Escaped convicts were on hunt for murder, theft deal, says home minister

Two convicts who escaped from Maafushi Jail on October 16 were apprehended while on a hunt for a deal to commit murder or theft, Home Minister Umar Naseer has said.

Speaking at a ceremony to lay the foundation of a 20-foot wall around Maafushi Jail today, Naseer said Ibrahim Shahum Adam, 23 years, and Fariyash Ahmed, 26 years, had not intended to simply flee from jail, but declined to reveal details of the alleged deal.

Both Shahum and Fariyash were serving life sentences for murder.

Fariyash was apprehended in a café in Malé on October 21. He had shaved his beard, taken off his glasses and was wearing a wig at the time of arrest.

The police then enlisted the help of an armed team of soldiers in the nationwide ‘Operation Gator Hunt’ for Shahum. He was caught the next day in a guesthouse in Malé.

Naseer said Maldives Correctional Services (MCS) officers were not involved in aiding the two convicts escape from jail, but said several inmates had abetted the jailbreak.

The Maldives Police Services have arrested two men on charges of aiding Shahum and Fariyash’s escape. A 32-year-old man was arrested on Thursday and a 20-year-old man was arrested on Friday.

The 20-year-old has a previous record of drugs, theft, harassment and intimidation, and vandalism of property, a police statement on Friday said.

According to the Maldives Police Services, the MCS only noticed the two were missing 24 hours after their escape.

They had sawn off 22 bars on a window in the bathroom of cell number 14 in unit 9 of Maafushi Jail, the police said.

Commissioner of Police Hussein Waheed has attributed Operation Gator Hunt’s success to interagency collaboration within the police.

Naseer today said he would use a dog squad periodically in preventing the entry of illicit drugs into Maafushi Jail.

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

The increased security measures will prevent inmates enslaving other inmates and violence within the jail, he added.

Jumhooree Party MP and former Commissioner of Police Abdulla Riyaz has called for an independent inquiry into the jailbreak.

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


Police to assist with Maafushi Prison security after jail break

Maldives Police Service (MPS) is to assist Maldives Correctional Service (MCS) in strengthening Maafushi Prison security of after two convicts serving life sentences for murder escaped from the prison on Friday night (October 17).

A police media statement said a police team will be stationed on Maafushi Island to assist MCS on a need to basis and that the two institutions are currently taking measures to strengthen security.

The police declined to reveal details of how many police officers are to be stationed on the island or what kind of security measures are to be taken.

Fariyash Ahmed of Gaafu Alifu Maamendhoo and Ibrahim Shahum Adam of Malé escaped from Maafushi Prison after sawing off metal bars in a ventilation shaft.

Minister of Home Affairs Umar Naseer accepted that loopholes in the prison system had allowed the two prisoners to escape, but said he was confident the police would recapture the convicts and bring them to justice.

“There is no prison in the world from which someone or the other has not escaped from. The strength of a prison system is in how quickly we recapture escapees and return them to their cells,” said the home minister.

On Saturday (October 18) Umar Naseer tweeted that the prison escape is an opportunity to identify loop holes in the prison system and to improve the system.

“Every prison escape is an opportunity for Prison Officers to identify the loop holes and improve the system while we hunt them down,” read the tweet.

Meanwhile, in a statement released on Sunday (October 19) MPS called upon the public be extra vigilant as the search for the two ‘dangerous’ convicts continue with the aid of Maldives National Defense Force and the Coast Guard.

Police also urged the public to submit any information they may have about the escapees to the following numbers:  3322111 or 9911099. The police have also pledged to take legal action against individuals who withhold information on the whereabouts of the Shahum and Fariyash.


Prisoner’s escape was our fault, but we will find them: Home minister

Minister of Home Affairs Umar Naseer has accepted that loopholes in the prison system allowed two dangerous convicts to escape from Maafushi prison on Friday (October 17)

Ibrahim Shahum Adam and Fariyash Ahmed of Javaahiruvadhee in Gaafu Alifu Maamendhoo were both serving life sentences for separate murder incidents.

Naseer told Television Maldives yesterday (October 19) that the Maldives Police Services will doubtless recapture the two criminals and return them to prison.

Describing the escape during his interview, Naseer said that necessary changes to procedure had been identified which would now be implemented.

“There is no prison in the world from which someone or the other has not escaped from. The strength of a prison system is in how quickly we recapture escapees and return them to their cells,” said the home minister.

“We will find them. The government is willing to use all the powers vested in them to find them, recapture them and return them to prison,” he added.

The search has today expanded to the capital Malé after investigations in Maafushi and neighbouring islands proved fruitless.

The escape

Naseer described the layout of the Maafushi Prison as being divided into two subsections, referred to as ‘The Pentagon’ and ‘U2’.

U2 is the facility where criminals who pose daily threats are kept, whereas prisoners in Pentagon get a few hours a day out in the prison grounds. The two escapees were placed in the Pentagon wing of the prison at the time of escape.

Naseer stated that the prison houses over 700 inmates, all of whom are convicted on serious charges including murder, rape, and pedophilia.

The escapees had placed dummies made of pillows on their beds at the time of the routine headcounts, the minister explained, resulting in the guards miscounting.

This particular method of escape was made famous by the 1979 film ‘Escape from Alcatraz’, which was itself based on a 1962 escape attempt from the island prison in San Francisco.

Umar Naseer said that it was common for inmates to be asleep under blankets at these times, meaning that nobody noticed anything was amiss.

“We have now realised that it is not alright for us to just count people in a cell, and that we must instead wake everyone up and have them line up for the count,” Naseer said.

In the meantime, the prisoners had escaped out of a barred window and onto the prison roof before reaching the ground via bed sheets tied together.

The escapees had used a broken saw to cut through 22 bars on the window, with Naseer suggesting that the work had been done in a series of days on the windows, which are about 10 feet above the ground.

Naseer admitted that the saw may have been acquired from the prison grounds as there is currently an ongoing construction project to build a new check post in the U2 wing of the prison.

“This wasn’t planned and done in a single day. It was done under a well-planned systematic attempt,” Naseer said.

Opportunity for improvement

“We can look at this as an opportunity to improve upon the current prison system,” Naseer said, describing the prison system as a “learning experience”.

“We have now noticed loopholes in our way of doing things. In future, we will improve upon them. I can guarantee that no other convict can escape using this technique again,” he stated.

“The prison system is largely manual now. The locks on doors, monitoring the grounds, all of this is done manually. We will in future work to automate these things,” he said.

He revealed that the cells have cameras, but that inmates often avoid being on them by spending time in the attached bathrooms or through other tactics.

Naseer said that investigations are currently being conducted into whether the escape was made possible due to the negligence of prison guards.

“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 stated.

While the minister noted that the prison system is being maintained on a tight budget, he maintained that his philosophy is to “make do to the best of our levels on whatever budget allocation is available”.

Naseer dismissed the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party’s labelling of the escape as symptomatic of the government’s failings as a “rant released from a desperate party”.


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.


Correctional services prepare chamber for lethal injection

The Maldives Correctional Services (MCS) has prepared a chamber in the Maafushi jail for the administration of the death penalty through lethal injection, reports Vnews.

While all administrative matters for implementing the death penalty have been completed, an MCS official said the home ministry was seeking the lethal injection.

Thazmeel Abdul Samad, media coordinator at the ministry, told vnews that the system for administering the lethal injection would be computerised.

Media officials at the MCS and home ministry were not responding to calls at the time of press.


Hospitalised Maafushi inmate requested transfer from cell before assault

An inmate who suffered serious head injuries in a prison fight at Maafushi jail last month requested to be transferred from his cell more than an hour before the assault, according to a one-page report shared by the Maldives Correctional Services (MCS) with parliament’s government oversight committee.

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, stated the report read out by MCS Lawyer Mohamed Zahir at yesterday’s committee meeting.

Mujthaba questioned the prisoners and was asked by two of the three inmates in cell 12 – Ali Ashwan of Ma. Oasis Villa and Ibrahim Azar of M.Dhodhilige – 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 by Prison Corporal Ali Maaniu, deputy head of the operation and security department, to transfer the inmates.

However, 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.

Duty-in-charge Corporal Mujthaba then made arrangements to transfer the inmates with the assistance of officers from the Emergency Support Group (ESG).

At about 6:50pm, Mujthaba and the ESG officers made their way to the cell upon hearing a commotion from the unit.

“When they opened the cell and looked inside, Ibrahim Azar was severely beaten. A lot of blood was flowing out of Ibrahim Azar’s head at the time. [Azar] indicated with gestures to the officers that he was assaulted by Ahmed Liushan. In addition, some officers saw Ahmed Liushan attacking Ibrahim Azar when they opened the cell,” the report stated.

The injured inmate was first treated by nurses at the Maafushi jail reception area before being taken to the Maafushi Health Centre.

A doctor at the health centre advised that the inmate be immediately taken to Malé after completing medical procedures, the report continued, whereupon he was sent to Malé on a speedboat with three prison officers and two nurses at around 7:45pm.

The other two inmates in cell 12 were meanwhile kept separately in holding cells for the investigation of the assault.

Commissioner of Prisons Moosa Azim was informed of the incident at 7:02pm, the report stated, whilst the assault was reported to the Maafushi police station at 8:03pm.

A police team began investigating the case shortly thereafter, took witness statements and sought forensic evidence.

Azar meanwhile underwent surgery at the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) for multiple injuries to his skull and remains in a coma under intensive care. He had been serving a five year sentence for drug abuse.

“Relevant” officials

Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party MPs on the committee meanwhile contended that prison officers were culpable in the incident as the inmates had been left unsupervised for more than 50 minutes.

Although Home Minister Umar Naseer and Commissioner of Prisons Moosa Azim were told to appear before the oversight committee yesterday, neither attended the meeting.

While Deputy Commissioner of Prisons Hassan Zilal and Superintendent Ibrahim Mohamed were sent in their place, both senior prison officials were unable to answer questions posed by MPs, citing lack of information.

The deputy commissioner informed MPs that he had been on the job for just two weeks and was yet to be given operational responsibilities. Zilal said he was not in Maafushi on the day in question.

Both officials suggested that MPs summon “relevant persons” to clarify details of the incident. Ibrahim Mohamed however revealed that doctors at IGMH had advised MCS that Azar should be flown overseas for medical treatment.


Week in review: February 22– 28

A tragic incident at the country’s main public hospital – IGMH – caused outrage this week as it was revealed that HIV infected blood had been given to a patient.

Profuse apologies from the Home Minister were not enough for the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) who accused the government of hiding the news for eight days in order to complete the celebrations of its first 100 days in power.

Earlier in the week, Minivan News was informed that certain operations at the hospital had been suspended owing to the lack of the necessary staff safety equipment. The week had begun with Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid pledging US$10 million for the renovation of the Indian-built facility.

The introduction of unlimited health insurance had already been announced earlier in the week. The ambitious pledge is soon to be followed by larger pensions, both of which are set to be sustained through the issuance of government debt.

Promises for completion of the long-awaited Malé-Hulhulé bridge within two years were also given, though development of the central atolls appeared to be coming at the expense of the Addu – the country’s second-city.

High priority is being given to the housing situation of police officers, while the fisheries minister launched a training scheme for long-line fishing, arguing that deviation from the country’s traditional pole-and-line approach was important to utilise all fishing grounds.

The Supreme Court’s decision to prosecute the Elections Commission (EC) on contempt of court charges prompted alarm this week from both representatives of the EU and Maldivian civil society, who demanded the court “earn the respect of the people”.

The EU called upon the government to ensure the EC’s independence in the run up to the March 22 parliamentary elections. Despite the government’s financial restrictions on EC spending, the commission has assured that polls will be unaffected.

While on the campaign trail, the MDP’s Mohamed Nasheed warned that the people of the country would not tolerate further electoral interference, labelling the ongoing court case “unjust”.

While Nasheed assured that his party does not intend to obstruct the government should it win a majority, President Yameen remained unconvinced, assuring voters that the MDP would attempt to remove him.

Yameen also rounded on the current members of the country’s legislature, arguing that the public had lost confidence in the institution. The recently jailed MP Abdulla Jabir was this week cleared of further cannabis possession charges – his lawyers have suggested his earlier conviction violated his constitutional rights.

The Criminal Court’s running feud with the Prosecutor General’s Office continued this week, with the PG’s Office accusing the court of overstepping its authority when introducing new time limits for the forwarding of cases.

In the Civil Court, a dispute over an oil trade agreement between the State Trading Organisation and Villufushi constituency MP Riyaz Rasheed was thrown out after the former’s legal team failed to show up.

Further agreements on oil trade could be on their way, however, as the the national oil company announced it was searching for outside assistance for further exploration projects.

Though well-qualified to discuss oil, Saudi Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz was reported to be visiting the Maldives in order to talk about potential investments in tourism, transport, and Islamic affairs, as well the provision of a soft loans to the Maldives.

One avenue of Saudi investment into the country was confirmed this week, with a prominent investment firm from the kingdom making plans for a US$100 million resort in Laamu atoll.

Maldivians seeking to travel in the other way may have to delay their plans, however, after both the Civil Court and the Anti Corruption Commission ordered the Islamic Ministry to halt the awarding of contracts for Hajj trips pending investigations into the bidding process.

Elsewhere this week, the second case of forced child prostitution in the country’s southern atolls, while an inmate at Maafushi jail suffered severe head injuries during a fight with other inmates.


Jabir moved to Malé jail, appeal documents granted

Recently imprisoned MP Abdulla Jabir has been moved from Maafushi to Malé jail following reported complaints lodged by his family members.

Jabir’s legal team has confirmed that the Maldivian Democratic Party MP has been relocated. Vnews has quoted Jabir’s wife Dhiyana Saeed as saying that her husband had been kept alone in a poorly lit cell, contrary to international conventions.

The Kaashidhoo representative’s legal team suggested earlier this week that their client was denied a fair trial, and that his constitutional rights were denied by the Criminal Court.

Jabir was last week sentenced to twelve months‘ imprisonment after being found guilty of failing to provide a urine sample when arrested as a suspect in a drug related case on November 16, 2012.

After complaining that the court has failed to produce documents vital to Jabir’s appeal, a member of his legal team was today able to confirm that the necessary documents had since been forthcoming.


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).