief patron of India Club Maldives), who was the chief guest and HE Admiral A.S.M.A. Awal, high commissioner of Bangladesh, who was the guest of honour presented trophies and certificates to the teams and officials, participated in the tournament.”

The festival also includes a friendship walk on August 8 and a cultural evening and magic show at the Olympus Theatre on August 12.

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No Maldivian statute requiring citizens to observe diplomatic law: High Court

The High Court has today (August 21) ruled that the Maldivian citizens are “not required” to act in compliance with Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (VCDR), as no national law currently exists in the country that requires enforcement of the convention.

The High Court’s ruling came alongside a decision made regarding an appeal case filed at the court concerning breach of a lease agreement between an individual named Mohamed Shareef and the High Commission of India.

During the hearings of the appeal case, the appellant Shareef’s lawyer claimed that in February 2006 the Indian High Commission, on behalf of the President of India, had entered into the agreement with Shareef concerning the leasing of Dhivehige of Henveiru Ward – the residence of the Indian High Commissioner to the Maldives.

According to the lawyer, the parties had agreed to specific terms that need to be fulfilled before the contract could be set aside, but the High Commission had dishonored those terms when it vacated the premises on September 2009 – claiming to have terminated the contract.

In breach of contractual duty, Shareef sued the High Commission in the Civil Court, claiming damages worth US$196,101 (MVR3,023,877.42). The claims included US$193,666 (MVR 2,986,329.72) as rent owed for the remainder of the contract period, while US$ 2,435 (MVR 37,547.7) was sought for refurbishment of the premises.

In 2010, the Civil Court rejected the case claiming that it did not have jurisdiction to look into the matter as the VCDR – to which the Maldives is a party – included immunity for diplomatic missions and diplomatic agents.

The court argued that these immunities had also been “implicitly incorporated” into the contract between the parties, with the result being that the Civil Court would be in violation of the treaty should it proceed with the case.

During the appeal, the Attorney General’s Office also intervened, admitting in court that national legislation was required to enforce an international treaty as well as requesting that the court make a decision on whether treaties such as the VCDR had been ratified prior to the enactment of the current constitution in 2008.

The Maldives ratified the 1961 VCDR in October 2007 under the leadership of then Foreign Affairs Minister Abdulla Shahid – now Speaker of Parliament. The convention outlays a framework for diplomatic relations between independent countries, and specifies privileges and immunities granted diplomatic premises.

Overruling the Civil Court decision, the High Court in today’s verdict claimed that under Article 93 of the Constitution, Maldivian citizens shall only be required to act in compliance with treaties ratified by the state and provided for in laws enacted by the parliament. The High Court claimed that no such law had been introduced.

Article 93(a) of the constitution states: “Treaties entered into by the Executive in the name of the State with foreign states and international organizations shall be approved by the People’s Majlis, and shall come into force only in accordance with the decision of the People’s Majlis.”

Article 93(b) states: “Despite the provisions of article (a), citizens shall only be required to act in compliance with treaties ratified by the State as provided for in a law enacted by the People’s Majlis”.

Issuing the final verdict, the High Court invalidated the Civil Court’s decision to dismiss the case in favour of Shareef.

However, both the High Court and the Attorney General’s verdict noted that such a case could strain the bilateral relations between India and Maldives. In hope of avoiding this, a period of three months has been given for the parties to come to an out-of-court settlement.

Should the parties not be able to come to an agreement within the given three months, the High Court in its verdict ruled that Civil Court has the jurisdiction to proceed with the case.

Meanwhile an official from the Indian High Commission said that it did not wish to comment on the matter while it remains in the court.

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Statement accusing Mulay of interference was forged, says JSC

The High Commission of India in the Maldives has expressed disappointment with the Agence France-Presse (AFP) newswire after it published a story on what the high commission claimed was a “forged” media statement from the Judicial Service Commission (JSC).

The statement, with JSC header and dubbed an ‘official translation’, said the JSC “regrets the interference of the High Commissioner of India in Maldives in his personal capacity with the judicial process of the Maldives, by keeping former President Mohamed Nasheed within the diplomatic confines  of the High Commission thereby impeding the due process of the Law.

“We appreciate the official stand of the Indian Government to refrain from interfering with the internal affairs of Maldives and respect independence of the judiciary,” read the statement.

It was emailed from an anonymous gmail account, [email protected]

The High Commission of India issued a press release on Sunday (February 17) admonishing the AFP for circulating the report based on the false JSC statement.

“The High Commission expresses its disappointment that a respected news agency like AFP has chosen to give undue publicity to such a cheap gimmick against the High Commissioner in the current sensitive atmosphere, without even bothering to check the veracity of the said letter with the JSC or High Commission of India in Male’,” the statement read.

The high commission statement was accompanied with an email from the JSC Secretariat denying having issued the release.

JSC Secretary General Aboobakuru Mohamed said the letterhead was “forged” and the statement was “false”.

“Regarding the issue of sheltering by the Maldivian ex-president, Mr Mohamed Nasheed within the compound of the High Commision of India, Male’, Maldives, we, the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) of Maldives, categorically deny issuing any statement on this regard,” the statement said.

The Indian High Commission called on AFP “to immediately retract its report and issue an apology prominently for the damage caused to the reputation and good will of the High Commissioner and the Indian Mission.”

Various new outlets have reported senior Maldivian government officials echoing the sentiment of the “forged” JSC statement: “The fact of the matter is that some individual Indian diplomats are interfering in our internal affairs. This must stop,” a senior government official told AFP, asking not to be named.

Maldives-India relations

Indian High Commissioner D M Mulay was meanwhile summoned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Sunday (February 17) – the first time a high commissioner has been summoned by the ministry according to local media.

Mulay reportedly delivered a brief diplomatic note discussing the Indian government’s accommodation of Nasheed.

“We have not interfered with Maldivian politics and have no intention of even doing so. India also wants the Maldives’ judicial process to go on. We also want stability and peace in the Maldives. We want political reconciliation through peaceful dialogue,” Mulay told local media afterwards.

Following India’s initial warning that a failure to allow all political leaders to contest the elections would call into question the integrity of the electoral process and perpetuate instability, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ministry declared it was “unfortunate that the government of India has decided to comment on the types of candidates that could contest the upcoming Presidential Elections in the Maldives scheduled for September 2013.”

Local newspaper Haveeru quoted an unnamed government official as stating that the “political atmosphere in the Maldives would reach a boiling point” if India allowed it.

Meanwhile, President Waheed Hassan Manik  promised to promote democracy and maintain law and order in a statement issued Saturday (February 16).

He emphasised his “dismay” that Nasheed had sought refuge in the High Commission, instead of heeding his court summons, which expired on February 13.

“There is no reason for him to remain in the High Commission and to instigate street violence. The court order has nothing to do with my government. Upholding the rule of law means nobody is above the law,” Waheed said.

President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad implied that India was trying to fuel political turmoil in the Maldives.

“Mulay should take direct responsibility for the fresh unrest and violence in the capital,” he told local media.

Home Minister Mohamed Jameel Ahmed has also expressed his disappointment over the Indian government’s decision to provide refuge to Nasheed in the Indian High Commission.

Nasheed’s trial

Former President Mohamed Nasheed failed to attend the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court hearing on February 10, resulting in a court order for police to produce Nasheed for trial regarding his controversial detention of Chief Judge of the Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012.

In response to rumours of Nasheed’s imminent arrest, he entered the Indian High Commission on February 13 seeking India’s assistance.

His Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) maintain that the charges – based on his detaining Chief Judge of the Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed during his final days in office – are a politically-motivated attempt to prevent him contesting the 2013 elections.

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