Addicts, dealers and NGOs: dealing with drugs in the Maldives

A coalition of local NGOs conducted a workshop yesterday to review new drug laws proposed by the government.

Ahmed Adam, chairperson of drugs NGO Journey, said drug abuse was a “national issue” that urgently required a solution.

”We wish the MPs would cooperate with us hope they do not think this bill was politically motivated,” he said.

A number of participants at the workshop expressed concern about the difficulty they had reaching MPs. Adam said MPs had not even attended meetings to discuss the bill despite numerous invitations.

Among the NGOs represented at the workshop were Journey, Hand to Hand, Maldivian Detainee Network and Transparency Maldives.

History of drug use

Adam, a recovered drug addict, spoke briefly about the history of drug use in the Maldives.

Historical documents that reveal travellers who visited to the Maldives in the 16th century observed opium being used inside the palace, he said.

Moreover, in the 18th century, Indian traders introduced cannabis to the country.

”In 1972, with the advent of tourism in the country, most people started smoking grass,” he said.

The government was only alerted to what was happening much later, he added.

Adam said ‘brown sugar’, the low-grade heroin that is prevalent in the country, was introduced after the mass arrests of marijuana users in the early 90s.

A drug centre was established for the first time in the Maldives in 1997.

NGOs discussion

The discussions at the workshop focused on both the reasons why people get hooked on drugs and methods of prevention.

NGOs were divided into four groups and together discussed the drug epidemic and ways to solve it.

Among the factors identified that drove people to drug use were parental neglect, congestion and lack of privacy and space at home that draws children out to streets, peer pressure, lifestyle decisions as well as lack of job opportunities and proper role models.

The NGOs argued in favour of categorisation of drugs in the bill and called for the introduction of different methods and models for treatment apart from the existing therapeutic community (TC) model.

TC was not adequate for all types of drug addicts, they insisted.

While drug smuggling could be prevented by imposing penalties on customs officials suspected of accepting bribes, higher penalties should be imposed on convicted drug dealers, they agreed.

Drug traffickers and money they earn

Minivan News spoke anonymously to an individual who divulged information on drug trafficking in the Maldives.

He claimed that he sold drugs because he felt “pity for the sick people” [drug addicts] and did not want “to isolate them from society.”

He added that he did not face “any trouble” in attracting customers.

”If we sell good quality stuff to one person, he will go and tell his friends that we have good stuff and they also will start buying from us,” he said.

He claimed to earn “at least Rf15,000 every day” (US$1167) selling drugs, approximately Rf465,000 per month (US$36,186).

”Everyday one person will buy at least three to five packets, sometimes people from the islands come and buy 40 packets also,” he said, claiming that each 0.03 gram packet (of brown sugar) cost Rf100.

Almost one or two kilograms were smuggled into the country at a time, he explained.

The rise in crime was because drug addicts needed to feed their addiction, he said.

“All gangs are operated by people and money. Gangs earn money by selling drugs. If someone gets stabbed also the gangs would provide them with medication and financial assistance.”

Moreover, he said, “gangsters” would not have any source of income without dealing drugs.

“Real drug dealers” meanwhile, do not use drugs themselves, he said. The drug of choice for Maldivian youth was brown sugar, he added.

“There’s also hash oil, ‘white stuff’ and Charas [resin from the hemp plant] also in the market.”

While more treatment facilities and job opportunities should be offered to combat drug addiction, he said, ”drug dealers should be stopped first, but [the government] can never do that. Drug dealers are assisted by high-profile people in the country,” he said.

“First, they should figure out who they are and stop them, then come after the drug dealers. Then there will be no drug abusers in the country.”


Police special operation nets 22 gang suspects

In a highly-publicised special operation intended to reduce gang crime in the capital Male’, police arrested 22 men suspected of being key players in gang violence.

Police sub inspector Ahmed Shiyam said the men were arrested in different areas of Male’ are were notable “gangsters” involved in gang violence.

Shiyam also said police had collected chairs, sofas and weapons from places where gangs lived, to stop gang members congregating, storing them in the police tow yard.

He said the special operation to protect Male’ from gang violence would not to be stopped until the city became a peaceful place.

Meanwhile, a group of NGOs including the Maldivian Detainee Network, Transparency Maldives, Rights for All, Strength of Society, Maldives Aid, Madulu, Democracy house and NGO Federation released a statement condemning the recent rise in gang violence in Male’.

The NGO’s reported that police statistics show that during last year there were 12 murder cases reported to police and 11 of them were sent to Prosecutor General’s office.

The NGOs called on the president and parliament to pass the necessary bills as soon as possible to avoid gang violence.

They furthermore called on the government institutions concerned with gang crime to fulfill their responsibilities.


Custodial abuse sparks Cabinet clamp down on “culture of torture”

Cabinet has appointed a committee to reform the Maldives Police Service (MPS) after allegations that the institution continues to have a “culture of police torture”.

The committee includes the Attorney General Husnu Suood, Minister of Human Resources, Youth and Sports Hassan Latheef, and Minister of Tourism Arts and Culture, Dr Ahmed Ali Sawad, a human rights lawyer. The Cabinet also elected to appoint Minister of State Principal Collector of Customs Mohamed Aswan as Minister of State for Home Affairs, giving him a mandate to reform the police service.

The decision to form the committee was made following the new government’s first emergency cabinet meeting, held on Saturday shortly after DhiTV aired a story showing six men claiming they had been arrested and tortured in Atolhuvei detention centre. The men, several of whom displayed bruises to the TV station, alleged that police kept them face down, cuffed their hands and feet behind them, tied the cuffs and jumped on them.

The president’s press secretary Mohamed Zuhair said the decision to form the committee was not made “in response to a particular incident”, and was instead an attempt to implement reform after public complaints about the culture of the police force.

“All the cabinet ministers appointed to the committee are lawyers and will listen to any allegations and those made by the police as well,’ he said, adding that the committee would act “as a bridge” by speeding up the resolution of existing complaints.

Clash with PIC

Shahindha Ismail from the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) and former head of the Maldivian Detainee Network said she was unaware of why the committee was set up “because the police integrity commission has a mandate to investigate everything the committee was set up to do. They are duplicating our work.”

The PIC had “more powers by law [than cabinet] to conduct investigations,” she said. “I wish the government would give more thought to letting the PIC carry out its mandate. Right now we are stuck because of our financial difficulties, we have to go to the finance ministry for everything. We’ve sent reports on this to the president, because if the government want us to do our job they have to allow us to do it.”

Shahindha said while no one had made a complaint to the PIC, she “has a slight idea” that cabinet’s response was due to six people who were alleging they had been beaten in custody.

“When police took them to the criminal court to extend their detention periods [two] showed the judge marks and bruises on their bodies, saying they were beaten,” Shahindha said.

“My sense is that the beatings were quite severe because the judge apparently ordered them to be released because he felt they were not safe in the hands of the police – upon their release they contacted the media while they were in hospital.

“The original arrests were related to the physical sexual harrassment of women, and these people are no longer in police custody,” she added.

Shahindha said she had asked police for an official report into the matter “but they have not submitted it.”

Police spokesman Sergeant Ahmed Shiyam said the MPS was not commenting at this stage.

“A culture of torture”?

The government’s decision was surprising not only because it risked duplicating the work of the PIC, but because “these [beatings] appear to happen every day. I don’t know what’s special about this incident, I’m guessing the beatings were very severe,” Shahindha said.

Incidents of police brutality were usually confined to a minority of field officers, she said.

“I wouldn’t call it a culture any more. We find during our investigations that senior police are unware of what goes on in the field as to brutality. The problem is that some of the field officers are still carrying it around. It has reduced quite a lot, but now they do it inside and don’t let people see, unlike during the demonstrations when police used to beat people in broad daylight. Now it happens either in police vehicles or detention centres.”

She was positive about the appointment of Aswan to the new role of State Minister for Home Affairs, “although I would like to know more about the committee’s mandate.”

Zuhair said the committee’s aim was police reform following “public complaints about the culture of the force”, and “nothing to do with police integrity.”

For his part, Aswan said he had only just taken up the new post after being on holiday for two weeks and was still gathering information. The appointment was “sudden”, he said, adding that while he believed his law enforcement experience would be very valuable for his new role, he had “mixed feelings” about leaving his customs portfolio.