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Political prisoner Mohamad Zaki's submission to the Maldives Human Rights Commission
Mohamad Zaki (appointed Maldives High Commissioner to Malaysia in March 2009)
20 January 2004
translation by Maldives Culture
graphics from Internet sources

Chairman of the Maldives Human Rights Commission, Honourable Mr Ahmed Mujthaba

  mohamed zaki, Maldives political prisoner 2004
Mohamad Zaki
Maldives political prisoner 2004

The establishment of a human rights commission is a welcome sign of progress for all of us. It is a bright symbol that the political ship of Maldives is heading towards substantial democracy. Although the establishment of a commission has been much delayed, it allows us to move on from the past, and enables us to imagine a future where freedom of expression is permitted. The commission is a solid step towards protecting human rights.

The world has moved into the light of the 21st century. Human beings have come out of their caves and travelled into space. Maldivians also are required to come out of their shells into an open environment to participate in civilisation and progress. Let us all accept this reality in good faith.

As the honourable president has said in Dheenuge Magu [sermons published on the president's office website, and distributed throughout Maldives for each Friday Prayer ceremony]: 'Let us all tell the truth regardless', and 'Match words and actions' for the sake of national stability above personal interest and for the good and peace of the society. So I warmly and sincerely welcome this solid act of the honourable president. And I sincerely believe that this commission will not be inactive and simply exist in name only. I hope the commission will consider both sides of each submission, and work to establish equality.

Some people believe the commission will not do anything significant. They think the commission lacks legal authority, freedom and independence. But I believe that if the commission shows honesty and compassion, it will greatly benefit the country. In principle, I believe we should find the truth from own experience, and use our own judgment. This act of president Maumoon Gayyoom [establishing the commission] is in agreement with the times, and a much needed reform. Wishing the commission a good future, I would like to take this opportunity to express my feelings, and describe what I have suffered.

Is it a matter of pride to be a Maldivian? Or is it a misfortune? This is a question we need to address. Without doubt, I am a patriotic Maldivian. National issues are of strong interest to me, and I enjoy thinking about them. I have been surprised by the extent of political turbulence in the country. Problems have become immense. No mere painkilling tablet can cure them. There is an acute need for treatment from a good doctor.

  Ahmed Mujthaba, Maldives Human Rights Commissioner 2004
Ahmed Mujthaba
Maldives Human Rights Commissioner 2004

Since there is no outlet for expressing these thoughts, I joined two Maldivian friends to prepare a 'secret' publication. The consequences have been bitter. I have been sentenced to life imprisonment by the Maldives justice system. My entire life has been destroyed. My family has been left destitute and in despair. The future of my children is gloomy. Is being Maldivian something to be proud of? Or is it unfortunate?

I present my case. Yes, I admit I took an active part in the Internet political newsletter Sandhaanu. After what I had personally witnessed in Dhivehi society and what happened to the writers and contributors of the publications Hukuru, Sangu, Manthiri, Nooru and Iyye [during the 1990s], the newsletter had to be prepared surreptitiously because we had no other choice. Remember what happened to people like Ahmed Shafeeg and Koli Manik [aged historian Ahmed Shafeeg was tortured and crippled by the Maldives NSS in 1996]. Every Maldivian knows these incidents are the result of the intense suppression of freedom of expression in the country.

Anyway, as is customary with this government, Sandhaanu became an important issue. When they found the people who took part, the investigations began. Myself, and two other people who were involved, are now sentenced to life imprisonment with an extra year in exile. We are two years into our life sentences.

Honourable sir, my complaint is that since the start of the investigation, I have been deprived of all my basic human rights. These are not incidents that happened one or two years ago. I am still being deprived of many of my human rights, and the rights granted to me by the constitution of Maldives.

Maldives judge Abdullah Areef
Abdullah Areef

During the Sandhaanu court trials, I asked Judge Abdulla Areef in a loud voice to allow me the assistance of a lawyer. The judge's reply was that, under the relevant regulations, he could not allow legal help. I was shocked to hear from the judge a decision so blatantly contrary to the constitution. I also realised at that moment that my trial would not be conducted according to principles of Islam and the laws and regulations of Maldives. The trial was concluded as I expected.

Chapter 2, Article 16, Clause 2 of the constitution states that every person accused of a crime must be granted the help of lawyer. This is a requirement under the constitution. It is a fundamental right of every Maldivian. Any law or regulation contrary to the constitution is invalid.

I took part in the production of Sandhaanu because I believed most things in Maldives were conducted contrary to the principles of democracy, and I was unhappy about it. Maldives is my home country, and the stability or instability the country is something that concerns me. Sandhaanu examined many incidents that had taken place. Sandhaanu asserted that there was no justice or equality in the country. Isn't it a fundamental right of every Maldivian to express such views? Is there a law that defines the expression of an opinion as an act of treason? I do not believe there is a country worthy of the name that accepts such things.

Sandhaanu's motto is 'Justice and Equality – Stability for the Country'. Can the expression of such feelings, and examination of corruption in Maldives, be described as an armed attack against the country? Can it be described as a conspiracy to commit treason?

With regard to these Sandhaanu writings, on the day our sentence was pronounced (7 July 2002) the government's media announcement described the Sandhaanu Internet newsletter as a newspaper. I am at a loss to understand how the publication of a newspaper can be depicted as an act of treason. I am confused about the logic behind this. It is a mystery what philosophy lies behind this assertion, and it is contrary to human rationality.

Corruption is a criminal offence. If people commit this offence, then to accuse them of corruption is not defamation. While I have been in custody, most of the allegations made in Sandhaanu have been proven true. Among these allegations were that the police (NSS) torture people in prisons. This fact has now been exposed to the world. For years, the brutality of the prison system has been widely known in Maldives. Although it has come to the notice of the world, the reality has not been recognised by the Maldivian government.

Isthafa Ibrahim Manik and President Maumoon Gayyoom 2004
Isthafa Ibrahim Manik and President Maumoon Gayyoom 2004

For a long time, the person in charge of the prisons, the present executive director of the defence ministry Isthafa Ibrahim Manik, has been renowned for his brutal treatment of Maldivians. According to many people, Isthafa Ibrahim Manik was the 'executive director' for Abdul Hannan the former Public Safety Minister [during President Nasir's rule]. Many people believe it is Isthafa Ibrahim Manik who actually runs the Defence ministry now.

It is widely believed that the brutality of the current government is even worse than it was during Abdul Hannan's time.

Anyway, during the first week that Isthafa Ibrahim Manik was replaced as the director of the corrections department by Muizzu Adnan from Gulfaamuge house, most of the torture in the prison came to an end. Also the food in the prison improved one thousand percent. Prisoners were able to meet the chief and discuss their concerns. This is a fact that the 1300 prison inmates would testify to be true. Overall, the Maldivian people will not accept to that the claims made in Sandhaanu were acts of treason. Sandhaanu was an expression of thoughts - a guide along the path of reform.

In relation to Sandhaanu, the state prosecutor's allegation against me was made under article 29, alleging the offence of conspiracy to commit treason. According the prevailing customs of Maldives, the judge found me guilty of the charges brought by the government. In addition to this, I received a sentence of one year's exile for defamation, under articles 150 and 152. I was denied my basic human rights during the investigation and the court procedure.

Matters for the consideration of the Human Rights commission

1. I was arrested on 30 January 2002, and held in isolation in a room eight feet square . There was no sign of any other human being. When I repeatedly called out, a person on duty would come. Food was given to me through a slot in the door. Light came halfway into the room through the bars of the door. (I am stating these details because none of the members of the Human Rights Commission would have had the misfortune of spending time in a Dhoonidhoo cell). At night, the toilet was kept in darkness.

On 28 March, I was forced to sign four copies of a document, thus completing the investigation. I had been taken for interrogation late at night. I was confined to the cell in constant fear of being called out at anytime. Words were added and subtracted from my statement, just as the NSS officers wished. Sentences in the statement were re-arranged as these officers desired. On 28 March, I was informed officially that the investigation had been completed. During the days of interrogation, I behaved as appropriately as I could.

Regardless of how hard I try, I cannot understand why I was then kept in a tormented state that would make any human being suicidal and drive them to the verge of a mental breakdown, until 26 June 2002, when I was summoned to the court for trial.

2. In this state of despair and heartache, I was informed that I had to go temporarily to Male'. It was early June. I was taken to the welfare room at police headquarters, and then put in the back of a van with no window or ventilation and driven to another place. They stopped and told me to get out. I climbed down and found myself standing in front of the Justice building. I had been held in solitary confinement in a tiny cell for nearly 5 months. In this psychologically weakened state, I was barely able to speak to the court.

I felt exhausted and weak. The police did not allow me to meet anyone present there. I repeatedly asked in vain for the judge Abdullah Areef to allow me the help of a lawyer. The actions of the judge are proof that the desire of the government to find me guilty was so strong that I was even to be denied legal help. The judge's actions cannot be interpreted any other way.

What other reason could there be for summoning me to the court for trial, except to put on record that the trial was conducted by a judge in my presence.

  Mohamed Munavvar, Attorney General of Maldives during Zaki's trial
Mohamed Munavvar, Attorney-General during Zaki's trial

3. Under Chapter 2, Article 15(b) of the constitution, when a person is being arrested, the person should be informed of the reason for arrest. In accordance with this, at the time of my arrest, I was informed it was on suspicion of spreading false information in a way that would disrupt public peace. The police informed me of this in writing, and made me sign and fingerprint the document. But in court, the prosecuting lawyer from the Attorney-General's office presented a completely different accusation to the court. Yes, it was a charge of committing high treason!

It was surprising to see that the government has so little respect for the constitution of the country. I do not believe these are merely mistakes. After keeping me locked up in a cell in Dhoonidhoo without any access to the outside world, the only charge the state prosecutor could think of bringing against me was high treason, punishable by life imprisonment. This charge had no connection with the reason for my arrest.

I claim that these actions indicate a personal grudge against me. Please look through all the Sandhaanu issues (attached with our case's court report). As I said before, the four of us were officially informed on 28 March 2002 that the investigation had been completed. So the Defence Ministry was well aware of the nature and seriousness of our offence. Since the investigation had been completed, my mother Hawwa Ibrahim Fulhu from M. Ahmedi-abad house in Maafannu ward Male', sent a letter dated 9 April 2002 to the Ministry of Defence and National Security, pleading to have me transferred home or for her to be allowed to see me at home.

On 10 April 2002, she received a reply to her plea: 'Hawwa Fulhu's son Mohamad Zaki was arrested on suspicion of spreading false information in a manner that would disrupt public peace, and for this reason he cannot be transferred home as yet. He also cannot be sent home to see you.' Attached to this letter is a photocopy of the reply. I had never even dreamed that a lawful government would mislead people to this extent.

4. In court, the state prosecutor presented charges against me under Articles 29, 152 and 150. In defence of these accusations, I said I had not attempted to commit an act of treason and I do not believe that Internet writings could be construed as treason under any law.

Maldives Culture note:

Article 29 of the Maldives Constitution in 2004 states:
'Loyalty to the State and obedience to the Constitution and to the law of the Maldives shall be the duty of every Maldivian citizen, irrespective of where he may be.'

Article 12 of the constitution states:
(1) Any person who, by the threat or use of force or in violation of the Constitution, abrogates or attempts to abrogate the Constitution or attempts to undermine the Constitution or conspires to commit any of the said acts shall be guilty of high treason.
(2) Any person who aids and abets or is an accomplice in the commission of any act mentioned in clause (1) of this Article or any person who has knowledge of the commission of such act and has failed to report the same shall also be guilty of high treason.

Articles 150 and 152 of the constitution cannot in any way refer to this trial, and if Mohamed Zaki was charged under these provisions, there was no case to answer.

It is possible that Mohamad Zaki was charged under Sections 29, 150 and 152 of the Penal Code, not the constitution.

Section 29 of the Maldives Penal Code states:
A person who commits treason or conspires to commit treason shall be punishable by life imprisonment or life exile, or ten to 20 years of imprisonment or exile.

Section 150 of the Penal Code states:
'Defamation is to cause damage to, or diminish, a person's status, honour and dignity. The above shall be caused by speech, in writing, or illustrations, and shall be considered defamation.'

Section 151 of the Penal Code states: 'It is not defamation to speak, or publish in writing or in illustrations, a true account of the act or acts committed or omitted in the past or present by a person who is in a position of responsibility related to the welfare of the public, with regard to how that person carries out the duties of the position.'

Section 152 of the Penal Code states:
'It shall be an act of defamation if any or all of the acts stated in section 150 of this law are committed against any person.'

What is being circulated on the Internet is not the property of Maldives. The Internet does not belong to any particular individual. If someone publishes something on the Internet, the material cannot be viewed unless it is downloaded. A person who distributes material in an email via an Internet server, cannot be sure that it has been read by the addressee.

I distributed the Sandhaanu 'newspaper' via the Internet while I was in Malaysia and outside Maldives jurisdiction. I emailed Sandhaanu from Malaysia. This is not a criminal offence in Malaysia. Since I committed the act within the jurisdiction of Malaysia and I am a permanent resident in Malaysia, international law says I should be tried under Malaysian law. When foreigners commit crimes within the jurisdiction of Maldives, they cannot be tried under the laws of their respective countries, but according to the laws and regulations of Maldives. Therefore, I believe I have been deprived of my rights under international law.

5. On the very first day of court, I asked judge Abdulla Areef for the assistance of a lawyer. He replied that he was going to find out about it, and let me know. I realised that judge Areef had not seen the laws and regulations of Maldives, and was new to the task of conducting trials. Chapter 2, Article 16(2) of the constitution of Maldives clearly states that a person accused of a criminal offence should be afforded help of a lawyer to defend himself or herself. A court trial conducted in breach of the constitution of Maldives can only be an unlawful trial. Judges of courts should understand law, and conduct trials according to law.

Maldives Culture note:

Article 16 of the constitution in 2004 states:
(1) Every person shall be presumed innocent until proven guilty.
(2) Every person who is charged with an offence shall have the right to defend himself in accordance with Shari'ah. To this effect, such a person shall be allowed to obtain the assistance of a lawyer whenever such assistance is required.

Anyway, the first day of the trial ended without a verdict. I wondered why sentencing was delayed; it was all a waste of time and effort. Now I understand it was to prove there was 'justice' in the trial. After the court hearing that day, I was locked up once again in the eight foot square cell.

Twenty days later, I was told I was to be taken to Male' temporarily. In the capital, I was put in a cell in the police office. Again I was transported in a van and taken to the front of the Justice building. I realised I had been summoned to court again. This 'peaceful, calm and legitimate' government of Maldives would not tell me where I was being taken.

In court, judge Abdulla Areef asked me if I had anything more to say regarding the case. I replied that I had asked for the help of lawyer, and asked him what his response was to that request. Areef told me that under the regulations in place in criminal cases, the accused are not allowed help from lawyers. I was shocked.

This decision of Abdulla Areef, in the name of the government of Maldives, was in breach of the constitution of Maldives and cannot be anything but a treasonous act. Areef's decision was a clear breach of the constitution - as clear as the noon sun on a fine day. At that moment, I realised that for Abdulla Areef, justice is the law of the jungle, and respect for the laws and regulations was outside his sense of justice. If one could listen to the recording of this day's trial, it would show how true my claims are. And if anyone asked the ten people who attended the court that day, they would all testify to this.

Although people were prohibited from entering the court during my previous appearance, on this day about ten people came to the court. The way the trial was being conducted shows the true meaning of the tune that gets played loudly twenty-four hours a day, claiming the whole of Maldives glitters with justice and equality.

Ibrahim Luthfee Luthfi Lutfy Lutfi
Ibrahim Luthfee

Anyway, during this day in court, Ibrahim Moosa Luthfee [who escaped in May 2003 and now (2009) lives in Switzerland] asked to be allowed to bring witnesses and said he would prove all the claims made in Sandhaanu were true.

About a week later, we were summoned to the court again and without providing us with an opportunity to say anything, we were sentenced. Before sentencing, I was transferred from Dhoonidhoo to Maafushi prison. This time I was kept in isolation in a place as big as a tiny capsule. The cell measured eight feet by four feet. The ceiling was a concrete sheet and there was an iron door measuring 8 feet by 2 feet. There was no other ventilation and it was difficult to breathe. The door faced east so the heat was intense and oppressive. About three feet away was a tin fence, 10 feet high. There was no other form of shade. From sunrise until five o'clock in the evening, I had to keep wiping away my sweat with a tiny piece of cloth. Apparently this was the cell used for murderers and disobedient prisoners. A person kept in this cell would not receive even a single tablet of Disprin unless he fell unconscious.

6. On the night of the day of sentencing, I was put in a dormitory block with 100 prisoners. It was part of the (boanuge) warehouse where the State Trading Company (STO) used to store dried fish. All four sides were tin. The roof was also made of corrugated iron. There was no ventilation, and no fans.

Although the fence at the front had square slots, the dormitory is inside the warehouse and the front was blocked by a corrugated iron fence. There were five blocks inside the warehouse, each block separated by walls from the others. A total of five hundred inmates were kept in these five blocks, all within a warehouse STO originally used to store dried fish.

Fifteen exhaust fans had been installed in the five block sections of the warehouse, but not a single fan was operating.

Five litres of water were provided every 24 hours to each prisoner for drinking and washing. The water in the toilets was muddy and smelt rotten, and there were only three toilets for 100 prisoners.

It is a frightful experience to speak of the torture carried out at this prison. These tortures were performed with the full knowledge and understanding of the rulers of the country.

  Adam Zahir Maldives Police Chief 2005
Adam Zahir 2005

One day on 22 June 2003, during the six months I was kept in Dhoonidhoo prison, I had the opportunity to see Brigadier Adam Zahir from the National Security Service police. During the conversation between us, and in reply to a complaint I made, Adam Zahir said that everything was being carried out according to the instructions of President Maumoon Gayyoom.

He also said that there was nothing the President Gayyoom was not being informed about, regardless how important or minor the matter was. After these words from Adam Zahir, it became clear to me that everything was happening with the full knowledge of President Gayyoom. This realisation was endlessly distressing.

At this time, the person in charge of the prisons was the Defence Ministry's executive director Isthafa Ibrahim Manik. He was also the 'executive director' under the previous Safety minister Abdul Hannan, who was renowned all over the country for his cruelty.

What a human disaster it is for 100 people to have the use of only three toilets. The fifteen toilets in the five blocks were all connected by a single sewer pipe. It was four inches wide. The toilets were often blocked because five hundred people had to use them. Sometimes all three toilets in a section were blocked. It was normal for a person to have to wait in a queue for an hour just to urinate.

After the fire in Gaamaadhoo prison, the inmates from there were transferred to Maafushi jail. When Maafushi jail was first established, there was only one toilet per block. It was under the direct supervision of NSS officer Adam Ibrahim Manik (known as 'Bilaaley'). Even the NSS called this place the 'warehouse section'. It was meant to be just a temporary holding place, but when I was there it had been used as a prison for over five years.

At Maafushi jail, there were satisfactory cells for some of the prisoners. However, those places were full. The opportunity to transfer to these better cells comes if a prisoner follows the rules for between six months to one year after arriving at the prison. But if an inmate infinged the rules, then he would be returned to the warehouse section.

One day a prisoner in section 92, an acceptable part of the prison, was transferred to the warehouse because he reached out and picked a 'jam' fruit from the branch of a Japanese jam tree. Another inmate, who happened to drink a glass of water near the tap and then took another glass of water with him into his section, was also sent to the warehouse. On another occasion a prisoner happened to be in the toilet and said there was no cause to rush when the NSS told the prisoners to hurry up for some reason. He was sent to the warehouse. Prisoners who did only minor things the NSS didn't like, were sent to the warehouse. This warehouse was a place of maximum punishment.

There were six iron rings on part of the fence at the front of the warehouse. Each was four inches wide and welded onto iron posts four feet high. Prisoners were handcuffed onto these rings for minor breaches of the rules. At times, four or five prisoners were handcuffed onto one of these rings. Prisoners were kept like this without washing or praying for up to ten or fifteen days at a time.

What was their offence? Speaking to prisoners in the other block; carving bars of soap into chess pieces; smoking a bidi (rolled Indian tobacco leaf); laughing loudly; sprinkling water over their bodies after going to the toilet at night; playing cards secretly. It would be hard for people from the civilised world to believe there could be such severe punishments for minor infringements. But this was the reality.

Prisoners cuffed to these rings often defecated and urinated as they waited in vain for someone to take them to the toilet.

In addition to this punishment, prisoners were taken to the range and beaten. When they were beaten there, the NSS officers first said they wanted to break their backbones. Some prisoners were forced to put their hands around the wide trunks of coconut palms and were handcuffed. The NSS officers put sugar over the prisoners' heads. It was common to handcuff 50 prisoners together and take them to the range and punish them in various ways. I spent many months shaking in fear at the thought of these punishments.

7. In March 2003 (I cannot remember the day) I contracted a severe form of conjunctivitis. I was taken to the Indhira Gandhi Memorial Hospital in Male' with help from the Corrections department. At the time, my eyes were severely swollen. Dr Imthiaz checked my condition and admitted me to hospital for four days. He advised the nurses to place cotton soaked in cold water over my eyes every four hours. I was admitted to the hospital according the rules of the Corrections department. My family paid the cost of medical treatment. As far as I am aware, the welfare of prisoners under the care of the Corrections department should be maintained in accordance with the regulations.

About five hours after I was admitted to hospital, the NSS group responsible for torture at Maafushi prison barged into my hospital room dressed in civilian clothes. The leader of this group was Abdulla Adam (Abdulla Paapaa). He came in with another six NSS officers. They checked the room and then walked out. About ten minutes later, they came back with a chief from the Corrections department and ordered me transferred to another place. When I asked why, I was told they did not need to have a reason.

I realised the official from the Corrections department was as powerless as I was to question these orders. At that moment, I wondered why there were so many ministries and departments in this country when the rulers of the country were like Abdulla Paapaa. I believed it was wise to do as I was ordered. I had already experienced the conditions in Block C3 where it is as hot as an oven, that same block holds people under investigation and prisoners serving sentences for offences such as theft, drug addiction and sex crimes. The block was packed to its limit, like a zoo full of human beings. I had experienced the cruelty of these NSS people, and fear has taken hold of me.

Anyway, Dr Imthiaz arrived again, checked my eyes, repeated his previous instruction to the nurses and left. Regardless of what the doctor said, my admission for four days was reduced to one day when the NSS made their wishes known. In this way I was denied reasonable medical treatment, but it was not the end of the matter. I was taken to a smaller room upstairs and two guards were put on duty inside my room, one sitting on a chair and the other standing. There was another guard outside the room.

The guard outside came into the room in every ten minutes. Every time he came in, he banged the door, making a loud noise. I was a sick person with an eye infection, and this behaviour meant I was unable to get a blink of sleep that night. Next morning, they ordered the people at the reception to check me out of the hospital.

Although frightened, I asked what was going on. They told me, 'This is what we have been instructed to do.'

It was a Friday [first day of the Maldivian weekend] and my family begged in vain for the Corrections department and Home ministry to allow me to remain in hospital for treatment according to the doctor's advice and due to my state of health. But I was removed from the hospital on orders from a more powerful authority.

I was handed over to the NSS and sent to Maafushi prison and put in dormitory D16. In this place there were ten other inmates suffering from conjunctivitis.

This is what happened to me, a person the doctor advised to have cool cotton swabs over his eyes every four hours.

8. On 22 June 2003 at 1.30pm a guard told me to get ready to go to Male' and stay there overnight in the NSS headquarters. I was taken to Male' in a high speed launch. I had a very high fever and for the previous two days I had been taking medication to treat it. The rules of the prison require prisoners' medicines to be kept in the medical section of the prison. Before I was moved to Male', I asked the officer to fetch the medicine bag and he told me that he had orders from the top to take me to Male' immediately. Obviously my sickness was a matter of little concern.

Ahmed Didi - onetime Sandhaanu political prisoner Maldives, now released
Ahmed Didi

I was taken to Male' from Maafushi prison and kept in an NSS office for about twenty minutes. Then I was taken to Dhoonidhoo prison in a high speed launch and placed in solitary confinement. Ahmed Didi, who had been sentenced along with me at the Sandhaanu trial, was also taken to Dhoonidhoo and placed in solitary confinement.

Early that night my fever worsened. I kept asking the prison duty officer to give me a Panadol tablet and he kept telling me that he had already requested it. After two days and two nights, I eventually received two Panadol tablets. When I begged the medical staff for help, I was told that under the rules, unless a doctor examines me and prescribes the medicines, they cannot even give me Panadol. This is an inhumane rule that has serious consequences for sick prisoners.

Two days later, I was informed of the reason for my detention in Dhoonidhoo and made to sign the notice. I was told I was being held on suspicion of attempting to escape from Maafushi prison! Next day, the investigation officially began. I was asked if I had tried to escape from the prison. I was also asked to name the people I knew who were living overseas. Between 22 June 2003 and 4 August 2003, I was interrogated about three times. Attempting to escape from a prison under the control of the NSS is, for me, an unimaginable feat. In reply to my interrogators, I said that I had not attempted to escape and I had not even thought about such an idea.

  Major prisons in Maldives during later period of Gayyoom dictatorship
Major prisons in Maldives during Gayyoom dictatorship.

This was during the period leading up to the 2003 presidential referendum. When I was taken to Dhoonidhoo prison, there were many people who had been held in the cells there for four to five months. On 4 August 2003, I was made to sign the four copies of a statement indicating that the investigation was completed. I was also officially informed that the investigation was over. When I asked what the result was, and I was told that there is no proof or evidence of the allegation.

I had written to the Defence Ministry repeatedly regarding the very long time the investigation was taking, and asking for it to be finalised as soon as possible so I could be transferred back to Maafushi prison. Each time I was informed that they have received my letters. With the investigation concluded, I was expecting to be transferred to Maafushi prison. However, I remained in solitary confinement in Dhoonidhoo from 4 August until 12 October.

On 12 October I was summoned to the Dhoonidhoo prison office and an NSS officer from the investigating team, Habeeb, informed me that my case had been completed and that I was to be released. He told me that since I was already serving a sentence for the Sandhaanu offences, he was handing me over to the Defence Ministry. I thought I would be transferred to Maafushi prison the next day.

Then I received a reply to my letters informing me that I was to be kept in 8 square foot cell for the remainder of my life sentence! I was shocked. Below is a copy of the words of the Defence Ministry in a letter dated 2 November 2003: 'If you keep serving the sentence obediently, then good things will happen to you. It has been arranged for you to be kept in Dhoonidhoo prison to serve the life sentence. Various benefits will be provided.'

When I look at these statements, it is clear that the powers the law grants to the Corrections department regarding people serving sentences, and the discretion the law grants the president to reduce sentences for offenders, has been arrogated by the Defence Ministry.

I repeat: People who have been sentenced by court are under the control of the Corrections department. This department was specifically created by the government for this purpose. I do not understand how the Defence Ministry has the power to hold us, contrary to the laws of the country (and subjecting prisoners to intolerable punishments that make them suicidal) when the prisoners are legally under the control of the Corrections department. If the Defence Ministry has these powers, then various other departments, created by the government with assigned responsibilities and powers, are nothing more than a joke.

It is true the law may not specify what prison conditions should be. The detention section of Dhoonidhoo is not referred to as a 'prison'. It is called a 'police detention unit'. With all due respect to the people who place prisoners sentenced for life in an eight foot square cell, this Dhoonidhoo detention area isolates individual prisoners completely from each other. At night there is only the light that falls through the bars into the cell. Even this light only reaches halfway into the room. The toilet is in darkness. This is the place where people are held when under investigation, for at least thirty to forty-five days. Until my case, no one had been kept there to serve a prison sentence.

There is an official prison in Maldives at Maafushi, where there is a committee which determines the standards to be provided for prisoners. At Maafushi, prisoners are able to move around in a large area. There is television. There is also an exercise yard. Prisoners can sit together at a table to eat.

But in the Dhoonidhoo detention centre, food is given to the prisoners as if they are birds in cage. Plates of food are poked through small hole. There is a great difference between Maafushi and Dhoonidhoo. I had never heard of a person being placed in solitary confinement to serve a life sentence anywhere else in the world, let alone in the history of Maldives.

The heads of the Defence Ministry are well aware of the psychological effects on people who are told they have to remain in solitary confinement for the rest of their lives. Ahmed Didi [the other Sandhaanu prisoner mentioned above] is a registered heart patient. But for us prisoners there is only the kindness of Allah to rely on. All praise and gratitude belongs to Allah who has the power on the day of Judgment.

Can what is happening to us be described as justice and fairness? The decisions of the Defence Ministry have become the real laws and regulations of Maldives! We are being placed in an anthole and told that we are to stay there to serve our sentences, with no appeal process. The Minister of Defence is President Maumoon Abdul Gayyoom. There is no other authority or place of appeal. Gayyoom does whatever he wants. Even now I am in constant fear of being placed in an anthole to serve my sentence. I have no recourse other than to place my fate in the hands of Allah.

I wish to present these matters to the commission. These are true descriptions of instances where I have been deprived of the rights granted to me by the constitution of Maldives and international conventions. I would like the commission to examine each of these matters separately and grant me my basic rights as a human being. Committing an offence and being sentenced does not transform a human being into a wild beast. An offender, an accused person or a convicted inmate serving a sentence, all these people have rights, and people's human rights must be upheld.

I am presenting my case so the commission can look into the matter and make a determination. The conditions in the prison blocks assigned for the inmates to serve their sentences are not satisfactory, and the degrading way the security guards treat and speak to the inmates is unacceptable.

I must point out that every second month, the NSS officers take the inmates outside and make them sit on the ground for about three to four hours while the officers lecture them. There are many of these instances, but in the example I will tell of here, the lecture was conducted by Abdulla Shahid, known as 'Appa', from Maajehi Villa, Thimarafushi island on Thaa atoll.

'When you pray, it is for us (the NSS) to witness,' said Appa. 'If we notice you are praying properly, then it is up to us to let the Superior (perhaps God, perhaps Maumoon Gayyoom, perhaps both) know. Good things will happen to you, depending on our representations to this Superior.'

I believe that members of the Human Rights Commission will find it difficult to believe that these sorts of people exist among Muslims! But this is the reality, and it is only one example. On these days when the prisoners are taken outside, the NSS officers take pleasure in making each prisoner strip two or three times.

I did take part in publishing Sandhaanu. This newsletter reflected the political turmoil in the country. The articles were written by Maldivians. The contents of these articles were the issues that people discuss on street corners, at the fish market and in tea-shops. Similar topics were discussed honestly fourteen years ago in magazines like Sangu and Hukuru.

Sandhaanu revealed what happened when people attempted to register a political party. The people involved in that attempt were arrested and tormented for criticising government policies. Even members of the Majlis (parliament) were arrested for raising their voices in criticism of the government. Some cabinet ministers have used their positions for inappropriate purposes, and they were questioned in the Majlis regarding their actions. Some investigations were held into these matters. Allah Almighty! Should a person who told the truth be imprisoned for life?

Were these Sandhaanu revelations untrue? These things were written and sent via the Internet to Maldivians, not to foreigners. Corruption in the government is widespread. The leaders of the country have publicly discussed these matters.

Fifty years ago, the late Ibrahim Shihab said : 'Unlike the early days, now we have numerous government departments with various names. But when people go these offices to obtain a service, they are told to return at two o'clock tomorrow. There seems to be no way of avoiding this 'two o'clock tomorrow'.'

Our present president, Maumoon Abdul Gayyoom, referred to the old corrupt way of doing things during an address to the people of Male' on the reclaimed land on the western side of the island: 'No government office, not a single one, would resolve a problem for a person without being treated to a cup of tea and snacks,' said Gayyoom. 'Even the judges of the court would not finalise a case without tea and snacks. The reality was that people's problems would not be resolved if they could not afford to pay. This was the state of our affairs many years ago. Now our standards have been raised. Those people who believe that people now do not have the freedom to discuss these matters, are behaving like traitors.'

The matters discussed in Sandhaanu were not only the thoughts of Ahmed Ibrahim Didi, Ibrahim Moosa Luthfee and myself, but also thoughts of the people of Maldives. There were articles about the investigations held in the Majlis; reports about things that made the people of Male' cry out. The entire country was resonating with these stories; even children were aware of these matters!

I wrote reports and emailed them to people. The emails were sent to my beloved Maldivian brothers and sisters; to the people of this country. Sandhaanu issue number 8 contained a detailed article which explained what the newsletter was trying to achieve. The motto of Sandhaanu makes the intention of the newsletter clear to all: 'Justice and Fairness – Stability for Society'.

It was also explained that the articles published in the newsletter were not the necessarily the views of the editors. We asked the contributors to check the veracity of the stories they heard, before they submitted their reports for publication. Holy Allah has given people a brain to use and think with, so they do not believe everything people say. We also asked people to check for themselves the truth of the claims made in Sandhaanu. This newsletter expressed the thoughts and ideas of the Maldivian people.

We do not have to go to article 29 of the constitution. To punish a person with the most severe penalty (life imprisonment) for an offence, is clearly violation of human rights. Are human rights being upheld when a person is placed in a cell in solitary confinement to serve this severest of punishments? I hope that the commission will consider this point and take some action.

Honourable commissioner,
What is the government of Maldives? In this case it is essential to understand what the Maldives government is. The state prosecutor indicted us by alleging that we were attempting to commit a treasonous act against the government. In the Sandhaanu newsletter, there is nothing to indicate that we were attempting to commit such an offence. All the newsletter articles were reporting events that had taken place. In the twenty-first century, such acts are not treasonous. Critical comments about governments have always been common throughout the world.

Honourable commissioner,
The worst thing we could have done would be spreading incorrect information about others. We have not been granted the opportunity to prove that our information was correct, so we have not been able to provide it either. There is no way to construe lack of verification as treason.

I would also like to point out when we were arrested, the NSS informed us that the reason of our arrest was defamation, and the charges cannot be changed without reason. This is only a legal means of indicting us for a criminal offence, or any other offence we may have committed. There is no law that allows people to be found guilty of an offence other than what he or she has committed.

What we have done is write articles for the purpose of reporting matters to others. Please read the issues of Sandhaanu. The commission can now look at all those documents. Please obtain the guidelines the judge used in the court process. The commission has the authority to obtain those documents as well. The commission will understand that the newsletter was written for the purpose of reporting news. The government announcement of 7 July 2002 made it clear that Sandhaanu is a newsletter. If what we did was crime, then we should be tried under section 88(a) of Chapter 3 of the Penal Code. A person found to be guilty of this offence can be punished by sentence of not more than six months imprisonment, or banishment, or a fine of not more than Rf 150 (US$12).

Honourable commissioner,
You have the responsibility of protecting human rights. I beg you to discharge your responsibility and determine my case on humanitarian grounds, and make an order that is just and fair. I would like to remind you that human dignity and integrity are based on justice and fairness. I have been deliberately found guilty of an offence that I have not committed, and sentenced to life imprisonment. Every day is a day my family and myself have to endure unbearable torment. My entire life is destroyed. My young children's hopes for the future are dark and devastated. So I anticipate a quick response to this letter.

Even now as I write these final words, I have been deprived of my rights as a human being, I say this because of the terrible things that have been done to me. Please consider my life sentence, and make recommendations to the government authorities to allow some kind of remedy for my situation.

  Fathimath Nisreen - innocent of Sandhaanu involvement
Fathimath Nisreen

I have to mention something very important before concluding. It is about Nisreen, who has been sentenced with us for being involved in publishing Sandhaanu. Her case has no foundation at all. She did not take part in this matter at any level. Nisreen could not have known about the people behind publishing Sandhaanu. Myself, Ahmed Ibrahim Didi and Ibrahim Moosa Luthfee, all three of us made this quite clear during the investigation. Nisreen also told the investigating officers that she did not know anything about who was producing Sandhaanu.

Nisreen has been sentenced on the basis that she would have known, because she was an employee in Ibrahim Moosa Luthfee's office at the time. There was no proof or evidence of her involvement. The only accusation that can be made against her is that she sent an email to Sandhaanu. In it she said that Maumoon is like an Egyptian Pharaoh. Many people sent emails expressing support for Sandhaanu. Those emails were not sent because people knew the producers of Sandhaanu. Nisreen's email was sent under the same circumstances. So please arrange for her to be released without further delay.

I have brought up the issue of the people who have been sentenced for expressing their thoughts and views to Sandhaanu, to ensure the commission is fully and truthfully informed. This should enable the investigation to proceed and facilitate the decisions you make. May Allah guide you on the right path, so that you promote a long lasting and a successful future for the commission by providing human rights for those people who have been deprived of them.

I am grateful to you for taking on the responsibility of commissioner, because you are a person who has experience, and a love for upholding human rights. May Allah grant you and your team the righteous thoughts needed for these matters. Amen.

Please accept my respects
20 January 2004 (28 Zulgaida 1424)

Yours sincerely,
Mohamad Zaki
Ahmedi-abad house,
Maafannu, Male'.

Human Rights Commission of the Maldives Male, Maldives

Copy to:
Attorney-General's Office, Male'
Ministry of Home Affairs, Male'
Ministry of Justice, Male'

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