Government appoints foreign secretary, state minister, deputy ministers

President Abdulla Yameen has appointed individuals to additional political positions this week.

Dr. Ali Naseer Mohamed has been appointed as Foreign Secretary. He was previously serving as Additional Secretary at the Foreign Ministry.

Jumhooree Party’s council member Fuad Gasim – who remains a State Minister – has been transferred from Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture to Ministry of Health and Gender.

The President also appointed three new Deputy Ministers.

Fathimath Inaya has been appointed to the post of Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs. She formerly served as Joint Secretary in the same ministry.

Mohamed Mahir has been appointed as Deputy Minister of Health and Gender.

Dr. Aishath Muneeza has been appointed as Deputy Minister of Islamic Affairs. She studied for a doctorate in law at International Islamic University of Malaysia.


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.”


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.