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The Luthfee Letters Part 8
The Horrors of Maafushi prison in Maldives

by Ibrahim Luthfee
Male' 1999
translated by Maldives Culture editors

maldives prisons - click for larger map
Click on map for larger version

I am not a cigarette smoker and had never even seen a bit of brown sugar [cheap heroin produced and widely used in Pakistan and India]. I saw brown sugar for the first time in the police station when I was kept in custody. A group of people were smoking it. When I was imprisoned in Gaamaadhoo island, it was available in the block I was kept in. People who go to Malé bring it back with them. New arrivals sometimes bring brown sugar inserted inside a slit in the soles of their Zado sandals. Inmates in the block commonly sell their expensive wrist watches, designer jeans, clothes, bidis and cigarettes for brown sugar.

The inmates in the block tried to make me smoke cigarettes, and 'to try' a bit of brown sugar. They said it would be 'very nice'. Apparently it helps to relieve stress, and makes the person feel happy. With the help of holy Allah, the first time I came out I managed to avoid smoking a cigarette or a bit of brown sugar to make me feel 'nice'. Praise to Allah!

If a person who looks weak in build, and a quiet type, is brought in then the other inmates check him out. During this investigation they tie the person's hands and legs together and hoist up the bed sheets leaving the person hanging upside down from the rafters in the ceiling. Sometimes the person will end up naked. Other times, they would beat the prisoner continuously, and make him admit to things he had never committed. After about three days of this 'investigation' they will make that person massage them and wash their dishes and give him many other similar tasks.

It is said that imprisoned people have rights. But there is no way of getting a piece of paper to write a letter! At the time I was in gaol, before the fire at the prison, I was able to get a piece of paper after 49 days. Now there is no way for a prisoner to write a letter. Not after three months, or even after six months, the prisoner has no right to write a letter. Police explain this by saying that when the prison got burned, the rules and regulations also were burnt.

From the day I was locked up in a small cell in Dhoonidhoo, I pleaded to be allowed to write a letter. On the 16th day I asked a man who was on guard (a policeman named Moosa) if he could arrange for me to be able to write a letter. His reply was that I was imprisoned only the other day, and there were prisoners who had been inside for two or three months who had not been allowed to write a letter. So, he said, I would only be permitted to write after they had finished writing their letters. I said that even a policeman should not speak in breach of the laws and regulations of Maldives, and I was trying to write a letter because I had been deprived my rights. I would like to write a letter asking that my rights be granted to me.

When I said this, he widened his eyes and jumped at me and hit me on my hands which were holding the bars of the cell. He asked me whether I was aware that I was in the Dhoonidhoo prison. And also he said he would teach me what kind of place Dhoonidhoo prison was. A short while later, a taskforce group came and opened the cell and told me to come out. They took me to see the chief of the prison, who was very angry.

The first thing he asked me was whether I was particularly knowlegeable of the rules and regulations of Maldives. I said even though I may not understand completely the rules and regulations of Maldives, I know that I am being deprived of my rights and I have children and a wife to look after and a mother who I have to support, and I should be granted an opportunity to make arrangements for these matters. After listening to what I said he calmed down and replied that the policy was that they allow prisoners to write letters after 30 days in prison. So I had to obey this practice.

Tortures inflicted in Maafushi prison include handcuffing prisoners behind their back around a coconut palm or a tree, and keeping the prisoner in that position for many days. When there is a dispute between prisoners, they are handcuffed and beaten up severely without any consideration where they are hit on their body. They are sometimes thrown into the sea, or made to urinate on each other. There is a lot of this sort of torture.

Sometimes when the police beat up prisoners, they hit them on their spine. I saw the police hit prisoners on their eyes and ears very hard. If any of these things were reported to the chief of the prison 30 - 50 police officers would come and wake up the inmates in that block. They will march all the prisoners out of the block and pull out the bedsheets, pillows, clothes, soap and even the water they keep for drinking. The police would throw these things all over the place, making a mess. After that, they will order the inmates to find their own things and to lay on the benches asleep within 15 minutes. Anyone who failed to do so would be severely punished.

When the police mess the block up they pour drinking water, shampoo and detergent onto the linen and clothes. Anyone can imagine what conditions would be like for people who are have to live in place where there is no water. I stayed awake many nights unable sleep because of the thakubeeru (cries to Allah) I heard people crying out because of the torture inflicted upon them by the police brutally. There is no doubt that when a person is kept handcuffed with his hands behind his back against a coconut palm for 20 or 25 days, that person will be crippled for life. A prisoner handcuffed like this, has to stay in the sun and rain. When torture became unbearable, the prisoners went on a hunger strike. Inmates were taken out in groups of 10-15 men and tied up to coconut palms for 7 days.

When the duty officers feel like it, they will open the door of the prison block and let inmates from the next block come in and sort out any grudges and frustrations they might have. When prisoners practise homosexuality in the block, it is largely ignored, but those who don't perform prayers in the congregation are hunted and punished. There is only one toilet for 104 people. At the time there was a queue at the toilet for 24 hours every day. Now there are three toilets for 104 people. Even though it is better than it was before, 104 people cannot do ablutions to perform prayer in a single congregation. Anyone who fails to wash and attend the prayer congregation is severely punished.

On a day I failed to attend prayer and the police came and took me away. They asked me why I didn't join the congregation. When I explained I had had to go to the toilet to defecate, and had to wait until the toilet was available. I said I was now ready to pray, and then they ordered me to kneel down. In police language, my failing to attend the prayer is referred to as 'hit by a galhi ['missile', 'projectile']. It is difficult to forget a galhi. Private Wikram and Ahmed were two of the policemen among the three who were on duty.

Police: Why didn't you perform prayer in the congregation?
Luthfee: I had the urge to defecate and when the toilet became vacant I relieved myself. Now I have done ablutions and was on my way to prayer.
Police: Kneel down right now.

I knelt down.

Police: You have been hit by a galhi, haven't you?
Luthfee: What is a galhi?
Police: Until you understand what a galhi is, you will be kept here. On what matter have you been imprisoned?
Luthfee: That is a very long story.
Police: Tell us.

I gave them a summary.

Police: So, you really did falsify your name and address?
Luthfee: Anyone with a sane mind would not believe that I have falsified my name and address. Very few people in Malé would not know me, and I am known to the police as well.
Police: Are you a particularly famous person. Are you a film star?
Luthfee: No, but I am known to many people in Malé.
Police: You are a criminal, aren't you?
Luthfee: No, I have been accused of a crime and have been imprisoned until the completion of the investigation into the matter.
Police: You are stupid, aren't you? Do you think the government would want to feed and look after you? It isn't easy for the government. It isn't a small expense to feed and look after all you goats. You all are criminals. In this prison there is no one who has not committed a crime.
Luthfee: No. I'm not a criminal, and in this block other people have not been sentenced by a court of law.
Police: There are people who have been sentenced, aren't there?
Luthfee: Yes!
Police: So you will be sentenced too and they have not yet been able to sentence you yet. So all you goats here are criminals.
Luthfee: Let me say this. If you would like to get respect, please show respect. I am speaking to you gentleman with polite language.
Police: Don't talk about your mother's cunt!
Luthfee: Please don't swear at me.
Police: We'll call you whatever we like. Do you know that in this block there are people who are lower than animals?
Luthfee: Yes, there may be, but I'm not a person of that level.
Police: We are not saying you are an animal. Why have you allowed yourself to drop to the level of an animal? Why are you kneeling down?
Luthfee: On you orders.
Police: The other day when we were on duty, you joined prayer congregation at the last rakath . Why was that?
Luthfee: The water in the bathrooms here is contaminated, people get rashes on their skin and other types of sicknesses. So it is not healthly to use that water. Because of that, I carefully use the daily ration of five litres of drinking water for ablutions, and sometimes I perform the noon prayer close to afternoon prayer so that noon and afternoon prayer could be perfomed with one ablution.
Police: From now on, you must join the congregation for prayer.
Luthfee: If can do the ablution, I will.
Police: We don't care if you can do ablutions or not. You must join the congregation for prayer.
Luthfee: Allah forbids prayer without ablutions. I do not pray because I am imprisoned. I have prayed since my childhood. Here I pray five times a day. This is between myself and holy Allah.
Police: You must pray to show QRT. Goat, don't talk anymore. You have talked too much. This is not your mother or father's household. This is the prison, here you must obey our orders or else we can take you out and file you down. If you hit a galhi after this, we'll make sure you know about it. Get up and go now.

Because of the shortage of water and difficulty of access to the toilet, during most days, I performed two prayers with the congregation each day without ablutions. And when I am able to do ablutions, I re-perform that prayer. Without ablutions, I prayed to QRT. When praying after ablutions, I pray to my creator Allah.

On the first day I was put in prison, a policeman arrived and shaved my head without saying anything to me. And on that day, I was told to take off my trousers in front of about 30 prisoners who were brought with me and half a dozen policemen and four Correction Department officers. I was told to take off my underpants. I could not refuse so I took them off. I was told to remove my shirt. When I asked if I could take a towel to wrap around myself, I was told very loudly, 'No! No!' Then I took off my shirt. Now I was naked in front of all these people.

'Lift up your willy.' I lifted up my penis.
'Lift up your balls.' I did that too.
'Turn around', 'bend over', 'put your hands on your cheeks and spread them apart.'

I had one hand at the front to hide my genitals, and because of the orders that followed, I had to put both hands on my bottom and open spread my cheeks apart. 'Open them wider', 'more', 'have we told you to open them wider', so I opened them as much as I could. This was not done to me only. This was done to all of the 30 people who were imprisoned with me.

They allow us to take into the cell only the few clothes we have. Soap is put in our hands. We cannot take our bags. We can take a toothbrush and toothpaste tube. We cannot take shampoo, lotion or any of that type of thing. We cannot take watches with us. Not even a case for eye glasses. They took my mobile phone and asked me what I was intending to do with it. They asked me why I had brought such expensive things. I said I am more valuable than that phone, and now it was a thing of no value to me.

The pillow they gave me was old and had been used by many people. It had a foul smell and was not healthy to use. When I was put in prison I found that the security check they did was useless. That is because in the prison blocks, lighters and cigarettes were commonly available, even though this was prohibited by the prison rules. We were informed that if we held hungerstrikes in the prison, we'd be force-fed. If we refused to take any medication prescribed, we'd be forced to take the medication. We were made to sign this notification. The notice also informed us that when we are being forced to comply, then any punishments or harm caused to the person will be considered self-inflicted harm and punishment, and the authorities will not take any responsibility.

Stories about prison torture are not new to me now. After being imprisoned five times, I have seen with my own eyes many different types of serious injuries being done to people. I also cried. I wondered whether all those tortures were really carried by Maldivian police. This is only a very brief description of the torture practiced in jail.

The food served in prison is not in any way nutritious. There is never a cup of tea with milk. Even small children now know how important milk is for the body. Every 24 hours, five litres of water is given to each person. With this water, people are to bath, do ablutions, drink, and clean themselves after going to the toilet. Those people who washed their private parts with prison water suffer sores in their groin. Even when people fall sick, it was terribly difficult to see a doctor.

The last time I was in prison, the prison block next to mine (previously D block now called C3) had its doorlock broken by one of the inmates by inserting something into the key hole of the lock. No one among the 104 inmates admitted to doing it. Right in front of me, these people were refused the daily ration of five litres of water for 48 hours. At meal time, only 15 litres of water were available for the 104 men.

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