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The Luthfee Letters Part 1
by Ibrahim Luthfee
Malé 1999
translated by Maldives Culture editors

For years Amnesty International, foreign embassies and journalists have been receiving reports of human rights abuses in Maldives. The Maldivian government has consistently denied that these abuses occur.
In July 2002 Ibrahim Luthfee was sentenced to life imprisonment for writing and publishing a political email newsletter called Sandhaanu. But his first serious encounter with the Maldivian police and court system was in 1997, when a rental dispute, over a building, brought him into conflict with the Minister of Health Ahmed Abdullah and other powerful officials. The alleged behaviour of the NSS officers exposes their role as enforcers of ministerial business interests.
During the next few weeks Maldives Culture will publish translations of letters and statements written by Ibrahim Luthfee in 1999, and sent that year to the President, the Cabinet, the Chief Justice, the head of the Maldivian Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs, the speaker of the Majlis, and members of the Majlis.

in the name of Allah the compassionate and the merciful

ibrahim moosa luthfee
Ibrahim Moosa Luthfee

Full name: Ibrahim Moosa Luthfee
Nickname: Ibrahim Luthfee, Ibrahim, Luthfee
Permanent address: Fenmuli house, Hithadhoo island, Seenu (Addu) atoll
Current residence: Vinoalia block, Henveiru ward, Malé island
Age: 35 years
Father's name: Moosa Luthfee
I.D Number: A042195
Date: 7 October 1999

This is a summary report of how the police intervened and imprisoned me five times over a civil dispute between myself and my father-in-law, Ismail Manik (Fusthulhaa), in whose name is registered the block of land called Vinoalia block/Henveiru ward. He made false complaints to the Police Office that I have refused to pay rents based on agreement between us about a building that I had built at my own expense on that land. I refused to pay rental fees higher than we had agreed.

Information about the building
Near the end of 1990, I rented a section among the buildings on the Vinoalia block. At that time the buildings were seriously dilapidated. After renting this place I made up a written agreement, but my father-in-law Ismail Manik refused to sign it. "Why should a father-in-law and son need such an agreement?" he said.

So from the beginning, the building was rented without any written agreement. Although the rent went up at various times, I rented additional sections of the building and made alterations to the structure. All these dealings were done by verbal agreement, because he was my 'father-in-law'.

Around 1995, after discussions with Ismail Manik, I demolished a run-down building on the block and built a two-storey structure costing Rufiya 650,000/- (approx. US$54,000). During that time Ismail Manik received Rf100,000/- (approx US$8,300) cash from me. From this money, Rf75,000/- was used to pay off a loan Ismail Manik had received from the Bank of Maldives.

Due to a downturn in my business in 1997, I arranged an overdraft from the State Bank (of India). As a guarantee, I needed to show that I had an agreement to rent the building for the next five years. So I prepared a written agreement in line with our verbal arrangement that I had the building for another five years. I also included a clause making the rent Rf1,500/- higher than we have previously agreed. The monthly rent for the last three years of the coming five year period was to be Rf10,000/-. This agreement was written for the bank, not because my father-in-law asked for it. I already had an arrangement under a verbal agreement to rent this building for the mentioned period. I did not include in the document the amount of money I had spent on this building and the cash he had received from me during the prior arrangement.

My father-in-law was married to a young woman from Kon'dey island (Huvadhu atoll,), and he was living in that island. For this reason the rent I paid for the building was received by one of Ismail Manik's children. My wife, Adeela Ismail, is his daughter. I also have the responsibility of transferring part of the rent to Ismail Manik's other children who are studying in India.

How the problem began
At the beginning of the year 1997, Ismail Manik asked me for an advance payment of Rf60,000/-. My intention was to pay him the money when the overdraft from the bank came through.

It was at this time that an employee of Muli-aage (the temporary President's Office in 1998), Ibrahim Ali, approached me and asked if I would rent my building. I explained to him that I had built the place for myself and couldn't rent it out. However, he contacted me again many times and repeatedly asked me to lease the building. I continued to refuse. Eventually he told me the person who was interested in renting the building was Honourable Ahmed Abdullah (Minister of Health) who wanted to use it as the printery and administrative office of his daily newspaper Miadhu.

Despite this, I continued to refuse to rent my building, and then Ibrahim Ali insisted that I should rent it to these gentlemen and set up my business somewhere else. He said I would receive their help, and I would have no more trouble obtaining the loan I wanted. But I refused the offer because there was already a very good relationship between the bank, the guarantor and myself. Then Ibrahim told me that even though I wasn't going to rent the building, Ahmed Abdullah (the Minister) would like to inspect it. I replied there was no point inspecting a building that he would not be able to rent, but if he was that keen to see it, I was happy to show him around.

One night the Honourable Ahmed Abdullah, Adam Naeem and three or four senior workers from Miadhu came to see the building. Ibrahim Ali came earlier and was here when they arrived. After inspecting the building Ahmed Abdullah asked me to lease the building to him and I gave him the same reply I had already given to Ibrahim Ali.
Ahmed Abdullah said to me that instead of starting a business in such a large place, it would be better to rent the place to them and then for me to rent another place with that money. And he also tried very hard to get me to name the rent I wanted. I told him that I was not intending to rent it, and hence could not give a rental figure. He also asked who the owner of the building was, and if I renting it, then how much the rent would be. I said the owner of the building was Ismail Manik and if I was unable to get the overdraft, then I would rent it out at a price on par with other rented places in Malé. Ahmed Abdullah asked me that if such circumstances arose, then I should rent the building to him. I agreed, but not because I had any intention to rent out the building.

When Ahmed Abdullah left, Ibrahim Ali told me again that renting the building to these gentlemen would benefit me immensely. There would be a special room for the President, Maumoon Gayyoom, because he was one of the editors of Miadhu. He would be coming to the building, and if I rented the building to them I must keep these things confidential. Up until now, this information has remained confidential.

I had received every indication that the overdraft would be approved and the money would be deposited in my account the next week. Then I received news from my wife in India that she would be giving birth that same week. After discussions with my business partner, I made preparations to go to India. Before leaving I gave three months rent owing to my father-in-law to his eldest son, Mohamed Ziyad. I was still at the Indian hospital with my wife after the birth of the baby when Ziyad phoned me and said his father had refused to accept the rent, and that he would only accept it if he was paid the same amount any other person would have to pay in Malé.

When I contacted him, Ismail Manik said, 'I don't want to take the place away from you, Ibrahim, but the amount of the rent should be the same as others would pay.' I said to him that since it was an agreed rent, and it had cost me so much for the building and other moneys already paid to him, that I could not afford to pay anymore than the amount we had already agreed to. Then he said we would settle the matter when I returned to Malé.

When I came back and tried to pay he demanded rent at the rate of Rf30,000/- per month. I strongly objected. Ismail Manik went to see my uncle, the Learned Mohamed Ibrahim Luthfee, from Sosunny house in Galolhu ward, and told him that the Honourable Ahmed Abdullah wished to rent my building for a monthly amount of Rf30,000/- and he had agreed to pay an appropriate advance as well. Uncle Mohamed tried to settle the issue between my father-in-law and myself. He convinced Ismail Manik that my welfare was in his long-term interest and Ismail Manik eventually accepted the rent I offered and returned to Kon'dey island in Huvadhu atoll.

I do not know what happened. The bank refused the overdraft and the guarantor took back his guarantee. Unable to obtain finance, my business stagnated. On 5 January 1998 Ismail Manik asked me for the rent and when I said to him that I would arrange payment on 15 January, he took me to the Police Office. When I gave the details of the matter to the police, they released me without taking a statement. The money that was to be sent to India was finalised up to December 1997. But my father-in-law refused to accept the money I owed him when I tried to pay him on 15 January.

Imprisonment in Gaamaadhoo Prison
On 22 February 1998 I woke up at about 9 o'clock in the morning. I was heading towards the bathroom outside the bedroom when Staff Sergeant Jadullah Nazim and Lance Corporal Aseeth called out to me. They asked me to come to the Police Office. 'When?' I asked. 'Right now,' they said. I asked them if I could first drop off my child at school, and they said it would too late and told me to get ready as quickly as I could. After showering I was getting dressed in the bedroom when they knocked on the door and told me to hurry up. I hurried and as I was walking out my wife asked me to eat breakfast before I left. I replied that I would be back for breakfast. When I took my motorbike out through the gate they told me to put my bike back inside and to go with them in the jeep to the Police Office. As we went in, Jadullah signalled to the young person at the counter to register me. I saw my full name and address being written down and the time of arrival of 9.40 a.m. being recorded in the book. I looked at my watch. The time was correct.

In Maldives in 1998, matters regarding money and agreements and other related issues were handled by the traffic branch section of the Police Office. The traffic branch is in part of the Odeon Building. However, my case was handled at Police Headquarters.

They kept me in there until the evening without asking any questions. Then they asked me if I agreed to the proposition that as a consequence of non-payment of rent for three months my agreement with my father-in-law was terminated. Without listening to anything I said, they tried to make me sign a false statement saying that I agreed to being in breach of the agreement and I would vacate the building and hand it over to Ismail Manik within thirty days. I said that this was a civil matter and there is a civil court set up to determine these issues and the police should not interfere in such matters. I also told them the statement they were trying to make me sign was written in breach of the laws and regulations of Maldives. Further, I said if there was a case then they should send it to the civil court.

When I refused to sign that statement they kept me under arrest at Police H.Q. Every morning they woke me at 6 a.m. and kept me sitting on a chair at the foot of the staircase, where everyone who came in and out of the office could see me. They kept me there for 18 hours a day, occasionally asking me if I would sign the statement. When I said that I would not sign, they told me they could send me to jail. At other times I was advised by Staff Sergeant Jadullah Nazim who said to me: 'You are known to many people in Malé and you're involved in business. There was no point in being arrested and held here. Just sign and go home.

On the seventh day of my sitting at the foot of the staircase, Ismail Manik was summoned and told there was no way for them to obtain my agreement and to take the case to the court, and then he was sent away.

From my brother-in-law Ziyad, I found out that my father-in-law had said to grandmother that he would go to First Lieutenant Hussein Shakir (his first cousin) and would force me to hand over the building. I said that I would not sign any statement that transferred my building to Ismail Manik. It was fine by me if he used the influence of First Lieutenant Hussein Shakir and the power of the police to clear the building and hand it over to him.

After this, a false complaint of 'disobeying authority' was made against me. Staff Sergeant Jadullah Nazim wrote a statement saying that when they went to summon me I had refused to come and spent a long time in the bathroom. Because of the delay, he wrote, they told me when I was getting ready in the bedroom that they could take me by force, and by the time they were able to bring me to the Police office it was sometime after 10 a.m.. I was told to sign this statement.

I said it was contrary to the facts. They had summoned me just before 9 o'clock and we arrived at the Police Office at 9.40 a.m.. When I said this they insisted the Police Office clock was wrong. I said repeatedly this was not the fact of the matter, and when I said I would write my own statement and sign it, he threatened me by saying that he did not want me to sign any statement I wrote, and that I must sign the statement he wrote, or he would send me to prison. The statement was Staff Sergeant Jadullah Nazim's own, not mine. Nor was it anything I had said. No human being anywhere could say he had heard me say any of those things. Further, it was factually inaccurate.

Because I didn't sign the statement, everything was arranged to send me to jail. I was given a document to sign and told it was required under section 15 of the statute. I said that I did not know that particular law and I requested he show me a copy of it. He said he didn't have a copy and 'the law says that a person being imprisoned must be informed of the reason of imprisonment'. I signed the form.

A new Constitution had just been passed. I went to buy a copy of that constitution twice. The first print had been sold out and the second run was yet to be printed. After being released from prison, I checked the law and found out that Jadullah's interpretation was totally incorrect and false.

On the day I was sent to jail, I was given my I.D. card and they kept the rest of my things and gave me a receipt for them. I also found out when I read the regulations, that people who are imprisoned can write to the President and to the prison authorities in order to obtain the rights of a prisoner. But after 30 days in the prison I still had no means of writing a letter. Despite constant pleading I was unable to get even a piece of paper.

Maldives prison areas in Malé district - Gaamaadhoo, Dhoonidhoo and NSS HQ

Then Staff Sergeant Jadullah Nazim and Lance Corporal Aseeth came to jail to see me and asked me to sign the statement Jadullah had written. I replied the same way as before. I said that I would only sign a statement I wrote, and they gave me a sheet of paper to do a rough draft. After completing it, I asked for sheet of paper to write the final copy. They took my rough draft and read it, and then they said they did not want me to sign my own statement, and instructed me sign the statement written by Jadullah. When I repeatedly refused, Aseeth said to me, 'What you have written is your mother's cunt!' I lost my temper and threw my arm at Aseeth and I told him if he slurred my mother a second time I would bash his mouth. He told me that I had no idea who the police were, and the extent of their powers, and they would keep me in jail until I understood that. After arguing with me about the extent of police powers and my rights they left me in jail once more.

About a week after this I was taken to Malé and told that I had been brought to finalise the case and then be released. I was taken to a room with Jadullah, and two other police men were brought in. Aseeth was not among them. They said that my statement was to be read out, and I said that it could not be a statement I had given. 'Alright, keep your mouth shut,' they said. The statement written by Jadullah was read out to me and it was signed by the two policemen who were standing beside him. They told me they were sending me home, but I was sent back to Gaamaadhoo jail.

After 49 days in the prison I was given two sheets of paper to write a letter. They would not give me any more than that. I wrote a letter to the President on both sides of the paper. In the letter to the President I examined in detail the matter under investigation. And I also wrote that I had been imprisoned in breach of the laws and regulations of Maldives and had suffered grievous harm. I received the reply to this letter three months after being released from prison. I do not know who wrote this reply. It wasn't signed by the President. But the brief statement read as follows: 'Ibrahim Moosa Luthfee is being imprisoned in relation to matter under investigation by the Police Office on the instruction of the Magistrate according to the laws and regulations of Maldives.'

During the two months I was kept in prison I did not see a magistrate. I was not taken to a court of law. I did not see anyone other than the policemen and prison people.

After obtaining an extra sheet of paper I also wrote a letter to Brigadier Adam Zahir. In this letter I explained that these two policemen have violated my rights, and I requested he assign a third party to look into my case because justice will not be done if the same policemen investigate a case of their own making. I also said that they made me admit to things under duress. I sent a copy of the letter to the President as well. At the time of writing I have not received a reply to this letter.

After almost two months of imprisonment I was taken to headquarters in Malé and released. That day I went home, after trying in vain to find out why I had been imprisoned and subject to such harsh punishment.

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