Maldivian prisoners in foreign jails cannot be transferred home due to lack of proper laws

Eleven Maldivian citizens are currently serving prison sentences in foreign countries because the Maldives lacks the proper laws to transfer them back home, local media has reported.

An official from the Foreign Ministry was quoted in local media as saying that the Ministry is “gravely concerned” about the number of people detained in foreign jails, and that it is working on transferring them to jails in the Maldives.

The official stated that a prisoner transfer agreement had been signed with Sri Lanka and India, however the lack of proper laws in regard to prisoner transfer made the process difficult.

“We have worked hard for such a law. It is however, a thing for the Attorney General. We can send away the foreigners in our jails, but to transfer a Maldivian to Maldives, we lack the proper law on how the person may carry out the sentence.

“There are numerous people who we have not been able to transfer because of the lack of such a law. If not, we can transfer them to Maldives,” the official was quoted as saying in Sun Online.

The foreign Ministry, as reported by local media, said that Maldivian prisoners are currently in jails in Syria, Italy, Sri Lanka for drug related cases, one in a Hong Kong prison in relation to a murder case, one in Chennai for an unknown reason and two people arrested in Trivadndrum on drug charges.


Maldivians detained in Pakistan now released

Two Maldivians detained at a jail in Pakistan have been released, the foreign ministry has revealed.

An official from foreign ministry has said that the families are now trying to bring them back to Male.

The Maldivian High Commission in Pakistan earlier revealed that the two detained in Rawalpindi, Pakistan are Nadal Rasheed of Henveiru Dhoohimerige and Hussain Naaz of Maafannu Madan.

The reason behind their arrest has yet to be officially revealed, however Haveeru has reported that they were arrested in connection with a drugs case.


Nasheed released from custody, travel ban still in place

Additional reporting by Mohamed Naahii

Former President Mohamed Nasheed has been released from custody following the first hearing in the Hulhumale Magistrate Court concerning his detention of Chief Criminal Court Judge, Abdulla Mohamed.

The trial began around 4:20pm this afternoon. The court was packed with attendees, most of whom were Nasheed supporters. Nasheed’s wife Laila Ali and family members were also present.

At the beginning of the trial, the state read the charges.

Responding, Nasheed stated that the trial reflected the “grave” situation that the democracy of the Maldives is in.

“Honorable judges, this charge against me is a deliberate attempt by the prosecutor general to bar the presidential candidate of the largest opposition political party of this country from contesting the next presidential elections,” Nasheed declared.

“The Maldivian constitution explicitly states that the powers of the state derives only from the people and there is no stronger power than that of the power of the people. That power of the people will only be restored through free and fair elections,” he said.

“Honorable Judges, I sincerely ask of you to consider this fact before you proceed with the trial. My lawyers will continue advocating on behalf or me from now on,” he said.

Former President’s member on the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) and outspoken whistleblower Aishath Velezinee has maintained that Nasheed’s detention of the judge was justified given the failure of both the JSC and parliament to hold the judge accountable for allegations of serious ethical misconduct.

Lawyers take over

On her opportunity to speak, Nasheed’s lawyer Hisaan Hussain raised procedural irregularities concerning the case that was being heard.

Firstly, she questioned the judges as to whether a magistrate court could hold a trial on an island other than the island on which the magistrate court was established – despite the case been filed in the Hulhumale Magistrate Court, the hearing was held in the Justice Building in Male’.

Hisaan also asked the court to decide on the claim that the magistrate court was formed in contradiction with the Constitution and the laws of the country, before it proceeded with the hearings. The matter is currently being considered by the Supreme Court.

Member of Nasheed’s legal team, Abdulla Shair, also raised a point on procedural irregularities citing that the magistrate court’s order to detain Nasheed was unlawful because such orders should legally only come from a court set up in the locality of the defendant’s permanent address. Nasheed is based in his family home in Male’.

Shair challenged that it should be the Criminal Court ordering nasheed’s detention, as Nasheed’s permanent address was located in capital Male’.

The lawyers asked the court to temporarily suspend the hearings until it had resolved the procedural irregularities. However, court rejected the proposition.

Responding to the procedural issues raised, the court rejected all but one of the issues raised without giving any reasoning.

The court however responded to Nasheed’s lawyer Abdulla Shair’s point of procedure, and stated that the court followed a precedent set by the High Court.

Responding, the state challenged that no lawful authority of the country had decided that Hulhumale’ Court was legitimate, and it was within the power of the prosecutor general to file charges in a court with relevant jurisdiction.

The state presented more than 32 pieces of evidences it claimed proved that Chief Judge of Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed was detained unlawfully, including the judge himself.

Other evidence produced included audio and video of the Judge’s detention, and speeches given by Nasheed.

The State also presented an evidence list of figures from both Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) and Maldives Police Services (MPS).

In response to the presented evidences, Nasheed’s lawyers asked the three member panel of Judges to give them a time period of 30 days to study the evidences and prepare a defence.

The judges however gave a period of 25 days. They announced that the next hearing would be held on November 4, 2012.

Supporters of Nasheed cheered when he came out of the hearing. With Nasheed’s detention order expired following his attending of the hearing, Nasheed is technically free.

However, the previously imposed travel ban is still in place and Nasheed is confined to Male’.


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.


Prisons burdened with small crimes and poor management, report finds

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”, according a report by the government and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). The reform could reduce the number of youth incarcerated for minor offences, the report suggested.

The report also found that “the existing legislative framework and the current penal system does not support the human rights guaranteed under the Constitution, nor is it compatible with best practices outlined in the UN Standard Minimum Rules on Treatment of Prisoners.”

The “Prison Assessment and Proposed Rehabilitation and Reintegration of Offenders Report“, published on September 5, was conducted by Dr Aishath Ali Naaz and UNDP program specialist Naaz Aminath. The report surveyed 60 percent of the prison population as of February 2011 to assess current prison conditions and make recommendations.

It is the first report of this scope to be done in the Maldives.

Aminath said the report took five months to prepare. “It involved very consistent record-taking and visits to prisons. About part way through we realized that we needed a legal framework to make a more comprehensive report, so we met with MPs across the board to understand the strengths and weaknesses.” The team had met with government officials throughout the project.

Aminath said timing the release of the report was difficult after the release of prisoners from Maafushi prison in July.

Key issues identified in the report were a lack of legislative framework to support rehabilitation and reintegration programs; widespread accusations of corruption and inappropriate political influence among institutions; poor prison design; and inadequate budgeting and human resources.

The report’s first recommendation for reform was to “de-criminalise the offense of drug usage” and require rehabilitation, according to the offender’s criminal record.

A second recommendation to “establish a restorative justice program to minimize offenders being incarcerated for minor offences” would regulate the currently heavy flow of Maldivian youth into the prison system.

Of prisoners in the Maldives, the majority are males under 30 years of age who are educated below O-levels. At the time of the report, 66 percent of inmates polled were in jail for drug use or possession.

“There are small time drug users of 23 years of age who are being being sentenced for 70 years in prison,” said Aminath. “When you visit other countries, the jails are divided between minimum and maximum security according to the sentence. You know that criminals in maximum security areas are really hard-core. You also find that drug trafficking is a serious offense in most countries, and traffickers do the most time in jail. But here, traffickers get 25 years while small-time users get 60 to 80 years. These are not hard-core criminals, but they’re put away for almost their entire lives.”

Aminath noted that in the past, drug users who test positive for drugs were given two charges: one for using drugs, and another for testing positive. At present, only individuals in possession of a prohibited drug are prosecuted.”

“I’m not condoning drugs,” said Aminath, “but I think we need to help.”

The report criticised Maldivian prisons for being understaffed and poorly managed.

“The problem in the Maldives is that there aren’t proper prisons,” said Aminath. “It’s hard to even say what the capacity of these facilities is.”

After the fires in 2009, Maafushi prison in March and October 2009, Aminath said that basic living equipment like mattresses were not replaced. Maafushi and Male prisons do not have kitchens, and “there is no structure to support the prisoners who are there,” she said.

Asseyri prison was originally designed as a juvenile rehabilitation center. But Aminath noted that it remained empty until this past year, and since then has been filled with inmates of all ages. She said individuals she asked regarding it’s changed purpose were uniformed.

Inmates surveyed said medical services were inadequate. An investigation found that Maafushi prison compensated by sending an average of ten people to Male each day for medical purposes–an excursion which opens opportunities for smuggling good into prison.

Inmates also complained about a lack of structure in prison life. The report lists claims of torture, inhumane treatment, drug availability and false messages of hope from politicians as examples.

Prison regulations also make it difficult for inmates to develop their own structure. Aside from the Qur’an, inmates are not allowed to have any reading material. 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,” said Aminath. “Plus, there isn’t much to read there. Really, I wouldn’t even call it a library.”

Naaz and Aminath asked prisoners to describe the types of rehab programs they felt were needed. Most recommended religious education (86.4 percent), counseling therapies (76.1 percent) and life skills (75.1 percent).

Among the report’s recommendations for reform is the development of a Mental Health act. It also encourages Parliament to pass legislation that was proposed 3 years ago, including a criminal procedure code, a penal code, an evidence act, and a parole bill.

Another suggestion is to establish a prison industry to train prisoners in vocational skills, a program that would directly support rehabilitation and reintegration programs.

Aminath said the research team is in conversation with the State Minister, and the Home Minister supports the recommendations.

Speaking at a press conference yesterday, Home Minister Hassan Afeef said, “the Government is committed to improving the rehabilitation system, given
how large a problem drugs are for our community.”

But change won’t happen overnight, Aminath cautioned. She said all institutions “need to strengthen the legal framework and get more involved with the community to make these changes. This applies to all institutions across the board here.”

Correction: A previous version of this story stated that the UNDP team had “‘met with government officials across the board to understand the strengths and weaknesses.'” It should have stated that the UNDP team had “met with MPs across the board to understand the strengths and weaknesses and advocate passing legislative framework bills.” The UNDP team had been in correspondence with government officials from the beginning of the project.

The previous version of the story also stated that, “Aminath noted that drug users who test positive for drugs are given two charges: one for using drugs, and another for testing positive.” It should have stated that “Aminath noted that in the past, drug users who test positive for drugs were given two charges: one for using drugs, and another for testing positive. At present, only individuals in possession of a prohibited drug are prosecuted.”

The previous version also stated that “Asseyri prison was originally designed as a juvenile detention center.” It should have stated that “Asseyri prison was originally designed as a juvenile rehabilitation center. Also, individuals who Aminath asked about its current use as a standard detention center were uninformed. Minivan News apologises for any confusion.”


Inmates in Maafushi prison allegedly injured after clashes with prison officers

It is alleged that violent clashes between inmates and prison officers have erupted at Maafushi prison over the last few days as inmates reportedly attempted to inform prison officers about the illness of a cell-bound inmate.

”On Monday night an inmate’s medical condition appeared to become serious and the other prisoners tried to call to the prison officers, but they never responded.  So the inmates knocked the prison bars to get the attention of prison officers,” a person familiar with the incident told Minivan News on condition of anonymity.  ”Then a squad of prison officers came to the cell and beat down those who shook the bars.”

He claimed that violence again erupted yesterday afternoon after prison officers armed with metal and wooden batons came inside the cell leading to violent clashes between prison officers and the inmates.

”One inmate got a broken shoulder, another inmate broke his nose and another injured his eyes because prison officers hit and broke the glasses he was wearing,” he alleged. ”Nobody cares for the inmates, only some politicians speak about it, but only for political purposes and not with the intention of correcting anything.”

He also claimed that recently, inmates had demanded to see the prison warden over allegations that prisoners who were kept in isolation for hours were also tortured with batons.

”There has never been any treatment programs held inside the prison, all that the prison officers do is threaten and torture,” claimed the anonymous source.

The source also claimed that fellow prisoners were expected to very soon “stand up for the nation” and reveal the secrets hidden behind the work of the political figures in the country.

”Infamous ‘Chicka’ [Ibrahim Nafiz] will also be out from the prison one day, he will tell the people publicly about the work former Commissioner of Police Brigadier Adam Zahir assigned him to do,” he said. ”It would not be kept as a secret anymore.”

Head of Department and Penitentiary and Rehabilitation Services [DPRS] Moosa Azim told Minivan News that clashes between inmates and prison officers take place very often and that it was ”nothing too serious.”

”Everyday there will be a clash between the inmates and prison officers,” said Azim. ”We give the highest priority to the safety of the inmates, then the safety of our staffs.”

He said that he had no information about the clash that occurred yesterday and Monday night.


Hinmafushi prison to be changed to a rehab

The state home minister Ahmed Adil have said that ”Asseyri” prison in Hinmafushi would be changed to a rehabilitation centre, reports Haveeru.

Haveeru reported that the rehabilitation centre would be opened by next year according to Adhil.

Next year February the centre would start delivering its services to those in need, according to Haveeru.

The Home ministry is currently working on ways to raise fund that is needed to re-built the prison as a rehabilitation centre.


Inmates petition President over Maafushi prison conditions

Inmates in Maafushi jail have sent a petition to President Mohamed Nasheed complaining that conditions in the prison have deteriorated to the point where few inmates can sleep.

The petition signed by 236 prisoners claimed that inmates now allocate time to sleep, one after another, on the floor without bedsheets or pillows. The petition also claimed that the inmates do not have good medical facility or a safe environment in which to live.

“Only a few inmates can sleep when it rains,’’ said the petition. ‘’The capacity of the units is for 35 men, but we note that 90-100 inmates are kept in each unit.’’

The prisoner’s petition lists benefits discontinued after the government came to power.

The list of complaints sent by the inmates includes:

  1. Inmates are not given the opportunity to conduct the five prayers, or the Friday prayers.
  2. An increase in the number of issues related to hygiene.
  3. Two doctors working in the prison system are writing prescriptions without identifying the disease.
  4. The government used to provide religious books but this has come to a halt.
  5. Inmates were not receiving 3-7 grams of milk daily that had been allocated.
  6. TVs and radios on which to watch the news and entertain the inmates have been restricted.
  7. Pillows, mattress and bed-sheets were not provided, and were instead appropriated by jail officers claiming that the government could not afford to provide them.
  8. Lightbulb, fans and other electrical products were are restricted and inmates are in pitch darkness at night.

The petition also claimed that the prison still contains inmates convicted for actions which are not crimes under the current constitution, such as several who participated in an anti-government riot in 2003.

On May 13, families of inmates claimed the jail was “in chaos”, with neither the inmates nor jail officers reportedly in charge.

A person familiar with Maafushi jail told Minivan News that the situation was deteriorating daily due to unfulfilled pledges the government made to inmates, and that fights between inmates and jail officers was a daily occurrence.

“Inmates in the cells are demanding fulfillment of the pledges President Mohamed Nasheed made, and the jail officers claim they do not have the budget or power they demand.”

Moreover, he said, inmates were claiming that their parents and family had voted for President Nasheed because of the pledges he made during the presidential elections.

”They claim that half of Nasheed’s votes came from inmates’ families, who voted for the pledge that they will give parole and clemency to inmates,” he said.

Shortly after the new government came to power, Special Envoy to the President Ibrahim Hussein Zaki visited the jail.

”He came and told all the inmates to think that they all were free now,” he said. ”He said that within weeks everyone will be free.”

He added that inmates were very happy about the news but “after days there was no sign of them and inmates became disheartened.”

In protest, inmates staged a hunger strike in December 2008.

”The State Minister [for Home Affairs, Ahmed Shafeeq] visited the inmates, bringing a document signed by the president and told everyone to calm down,” he said. “Then again our families, kids and spouses were happy with the news.”

In October, rioting inmates set Maafushi jail on fire, resulting in violent clashes between inmates and prison guards.

”All the inmates were divided into the damaged cells without even cleaning the place,” he said.

On April 20,inmates in Maafushi jail were badly beaten by jail officers in a prison riot on Sunday morning at around 12:15 am, after they were allegedly asked to go out to the prison yard and kneel on the ground.

A person familiar with the case told Minivan News that the riot was sparked when jail officers entered Unit 7 while everyone was sleeping.


Iranian fishermen released from Maldives jail

After six months in a Maldivian jail, thirty crew members from two Iranian fishing boats have been released, reports Miadhu.

The vessels, named Arvin and Hormoz, were detained and the crew arrested last November by the Coast Guard for illegally entering Maldivian waters.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry released a statement confirming they had been released last week and are on their way back to Iran.

Coast Guards found another Iranian fishing vessel last week near Havadhu Atoll. The crew were out of food and water and had been adrift for several days.

The Foreign Ministry noted the men were now in good condition.