101 offenders complete Drug Court’s rehabilitation programme

Some 101 drug offenders have completed the Drug Court’s rehabilitation programme as of last week, the court has revealed.

These include 36 cases submitted by the National Drug Agency (NDA) of individuals serving jail sentences for criminal convictions prior to the enactment of the new Drugs Act, and 48 cases transferred from the Criminal Court, the Drugs Court explained in a statement on Thursday (April 10).

In addition, 17 cases were submitted by the Prosecutor General’s Office.

While 101 offenders successfully completed the court-mandated rehabilitation programme, the court noted that 37 individuals were ejected from the programme for various reasons and transferred to the custody of the Maldives Correctional Services to serve their jail sentences.

Drug offenders brought before the court are handed jail sentences that are then suspended subject to completion of the rehabilitation programme.

Since it began hearing cases in August 2012, the Drug Court has ordered 524 individuals to undergo rehabilitation.

Speaking at a ceremony held earlier this month to commemorate the second anniversary of the court, Acting Chief Judge Mahaz Ali expressed concern with the rehabilitation facilities available in the Maldives.

The NDA informed the Drug Court in April last year that all rehabilitation centres in the country were at full capacity, Mahaz revealed.

The main community centre in Malé was at full capacity at the start of this month, he noted, and could not accept more patients.

On April 1, a 24-year-old man was found dead in a residence in the capital Malé less than 24 hours after his release from the Himmafushi rehabilitation centre.

Police have since confirmed to Minivan News that the recovering addict – Mohamed Rashad from Haa Dhaal Kulhudhufushi – died of a heroin overdose.

A “high concentration of opium and benzodiazepine” was found in the urine of the deceased, police said.

According to Rashad’s family, he was released from the rehabilitation centre the day before his death.

“Mohamed was released yesterday, and he was staying with a friend at Annaarumaage until the community centre could make arrangements,” Rashad’s uncle was quoted as saying by Sun Online.

“His friend was there when I went to the house, who told me that Mohamed was still sleeping when he woke up. When we went and checked, he was dead.”

NDA CEO Ahmed Muneer explained to the online news outlet that patients undergoing community treatment upon release from rehab were required to attend several classes.

Recovering addicts were required to stay in Malé until the process could be completed, Muneer said.

Policy shift

The Drug Court was formed under the new Drugs Act passed by parliament in December 2011 as part of a policy shift away from taking a punitive approach against small-scale drug offences.

Cases of drug users or pedlars caught with less than three grams of illicit narcotics were to be handled by the specialised court.

In May 2012, former State Minister for Health Lubna Zahir Hussain explained to Minivan News that the new court would address concerns over a “lack of awareness” amongst some Criminal Court Judges over the use of forensic evidence.

“Under previous legislation, the role of forensics was not taken into account during a trial. Even in cases where a [suspect’s] urine test was shown to be positive for illegal drugs, if they continued to deny they were a drug user, courts in the past have taken the decision not to prosecute,” she said.

“Criminal court judges have not been fully aware of forensic evidence. The Drug Court however will have five judges well trained to deal with these types of cases.”

report released in late 2011 by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) asserted that 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 to author and UNDP Programme Specialist Naaz Aminath, small-time drug users in their early 20s “are not hard-core criminals, but they’re put away for almost their entire lives,” while drug traffickers serve an average sentence of 25 years.


President reconstitutes board of National Drug Agency

President Abdulla Yameen has reconstituted the board of the National Drug Agency, naming newly appointed Deputy Minister of Gender and Health Mohamed Mahir as the Chair.

In addition to Mahir, Deputy Youth Minister Naif Shaukath, President’s Office Legal Affairs Secretary Aishath Bisham, Ministry of Home Affairs Executive Director Hamid Yoosuf, Minstry of Education Director General Fathimath Azza, Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) Lieutenant Colonel Dr. Ali Shahid Mohamed, Maldives Police Services (MPS) Chief Inspector Mohamed Rasheed, Assistant Commissioner of Customs Aminath Rasheedha, Deputy Controller of Immigration Abdulla Waheed, and Mohamed Zubair from Journey – a non-governmental organization working against drug abuse – constitute the board.


Week in review: October 12 – 25

The past fortnight has been dominated by the build up to, and the fallout from, the re-scheduled presidential elections. Due to take place on October 19, the poll was delayed at the eleventh hour when police blocked the removal of documents from the Elections Commission (EC).

The police’s decision – later criticised by the Human Rights Commission as well as the EC – came after the EC had been unable to obtain the signatures of the candidates as mandated by the Supreme Court for the completion of the voter registry.

Both Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and Jumhooree Party (JP) candidates had broken off contact with the EC, just as the commission neared completion of a frantic drive to re-register over 70,000 voters in less than two weeks.

The EC’s efforts were further placed in jeopardy by the court’s maintenance that any concerns regarding fingerprint verification must be addressed – a task that the commission maintained was beyond its capacity.

Re-registration was made harder still when PPM and supporters of its coalition ally the Maldivian Development Alliance (MDA) caused chaos in the re-registration queues after a systems malfunction. The police were again criticised by the EC for failing to come to its aid in a timely manner, with Chair Fuwad Thowfeek (fore-)telling Minivan News “there are people who want to block this vote”.

The police subsequently defended its role in delaying the election.

JP and PPM officials re-surfaced in the afternoon prior to the polling date to state that they would not sign the register without further verification – of 10 and 5 percent of fingerprints, respectively – before both parties returned to the Supreme Court, requesting the further delay of polls.

When the court failed to accede to these requests, the police obliged, prompting the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) to take to the streets in a peaceful sit-down protest that covered the length of Male’s main thoroughfare and beyond. In a rousing speech MDP candidate Mohamed Nasheed vowed to “establish good governance in the Maldives”.

Two nights of these protests followed, as did meetings between the EC and political parties, before the election was moved to November 9 – with a potential run-off scheduled for the 16th. The Supreme Court, however, has already deemed that its prior guidelines must be followed to the letter.

After deciding to withdraw his own candidacy for the new poll, President Waheed publicly expressed his doubt over credibility of the scheduled October 19 vote.  Waheed also stated his refusal to acknowledge the five percent vote he had received in the first (annulled) poll.

In his latest foray into Maldivian politics, British businessman Richard Branson revealed this week that he had been on the verge of writing to Waheed to congratulate him on his handling of the democratic process before the vote’s deferral.

Waheed’s calls, the day before the scheduled vote, for parties to cease obstructing polling fell on deaf ears, as have his calls for conciliation. Waheed suggested to Indian media that he would threaten to resign if necessary, a sentiment strongly supported by Nasheed.

Fierce rhetoric has refused to abate in the aftermath of the cancelled vote, with the two presidential coalitions launching attacks on the EC, after having focused on one another prior to the 19th.

JP presidential candidate and MP Gasim Ibrahim called for the Majlis to declare a state of emergency in order to pursue criminal charges against the EC and Chair Fuwad Thowfeek – whose superhuman efforts prompted an outpouring of support from the public.

Meanwhile, the prospect of the court invalidating Nasheed’s candidacy altogether remains on the table as PPM council member Ibrahim ‘Wadde’ Waheed refused to defer to the requests of his leaders and withdraw his court case.

The MDP – who now enjoy a Majlis majority with the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) – tabled multiple no-confidence motions against senior cabinet members, as well as legislation to ensure the orderly transition of power from the executive to the speaker should the presidential term end (on November 11) without a successor having been chosen.

This flurry of activity in the legislature prompting the Supreme Court to fast-track the suspension of two MPs on charges of decreed debt.


Aside from the elections, the police received continued criticism from Raajje TV regarding the station’s arson attack, with its chairman seeking international assistance to find the perpetrators.

One officer who failed to return from accompanying the ballot box to the UK was caught out on social media as he tweeted about his attendance at Arsenal’s Champions League game this week.

Following a suicide in Male’ in a location frequented by drug users, the National Drug Agency warned of a potentially lethal drug in circulation.

Finally, global climate justice NGO 350.org told Minivan News this week that the recent IPCC report only strengthened the world’s need for climate justice advocates such as former President Nasheed.


National Drug Agency warns of strong illicit drug in Male’

The National Drug Agency (NDA) has issued a statement warning people of a strong illicit drug in Male’.

The NDA said that the substance has harmful effects such as seizures, breathing difficulties and that it effects the functioning of the heart leading to death.

The NDA advised people to seek the help of a doctor as soon as possible if they come across any of the stated symptoms.

The drug agency did not mention the name of the drug nor what it looked like, but stated that their free toll 1410 will provide details of the drug.

Minivan News contacted 1410 and was forwarded to the front desk where they said there was no one at the NDA who could provide details of the drug mentioned in the statement.

However, NDA Treatment Department Head Abdulla Faseeh has told local media that drug dealers have been mixing illicit drugs with depressants without considering the quantity or the type of controlled drugs they are mixing it with.

Faseeh told newspaper Haveeru that drug dealers had mixed different types of controlled prescription drugs with illicit drugs in the black market.

In March 2009, Minivan News reported a series of deaths related to heroin laced with benzodiazepine, a class of psychoactive drugs.

The combination of benzodiazepine with opiates is known to lead to coma and even death.

The 2009 deaths included a number of users committing or attempting suicide. Earlier this week, a man was reported to have hanged himself inside an unused political party campaign office.

The area was reported to have been frequented by drug addicts living in the area after the Jumhooree Party stopped conducting political activities in the area.

In February this year the first drug survey done in the Maldives was released, showing that there were an estimated 7,500 drug users in the Maldives of which the majority were young people between the ages 15 and 24.

The survey showed that cannabis was the most popular used drug, followed by alcohol and opioids. It reported that there were about 200 intravenous drug users in Male’ and 300 in the other parts of the country who are vulnerable to the spread of blood-borne diseases such as AIDS and hepatitis.

Police statistics show that drugs related offences have increased by 16.4 percent this year in comparison to last year’s figures.


Letter: National Drug Agency response to Minivan News article on National Drug Use Survey

The following letter was issued by the National Drug Agency to Minivan News February 24, 2013 in response to the story “Experts lambast results of US$2 million National Drug Use Survey” published February 20, 2013.

The National Drug Agency is highly concerned about the certain misinformation mentioned in the article named, “Experts lambast results of US$2 million National Drug Use Survey” on the 20th February 2013 online edition of Minivan News.

The information in the mentioned article was not verified by any of the concerned agencies related to the recently released National Drug Use Survey (NDUS) report, namely National Drug Agency (NDA), United Nation’s Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC) and Inova Pvt Ltd.

The NDUS research is one of the activities from among more than 35 major activities carried out over the past three years under the project named “Strengthening the national response to prevent drug abuse in the Maldives”.

Hence the survey budget which is substantially a small amount of the overall budget of expenditure pertaining to the NDUS research, as informed by the UNODC is USD $170,000 only, for the period of two years spent on the research.

Apart from the misinformed expenditure amount, the article includes other misinformation, inaccuracies, and misinterpretations including a lot of factual errors.

National Drug Agency remains concerned of the message portrayed due to misinformation, and urge Minivan News to verify and substantiate information received before it is published. The NDA recognize the influence of media and reiterate the importance of presenting unbiased and factual information.

In this regard, National Drug Agency would like to take this opportunity to invite Minivan News to clarify the facts and information related to the National Drug Use Survey (NDUS) and bring about the necessary corrections to the factual errors and the misinformation mentioned in the article stated above.

Thanking you.

Yours Sincerely,

Lubna Mohamed Zahir Hussain

Lubna Mohamed Zahir Hussain is State Minster for Health and the Chairperson of the National Drug Agency

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


Experts lambast results of US$170,000 million National Drug Use Survey

A survey published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and Maldivian National Drug Agency (NDA) has claimed there are 7496 drug users in the Maldives.

According to the findings of the nationwide survey, 6.64 percent of people aged 15-64 in Malé and 2.02 percent in the atolls are currently using drugs, with the highest proportion of drug users aged between 15 and 19 years old.

The study also sought to determine drug use patterns, assess behavioral characteristics, and identify “community knowledge, attitudes and perceptions towards the drug problem”.

According to the study, being unmarried is considered a “risky behavior among drug users”.

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs), community based organisations (CBOs), and other stakeholders were also found to “heavily emphasise law enforcement and faith-based value systems,” as opposed to treatment and rehabilitation.

“A strong endorsement of Sharia’h law was apparent. In words of a key stakeholder, ‘Treatment alone will not yield results. It must be in conjunction with proper punishment’,” the report stated.

The survey findings also “confirmed that drug use in Maldives is predominantly a male phenomenon” and claimed the most common drugs are hash oil and brown-sugar (a heroin derivative) – known locally as theyo and hakaru, respectively.

However, key populations such as those in jail, women, and users of ‘party drugs’ were left out of the survey.

Controversial findings

Informed sources who participated in the survey process have expressed serious concerns about the “flawed methodology” of the data collection process, which they claimed had produced a final report that inaccurately and grossly underestimates drug use in the Maldives.

The number of drug users reported by the survey was extremely low compared to the number of actual users, the sources said, which previous studies had found ranged between 20,000 and 30,000 people.

“The methodologies used are flawed and do not work in the Maldivian context because of social stigmas surrounding drug use. There was no effort to develop a methodology that would be appropriate for this country context,” said a source.

The enumerators used to conduct interviews for the survey were “very young, inexperienced kids” while those with “extensive experience” in drug abuse prevention and with surveying were marginalised, sources claimed.

“No one in the Maldives will openly admit ‘I’m a drug user’ – it’s seen as a moral issue because of religious beliefs,” the sources stated.

“The survey team was getting zero numbers from some atolls. But they insisted they were using a scientific methodology and this would be corrected at a later date,” the sources explained.

“All these young people who just finished school who were used as supervisors, they were useless,” the sources alleged.

“Teenage interviewers would go to houses and ask elders if there were any drug users in the household, and of course they said no. Additionally, drug users are also very manipulative,” the sources said.

Production of the report involved 50 enumerators surveying 3500 households, 762 people, and 72 focus group discussions.

“The incentives used – 20 MVR for completing a questionnaire – targeted heroin users only. Additionally, 80 percent of incarcerated population uses drugs and they were not included in this survey,” informed sources stated.

“Furthermore, the differentiation between male and female addicts, and the exclusion of women from the survey, is not something normally done,” the sources added.

The sources claimed the National Drug Agency (NDA) was informed about the methodological flaws, however no action was taken to correct the problem.  Moreover the NDA did not set policy standards or engage in oversight and instead conduct implementation without any monitoring, they claimed.

“When this survey started two years ago, the government was informed about all these problems, but they did not give a damn about this. The purpose of all this manipulation is for political reasons. They want to show the public that the [drug abuse] problem is improving,” the sources alleged.

“The government should know what they are doing in this sector. They should know better than to use drug addiction as a political tool,” the sources stated.

Flawed findings

Expert sources involved in the survey process had strong negative reactions to many of the report’s findings.

“Being unmarried is not a risky behavior related to drug use. How did they come to this conclusion? It’s crazy!” said one informed source.

“NGOs, CBOs, and stakeholders are not in favor of punishment over treatment. NGOs changed the law to have drug abuse recognised as a disease,” they said.

New trends in drug use were excluded from the report’s focus as well.

“There are drugs that are not even mentioned in this survey coming in now, like meth, and most of the party drugs are available in the Maldives now, such as speed, ecstasy, and LSD.

“Older users are going for the heroin, while youth that are to use hashish oil are now also going for party drugs,” the sources explained.

More harm than good

The survey’s findings were “commendable”, said National Drug Agency Chairperson and State Minister for Health, Uza Lubna Mohammed Zahir Hussain, in the report’s foreword.

“The information provided by this survey without a doubt contributes to a better understanding of the nature and extent of the impact of drug abuse and this understanding will help decision makers to identify appropriate strategies to combat the problem of drug abuse in the Maldives,” Lubna stated.

However, the informed sources were distraught by the possible ramifications of the report’s “flawed” findings.

“Future plans, policies, and interventions will be designed based on this survey, which is not accurate. We know very clearly the results are wrong,” they said.

“Now for another 10 years there will not be enough funds for drug prevention and treatment. Donors will refer to the survey and think the Maldives doesn’t need any prevention or treatment programs, because the reported prevalence rate is so low,” said sources.

For example, expert sources explained there was only one rehabilitation center in the Maldives and that it is “inappropriate” for the Maldivian context, as well as understaffed. No experts in drug abuse treatment staffed the rehabilitation centre, the NDA or Health Ministry, they added.

“The NDA is running the rehab center, which employs a behavior-based program for heroin users. It doesn’t work for other types of addicts and there is no oversight. There are no beds and all the toilets are broken.

“There was a marijuana user sent for treatment. Every other day he tried to swim away from the rehab island and nearly drowned because he has  mental problems. The program didn’t match his needs,” sources stated.

Sources explained there were numerous such problems which will now be greatly exaggerated by the survey’s “false” findings.

“Already there are next to no prevention efforts, supply reduction policies, or harm reduction programs; nothing comprehensive.

“Customs and the Maldives Port Authority have no container scanning machines and no drug-sniffing dogs. Anyone can bring drugs into the country,” they said.

“Meanwhile, government policies are changing almost every day. Whenever the government involves themselves in this sector they do harm, not good,” the sources lamented.

Sources claim that government policies under the last three administrations have been “ad hoc” and worsened drug abuse within the Maldives. Multiple international consultants have conducted drug use assessments and their recommendations are nearly identical, yet these recommendations are never enacted as policies, the sources stated.

Minister of Health Dr Ahmed Jamsheed Mohamed also voiced concern regarding drug abuse policies. During his speech at the survey’s launch, he stated that drug abuse was the “worst enemy of development” and based on the survey’s findings, it is necessary to “take a break, take stock, and strategise”.

The National Drug Use survey was conducted between 2011 and 2012, by the UNODC, NDA, INOVA Pvt Ltd, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), in partnership with five civil society organisations. The European Union and Swedish government provided US$2,180,200 in funding.

Download the National Drug Use Survey

Clarification: The National Drug Agency (NDA) has responded to this article in a letter, published on Minivan News. According the NDA, the US$170,000 budget for the survey was “a small amount of the overall budget of expenditure pertaining to the NDUS research”, and therefore the reference in this article’s prvious headline to the total funding of US$2 million was misleading. Minivan News has clarified the headline to avoid confusion.


NDA head calls for drug smugglers to receive death penalty

National Drug Agency (NDA) Chairperson Lubna Zahir has called for individuals found to be importing illegal narcotics into the Maldives to face the death penalty, local media has reported.

Speaking on state broadcaster Television Maldives (TVM), Lubna was reported as saying  that the death penalty should be imposed for those who bring drugs into the country, adding that it needs to be in the same category as murder.

The comments were made after the recent deaths of a number of individuals who had taken a fake version of LSD circulated in the Maldives.

“We can only prevent drugs from coming into the Maldives by implementing the death penalty against them. Importing drugs is not a less serious crime,” Lubna was quoted by the Sun Online news service as telling the state broadcaster.  “One solution to this is to implement the death penalty against those who bring in drugs and commit murder.”

Lubna requested parliament to include the death penalty as the most severe punishment for drug smugglers, when passing relevant laws.


Man sentenced to 110 years in prison arrested over alcohol case

A man who was previously sentenced to 110 years in prison has been arrested in Fuvahmulah over an alcohol-related crime.

Ibrahim Usham, 23, of Greet, Fuvahmulah, was arrested at 11:15pm last night, together with a 15-year-old boy.

In an operation conducted by Fuvahmulah Police, the pair were arrested while producing alcohol in a vacant house in Hoadhandu district in Fuvamulah, police said.

Police found equipment used to produce alcohol at the house, including a 20-litre plastic barrel and a 1.5 litre coke bottle containing a substance suspected to be alcohol.

According to police, Usham had been serving his sentence under DPRS when he was handed over to the National Drug Agency upon the agency’s request in March 2011.

Police said that Usham was previously arrested on September 7 2012 in relation to a sexual misconduct case, at which time he also tested positive for drugs.

Further arrests were made at ‘chaka bin’ in Fuvamulah after four adults and two minors were found to be producing alcohol.

Police said that Usham was serving his sentence under DPRS when he was handed over to the National Drug Agency upon the Agency’s request in March 2011, for further treatment.

Police informed that Usham was also arrested on 7 September 2012 in relation to a sexual misconduct case, at which time he also tested positive for drugs.

Four adults and two minors were also arrested while producing alcohol at ‘chaka bin’ in Fuvahmulah yesterday evening.