The Maldivian justice system works on a somewhat ‘He who smelt it dealt it’ routine. Criminal law, procedure or policy is drastically lacking, with personal reputation, political affiliation and physical appearance forming the basis for arrest, and in some circumstances: conviction. T
The country relies, heavily, on the two witness rule, lacks any institution dealing with forensic science and allows incompetent judges to interpret the Quran. The word ‘warrant’ does not even exist in the Maldivian criminal dictionary and ‘probable cause’ or ‘rights’ are alien concepts to local police. When one party lodges a complaint with the police, the opposing party immediately takes the role of defendant; being arrested at the police’s pleasure and held for lengthy periods of time without charge. This is what they call the ‘investigation period’ which may only be performed whilst the accused is in custody. Point the finger at someone you claim smelt it and the police will assume he dealt it.
I am not politically affiliated. My cause, more or less, has been the Rule of Law and I am not aware that any government in the Maldives, be it dictatorship or elected has gone a long way to implement it.
Within the first few weeks of being in Hinnavaru as a volunteer teacher, a boy was placed under house arrest by the police for 14 days. This was 2009 and the first democratically elected government was in power. The police claimed the accused had intoxicated a minor and served as judge and jury in convicting him of the crime; even though no witnesses came forward and the minor’s toxicology report was negative. I screamed bloody murder in the police station; I showed vehemence and flashed a printed copy of my law degree under their noses to no avail. They cared nothing for they believed in the power they possessed.
Months later I, myself, had a brush with the law when I was hauled down to a Male’ police station in a case of domestic disturbance (or so I suppose since I was not told why I was escorted to the station).
Whilst moving from my flat, my boyfriend, who had come over to help me pack, and I made some noise which upset the landlady’s brother. He burst into my room in a rage and held a screwdriver to my boyfriend’s neck. In a twist of events, his sister, my landlady, called the police. My shirtless boyfriend was escorted out of the building by officers and I was asked to come with them to the police station. The treatment offered him and I was vastly different; him being seen as the dark skinned aggressor with yellow eyes and I the British national working at a local TV station.
We were questioned separately, I again waved my printed degree in their faces and we were allowed to leave. Screwdriver boy was never questioned on his role in the incident; his side called the police first, hence he would be the victim evermore.
Some weeks later, whilst I was visiting Hinnavaru, my boyfriend was dragged off to Naifaru jail, under court order, to face charges for a crime; he had, allegedly committed 8 years earlier. The whole case was based on the hear say evidence of young men who claimed my boyfriend had assaulted them. The two boys lodged the complaint against him with the police and also served as the two requisite witnesses in their own case.
The irony was hardly lost on me. I again screamed bloody murder and dragged myself across Male’ spewing words like ‘arbitrary arrest’, ‘statute of limitations’, ‘rule of law’ and ‘reading of rights’. My words were considered worthy of Thilafushi. My boyfriend was exonerated as the witnesses recanted from their earlier statements in court. The Prosecutor could have saved everyone time, money and heartbreak if he had even bothered to check in with his star witnesses.
Recently I started to hear of strange happenings on my old island of Hinnavaru. Boys found on the street after 10pm are arrested, taken over to the local station and coerced into peeing in a cup. They need no warrant and no probable cause. The police has imposed an un-official curfew and breaking it means they have access to fluid from your person. Young boys are arrested every night and this is not hear say. It is on-going.
On 31 July my boyfriend was arrested for allegedly ordering an assault on a young man, who was brutally beaten earlier in the day and hospitalised.
The victim claims that although my boyfriend was not present during the incident, he is sure the attack was ordered by him. In this case he doesn’t even claim that the fart was dealt, but that my boyfriend must have provided the beans. The police did not think to question him as would be customary to do in such a situation, but arrested him and took him over to Naifaru jail. I have no idea how long he will be there or how long this ‘investigation’ will continue.
The worst part is; no matter what the outcome, the trial shall not be held for years to come, but this arrest will hang over his head until such a date. People in the Maldives do not have criminal records; rather they have what is called a ‘police report.’ One may not have a job or travel abroad whilst their police report states they are awaiting trial.
In the Maldives, you are not innocent until proven guilty; you are guilty until the slow machine called the justice system, chugs itself out of the hole it resides in. I hear the cries of a corrupt judiciary and I find myself nodding in acquiescence for I have seen this corruption. I plead to the government of the day or those incumbent to pay more attention to the Rule of Law, however. Arbitrary arrests, incompetent police officers and mainly the lack of a criminal code are as responsible if not more so for the death of justice.
My favourite time in the Maldives was the month of Ramadan. For this one month, the air was tranquil, gossip at an all time low, children played on the streets into the wee hours of the morning and prejudice desisted. Whether you were an old, gossipy jolifathi lady, a jagah boy, a shop vendor or politician you just got on and enjoyed the month. I hate to think of this month as the month of arrests; it unnerves me.
Lubna Awan was formerly a volunteer teacher on the island of Hinnavaru.
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