BBC team detained, tortured by Gaddafi forces

Three BBC journalists covering the civil unrest in Libya were arrested and tortured by forces loyal to President Muammar Gaddafi, before being subjected to a mock execution.

Soldiers fired shots past the heads of the journalists, and they were made to wear hoods and told they were to be killed. At one stage the journalists were held in a cage while Libyan captives around them them were tortured. All journalists were in the country with permission of the Libyan government.

Describing the other prisoners, Turkish cameraman Goktay Koraltan said “I cannot describe how bad it was. Most of them were hooded and handcuffed really tightly, all with swollen hands and broken ribs. They were in agony. They were screaming.”

UK national Chris Cobb-Smith said the three journalists were lined up facing a wall while a man put a submachine gun next to their necks and pulled the trigger.

A Palestinian reporter for BBC Arabic, Feras Killani, was interrogated and then taken to a carpark where he was beaten with a pipe and a long stick. Killani then had a mask taped to his face through which he struggled to breathe.

After the BBC and the UK Foreign Office intervened, a Libyan man “who spoke perfect Oxford English” arrived and signed the paperwork to release the three reporters.

“They took us to their rest room. It was a charm offensive, packets of cigarettes, tea, coffee, offers of food,” the reporters said.

The BBC team had been covering a battle 30 miles from the Libyan capital when they were arrested at a checkpoint.


17 year-old claims he was beaten by 22 police officers behind stadium

Police are investigating reports of a person being beaten in police custody, after a 17 year-old boy told Minivan News he was arbitrarily arrested on Boduthakurufaanu Magu on Saturday night before being driven in a police vehicle to a dark spot near Male’s artificial beach where he was violently beaten by officers with batons.

The 17 year-old told Minivan News that he had been on the phone in front of a police officer’s house earlier that day, before the officer came out of the building and confronted him.

“I did not answer him and asked him to wait, as I was on the phone,” he said. “Later that night, while I was on Boduthakurufaanu Magu near the ‘Ekuveni Stadium’ in Galolhu, I saw police officers searching for me with a picture of me in their hands.”

As soon as he neared the stadium, all the police officers jumped on him and locked him inside police vehicle, he claimed.

”They said I had tried to attack a police officer by waiting near his house, and said I was not to threaten the police. They took me near artificial beach,” he said.

”It was around midnight when we reached the beach. All of the officers got out of the police bus and took me to a dark area near ”Andhiri Stage” [literally ‘Dark Stage’- a stage formally used to perform music shows but now unused].

The 17 year-old said the squad, consisting of “around 22″ police officers then started beating him simultaneously with their batons.

”They kept saying that it was what someone would get for trying to attack police,” he explained. ”They kept beating me until they received an urgent call to attend a fight that was occurring near Bandeyrikoshi, so they took me with them to the crime scene in the police bus.”

He said that one of the groups involved in the fighting had fled before the police arrived, but that the other group attacked police while he was kept inside the vehicle.

”They arrested some of the boys and drove to drop them off to police custodial,” he said. ”They were planning to drop them off and take me back to the artificial beach to beat me again.”

However, when the bus reached police custodial, the 17 year-old said he jumped out of the bus and ran inside the building, where he begged for help from a Serious and Organised Crime (SOC) officer who was on duty at the time.

”He told me to stay inside the interview room, then went outside and shouted at the police officers who had attacked me and told them that they couldn’t touch me again,” he said.

The boy said he went to meet President Mohamed Nasheed last night during the launch of a campaign office for an MDP candidate ahead of the local council elections, and told him what had happened to him.

”He was shocked to hear what the police officers told me inside the vehicle – they said they would make the people turn  against ‘Anni’ (the President’s nickname) and would make citizens run after him with swords,” the boy alleged.

The boy said he had attended hospital for treatment and an X-ray of his injuries, where doctors discovered his spine had suffered internal injuries.

Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam confirmed that police had received reports of a person who was tortured while in police custody, and were now investigating the incident.


19 year-old alleges torture in police custody

A 19 year-old has alleged that he was arbitrarily arrested near his home on Monday night and tortured in police custody.

Ali Shuaib, 19, showed Minivan News bruises and swelling on his leg, hand and nose.

“Police arrested me while I was waiting near my house to have a chat with my friend,’’ he explained. “While waiting there, before the police squad arrived, we saw a group of people fleeing; we did not knew what was going on and we did not pay much attention.’’

Shuaib claimed a squad of police officers arrived after a short while and told him not to move.

“Unaware of the situation, I stayed calm, they came and checked me, told me I was clear and had nothing with me,’’ he said. “But they said their superiors had ordered them to detain me for 23 hours and they handcuffed me and took me to Galolhu Police Station first.’’

At the Galolhu Police Station, he continued, police officers filled his detention form and transferred him to the ‘Atholhuvehi’ custodial in Male’.

‘’While I was there, a police lance corporal came and asked ‘what the hell I was doing there’. His voice was aggressive and he spoke rudely,’’ he claimed. “I told him it was none of his business because police custodial is not his property.’’

After some verbal sparring, Shuaib claimed that the police officer hit him in the face.

“I hit back and fought in my defence,” he said. “A while later the whole duty shift came and attacked me, they hit me in the chest and back with their ankles, hit my foot with a tin trash can.

“Then when I was almost unconscious they put me in solitary confinement, handcuffed in a cross position with both hands and feet locked together. They even stepped on my back and pressed hard while I was kept in that position.”

The next duty shift came in after about two hours, he continued, and removed the handcuffs and transferred Shuaib to another cell after offering him water and medication.

“When I was released from the handcuffs I could hardly breathe; the next duty shift came and gave me water and poured water on my head and kept me on a chair till I felt better,’’ he said.

Shuaib was released without being presented to court.

“It is very common now, police arrest any person they wish and keep them in custody for 23 hours,” he claimed.

According to the Constitution of the Maldives, any person detained should be presented to court within 24 hours of arrest.

Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam told Minivan News today that if such a case was filed with the police, “police will investigate the case applying professional standards and take necessary action.’’

Shiyam said if Shuaib was not confident with the police he could file the case with the Police Integrity Commission. No case had been lodged, he said.

Shuaib was recently arrested on suspicion of crimes including murder, robbery and assault, but was released without charge.

Press Secretary for the President Mohamed Zuhair said that custodial torture is “strictly prohibited” by the president.

“It is not something that should happen, and there are many ways [Shuaib] could pursue the case,” Zuhair said. “He could file the case at the Human Rights Commission, and Police Integrity Commission, and the case would be investigated.’’

On July 15, police and the Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) arrested almost 60 people, including minors, in a joint special operation to curb escalating gang violence in the capital.

Many of those who were arrested  in the special operation alleged that they were mistreated and abused during their arrest and detention.


Umar Naseer cannot overthrow government, responds Reeko Moosa

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)  MP ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik has hit back at Deputy Leader of the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), Umar Naseer, who earlier warned that the party would topple the government if former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was handled “outside the chart”.

“Outside the chart” was a phrase used by President Nasheed that has been widely interpreted by the opposition as “acting outside the Constitution”, ostensibly in his detention of the Gayoom’s brother and People’s Alliance MP Abdulla Yameen on charges of treason and bribery, after he was released by the court.

Naseer’s heated rhetoric came in response to Nasheed’s speech at the launch of historian Ahmed Shafeeg’s book, which alleging that 111 Maldivian citizens were held in custody and tortured by the former administration.

Naseer warned that if Gayoom was handled “outside the chart”, “the next day we will file a no-confidence motion against the President and we will make it the end of his regime.”

Reeko responded that the opposition coalition DRP and People’s Alliance (PA), led by the former president’s half brother Abdulla Yameen, would find it impossible to overthrow or topple Nasheed’s government, “inside or outside the parliament.”

“No matter how many times Umar warns that this government can be overthrown if the president acts outside of the chart with regard to the former president, MDP is the only party that has the capability to overthrow a government by going out on the streets, or achieve anything,’’ Moosa said.

He added that in the event of a trial concerning torture allegations against the former government then Naseer – a former police officer – might be also investigated himself, alleging that he “is a person famous for taking part in the tortures [conducted] by the former administration.”

“Umar is a person attempting to destroy one party after the other,’’ Moosa alleged. “Now he’s trying to create aggression inside DRP, and divide the party.”

Naseer did not respond to Minivan News at time of press.


Don’t you dare touch Maumoon, Umar Naseer tells President

Deputy leader of the main opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Umar Naseer has warned President Mohamed Nasheed against putting “one step outside  of the chart” in his handling of former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Naseer, who has recently faced factional difficulties within his own party after it voted to send him before the DRP disciplinary committee, threatened that Nasheed did so, “it will be the end of his regime.”

President Nasheed spoke yesterday at the launch of historian Ahmed Shafeeg’s book alleging that 111 Maldivian citizens were held in custody and tortured by the former administration.

Nasheed stressed that Gayoom alone could not be blamed for all the human rights abuses that occurred under his watch.

“It was not done by him alone. It was a whole system that did it. It was Dhivehi tradition that did it. It was Dhivehi culture that did it,” he said.

Nasheed’s use of the phrase “outside the chart” in an earlier speech has been widely interpreted by the opposition as “acting outside the Constitution”, ostensibly in his detention of the Gayoom’s brother and People’s Alliance MP Abdulla Yameen on charges of treason and bribery, after he was released by the court.

Naseer said that if Nasheed acted in such a fashion with Gayoom, “there will be consequences.”

‘’We have seen Nasheed arrest some of our leaders and MPs, out of the chart,’’ Umar said. “We waited patiently and tried to set them free smoothly, and eventually we made the President release them.’’

Gayoom was a different matter, he suggested.

‘’The next day we will file a no-confidence motion against the President and we will make it the end of his regime,’’ Umar said. “Rephrase: do not touch our beloved honorary leader out of the chart.’’

While the opposition has a parliamentary majority and has dismissed former Auditor General Ibrahim Naeem with a majority vote, it presently lacks the two-thirds majority it would require to dismiss Nasheed or Vice President Mohamed Waheed Hassan. However the government has previously accused the opposition of attempting to buy the cooperation of MDP MPs.

Speaking at a rally yesterday, Naseer also strongly criticised the president for climbing onto the roof of the president’s residence to install solar panels.

‘’I wasn’t astonished to see how fast he climbed up the roof, because he is a pro-tree climber,’’ he said.


“If you want to sue Shafeeg, you’ll have to sue me,” President tells Gayoom

President Nasheed has promised that the Maldives Police Service will investigate claims made by local historian Ahmed Shafeeg in his book, that 111 Maldivian citizens were held in custody and tortured by the former administration.

The claims led former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom to declare that he would file a court case against Shafeeg for politically-motivated slander.

Spokesman for the former president, Mohamed Hussain ‘Mundhu’ Shareef, did not respond to Minivan News at time of press. However the former president’s lawyer, Mohamed Waheed Ibrahim, was cited in newspaper Miadhu as saying that lawsuits would be filed “against anyone who writes anything untrue and unfounded against Gayoom”, and that all such cases so far had been won.

During a ceremony at the Nasandhura Palace Hotel this morning to launch Shafeeg’s book, titled “A Day in the Life of Ahmed Shafeeg”, Nasheed observed that the former President was not solely to blame for human rights violations.

“The [human rights] violations were not committed by Gayoom alone. A whole system committed them. The whole culture of the Maldives committed them,” he said.

Shafeeg, now 82, was held in solitary confinement for 83 days in 1995 together with three other writers, including Hassan Ahmed Maniku, Ali Moosa Didi and Mohamed Latheef.

Shafeeg contends that 50 of his diaries containing evidence relating to the deaths of the 111 Maldivians were confiscated during a raid by 15 armed men. He was ultimately released by Gayoom with without charge, and was told by the investigating officer to write a letter of appreciation to the then-President for the pardon.

The lawyer representing Shafeeg, Abdulla Haseen, said the family intended now intended to press five charges against the former president after the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) rejected the case, claiming it was outside the commission’s mandate.

The President added that he knew the events chronicled by Shafeeg very well.

“Back then, from 1989 and 1990 onward, I spent a very long time – three years in total – in jail. Of that I spent 18 months in solitary confinement, and nine of those months in the tin cell,” he said.

All Maldivian rulers had employed fear to govern, Nasheed said, and he had always believed that Gayoom had him arrested and tortured to serve as a cautionary tale as the former president and his senior officials were already aware of the intent of “a whole generation” to topple his government since the early 80s.

“So the decision to put me through every imaginable torture in the world from the very beginning as an example to all those people was made, in my view, not because of any animosity President Maumoon had towards me personally,” Nasheed said.

He added that Gayoom alone could not be blamed for all the human rights abuses that occurred under his watch.

“It was not done by him alone. It was a whole system that did it. It was Dhivehi tradition that did it. It was Dhivehi culture that did it,” he said.

The President said said he thought that Gayoom’s decision to take legal action against the 82 year-old historian, who has lasting physical and mental damage from his ordeal, “is going beyond the limits.”

“I ask President Maumoon very sincerely and respectfully, don’t do this,” Nasheed said. “Go to Shafeeg. Go and ask for his forgiveness. This is not the time to come out and say ‘I’m going to sue Shafeeg.’ If you want to sue Shafeeg now, you will have to sue me. That is because I will repeat what Shafeeg is saying fourfold.”

Nasheed urged the former President to seek forgiveness, as he believed Gayoom had the “foresight and learning” as well as “capability and talent”, and had made “many contributions to the country.”

Together with allegations of corruption in the former administration, such as those aired by former Auditor General Ibrahim Naeem prior to his dismissal by the opposition-controlled parliament, allegations of torture remain one of the most politically divisive topics in the Maldives.

Opinions – very strongly held – oscillate between a desire for justice and a desire to move on, a desire for revenge and a desire for reconciliation.

Given the current state of the Maldives judiciary, sensitivity of the issue and extreme political polarisation of the country, it is likely that any verdict with even a remote chance of being accepted by both sides would need to come from an international court. Shafeeg’s family have indicated that they are prepared for this course of action should legal proceedings falter in the Maldives.


Boy denies charges of terrorism, robbery, assault, kidnapping and possession of pornography

A male aged under 18 has denied charges in the Juvenile Court of robbery, assault and battery, kidnapping, administering illegal drugs, and possessing a pornographic picture in his mobile phone.

Evidence presented to the Juvenile Court by the Prosecutor General’s office included a medical report of the alleged torture and seven witnesses who claimed to have seen the victim with the defendant and a group of people from different areas of Male’.

The defendant, who represented himself, denied the charges against him and requested the prosecution lawyer present evidence proving he had committed the crimes.

The prosecution lawyer presented a medical report of the victim to the court, however the defendant denied the charges saying that the medical report did not state who had carried out the torture.

The Chief Judge of the Juvenile Court Shuaib Hussain Zakariyya fined the boy Rf 666 (US$51.82) for possessing a pornographic picture in his mobile phone, and concluded the hearing saying he would declare a verdict for the case during the next hearing.

The Criminal Court this week also sentenced two other males to 10 years jail in connection with the same case.

Police arrested the underage male along with a group of men in October last year. Police alleged the group kept their victim hostage, robbed his wallet, used his cash card, and tortured him. He reportedly suffered bruises and cigarette burns to his skin.

During a police press conference regarding the case last October, police claimed the kidnappers kept the victim hostage before releasing him for Rf 25,000 (US$1950).

Police alleged the group called the victim’s father and demanded he pay the money for his son’s release.


Pain and politics: Torture Victims Association inaugurated

The Torture Victims Association (TVA) held its inaugural meeting last night, following its founding in January 2010 by Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik, State Minister for Foreign Affairs Ahmed Naseem, Tourism Minister and human rights lawyer Dr Ahmed Ali Sawad, and Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed.

Naseem, who is president of the organisation, said the organisation’s purpose was to support torture victims and “prevent these types of things from happening again in Maldives.”

He said the organisation was founded “so there is a place [torture victims] can go and talk about what happened to them, and take some solace, get some comfort.”

“[Torture] happened a lot, openly,” said Naseem, who says he was himself a victim of torture.

“It happened under several governments… through government institutions. It wasn’t the exception, it was the norm here.”

A political thing

The TVA has come under scrutiny already for being an MDP-led NGO, of which President Nasheed has just become a member.

“It’s non-governmental, and it is not a political organisation,” Naseem insisted, “it is totally egalitarian.”

Torture through silence

“At the [inaugural] meeting, there were victims who were tortured as well as people who torturered through their silence,” Sawad said. “Through their silence, they condoned a culture of torture.”

The previous government has been accused of torture, but none of the accused have been taken to court.

The first step in bringing justice to victims of torture is, according to the TVA, gathering information and evidence.

“Gathering information is the very initial stage,” Naseem said. “We also need the support of the people of this country. It’s a traumatised society. Families have been traumatised.”

Creating a historical record of torture in the Maldives, and breaking the silence, are two major steps forward, claims the TVA.

“We are the only country in the world who doesn’t have a historical record regarding this,” Naseem noted. “In the Pol-Pot regime, in Nazi Germany, in Kosovo, they know how many people were killed. But here, we don’t know. We just see in the papers that some people have been lost. That’s it.”

Dr Sawad said the entire culture of torture “has been called a myth by powerful members of our community. But it happened. With that acknowledgement, we can focus on accountability.”

Kevin Laue, a lawyer with London-based human rights NGO Redress, is working with the TVA to seek justice for victims of torture.

“Finding out what happened is key…then we can decide what needs to be done,” said Laue.


Mohamed Hussain ‘Mundhu’ Shareef, spokesman for the former president, said there has been no formal response from Gayoom to the TVA’s allegations “because they are not an entity we recognise as being worthy of response.”

“Just look at who’s in charge. When the association starts with a name like Reeko Moosa, who hates Gayoom, there is very little reason to take them seriously.”

Mundhu said the TVA wanted people to believe it is was an NGO – impartial, free of government intervention and politically unbiased – but he said suggested that it had been formed as a “political ploy… to divert people’s attention from the failures of this government.”

When asked whether the number of politicians in the Association could be a liability for the impartiality of their work, Naseem answered, “what can you do?”

“All the people who participated in the human rights movement in the Maldives are now in government, so you can’t avoid it. Some went to jail, some people were brutalised and some people died. You can’t say it’s the government, we are human beings.”

Naseem reiterated that the TVA is “not a political thing” and it only becomes political when people are looking for a “quick fix.”

“A process like this takes years,” Naseem said. “We work through the government and the judiciary, and if the government doesn’t get involved, it is much better.”

The TVA says members of the former government “cannot” admit to torture allegations because they would be tried in court, but Mundhu said that none of the “ridiculous claims of defamation of character” against former president Gayoom have held up in a court of law.

“Gayoom is the single most popular individual in this country,” he said. “The government should be ashamed of accusing him of torture.”


Dr Sawad said the TVA does not believe it was up to the government or the state to decide what would happen to the torturers.

“It’s for the victim to launch the claim and for the judicial system to decide. And we are here to facilitate that,” he explained.

He added that the TVA wants to “document and push the claims of torture within the judiciary.”

“If we believe that the claim has not been addressed through the domestic judicial system, we are prepared to take it to the next level.”

Laue said that “if [torturers] are not prosecuted [in the Maldives], we must not forget torture is a crime which is under universal jurisdiction.”

Assuming there is enough evidence, Laue claimed a perpetrator could be arrested and tried in a foreign country, extradited or sent to the International Criminal Court (ICC).


Past human rights violations ‘most difficult challenge faced’, says President

President Mohamed Nasheed has claimed that dealing with past human rights violations is one of the most difficult issues currently confronted by the government.

In a letter to the new Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, the president said the Maldives has recently emerged from a long period in which human rights “were routinely violated and in which many people, including members of the new Government, were tortured.”

“Thankfully, the country has been able to turn its back on such times and is now busy establishing itself as a modern liberal democracy with a full separation of powers and strong human rights safeguards,” the president wrote.

“One of the challenges facing the new Government as we look to consolidate democracy, rule of law and human rights is how to come to terms with the difficult episodes in our past without jeopardising our future.

“Dealing with the issue of torture, and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment is without doubt one of the more difficult issues we are confronted with, especially in our small closely-knit community. Our favoured approach is to avoid retribution and instead to recognise, come to terms with, and learn from such tragic episodes as a means of ensuring that the memory of the victims is honoured and that we avoid repeating the same mistakes.”

Bokova she is the first woman to hold the post since the foundation of UNESCO in 1945.