Umar Naseer questioned by police over MNDF “gate shaking”

Vice president of the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Umar Naseer was yesterday summoned to police headquarters for questioning about his involvement in the protest outside the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) base and president’s residence on 28 January.

Sub Inspector Ahmed Shiyam said Naseer was summoned at 3pm ”for questioning regarding his shaking of MNDF’s gate.”

He said the police were currently investigating the case and ”can’t give out more details”.

MNDF Major Ibrahim Afsal also said he could not comment on the issue because police were investigating the case.

However, Press Secretary for the President’s Office Mohamed Zuhair claimed Umar Naseer’s shaking of the gates showed he was illegally trying to enter president’s official residence and the MNDF base.

”It was not a peaceful protest,” Zuhair said, saying Naseer’s actions appeared on CCTV footage of the incident.

”The police are now investigating the case, so we better not say anything yet,” he said.

Naseer acknowledged he was taken to the police yesterday.

He said the police questioned him whether he shook the gates of MNDF and president’s residence, and ”I said I did, and I still do.”

Naseer said he shook the gates of MNDF to “enter there and make the MNDF take part in our protest.”

“Their main reason for [summoning] me was to shut down the opposition demonstration,” he said. ”That night we did not commit any crimes.”

Spokesman for DRP and also the party’s Vice President Ibrahim Shareef said the government had now started arresting protesters.

”They said protesting was fine before they came to administration,” Shareef said, ”and now that they have got the administration they have started arresting protesters.”

Shareef claimed he remembers a time when president Mohamed Nasheed used to come out for protests and shake the gate of former president’s residence Theemuge.

”The police should investigate that case as well,” he said.

Spokesman for the Maldivian Democrartic Party (MDP) Ahmed Haleem said the party would not comment.


Government to shut down temporary jail at Gan

The government will shut down the temporary jail at the Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) base on Gan in Addu atoll.

The Gan jail was set up to accommodate prisoners after inmates at Maafushi jail started a fire and damaged several buildings last year. The arrangement came under criticism following complaints that prisoners were being kept in ‘cages’ and denied human rights, including contact with their families and basic necessities such as soap and clothes. In addition, the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) expressed concern that the jail was using military personnel to handle the civilian prisoners.

Press secretary for the president’s office Mohamed Zuhair said all inmates will be transferred from Gan to jails in Male’ atoll ”within the week”.

He said that some of the inmates would be getting parole while others would get to participate in rehabilitation programs.

”We have decided to shut down the jail for many reasons,” Zuhair said. ”As the government said, it was only a temporary jail.”

However Director General of the Department of Penitentiary and Rehabilitation Service (DPRS) Mohamed Rasheed said the department ”has not formally announced the closing of Gan jail” and that it was still operating.

”There are some inmates who have been transferred to Male’ for house arrest,” he said. ”They are people who have reasons, such as medical treatment.”

He refused to divulge further information, stating that “we cannot give full details about the jail and inmates.”

State Minister for Home Affairs Ahmed Adil said the home ministry could not add anything to what the DPRS had said, but noted only 39 inmates were left at the Gan jail.

HRCM spokesman Mohamed Rilwan said the commission had not officially received any information about the jail’s closure, and was not sure of the reasons as to why the government had decided to close it.

The organisation has previously visited the jail and expressed concern that inmates may have been treated “like prisoners of war” rather than civilian prisoners by the jail’s military staff.

“We have no problem with the MNDF guarding the perimeter [of the prison], but direct contact with the inmates should be by civil authorities. MNDF personnel will treat the inmates like prisoners-of-war, not criminals,” said HRCM President Ahmed Saleem at the time.

Saleem added that the prisoners were at the temporary prison because some inmates set fire to the Maafushi jail, and “there wasn’t enough space there. We don’t want to release them, but they need to be treated humanely.”

Brigadier General Ibrahim Mohamed Didi, in charge of the Gan MNDF base, responded to criticism of the jail by acknowledging that “this is a military training base, not a proper jail. We can’t provide facilities to the inmates for things such as family visits. As for matters such as toilets, we are doing the best we can, but they have to remember this is a military base and we can’t give them five star service.”

He noted that “the reason they are here is because they burnt the jail [at Maafushi], and a place was needed to keep them temporarily. This place was chosen,” he said.

A follow-up report on the jail is due to be published by HRCM soon.


PA claims government was warned about Maafushi protest

The People’s Alliance (PA) has claimed the government was aware of a possible protest in Maafushi jail over prison conditions, but did not take any action.

Last year on 13 October inmates set fire on some of the cells and caused serious damage to the jail. Two staff jail were badly injured during the protest, along with several inmates.

Because of the damage to the jail caused by the inmates parts of the jail were no longer usable, and after the incident some of the inmates were transferred to a makeshift ‘cage’ prison at Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) base at Gan in Addu atoll. The temporary arrangement recently drew criticism for its use of military personnel to handle civilian prisoners.

PA MP Abdul Azeez Jamal Abubakur claimed the government was aware of the situation at Maafushi jail after it was sent a letter by Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM), warning of a possible incident, but chose to ignore it.

”I’m saying this based on a report published by HRCM,” he said, claiming the letter was sent on 30 December following a visit to the jail by the commission.

”We cannot do anything more than inform people about these things,” he said, adding that he was not sure why the government had ignored the warning.

”It seems as though there are people more powerful than the president in this government,” he said.

However press secretary for president’s office Mohamed Zuhair disputed Jamal’s claims.

Zuhair said the government had been watching the jails very closely, and ”if we had received information that such a thing was going to happen, would you believe we would wait without taking any action?” he replied.

”These are just people trying to gain fame in politics,” he said.

Jamal said he does not believe Zuhair, saying “he would not know what he is talking about.”

President of HRCM Ahmed Saleem said Jamal’s claims might be in a report, “but I cannot say whether they are true or not.”