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Maldive political prisoner disappears from Colombo hotel during medical treatment
Maldives Culture Special Report
28 May 2003

Ibrahim Luthfee

Political prisoner Ibrahim Luthfee has escaped from Maldive police custody in Colombo, Sri Lanka, while being treated for damage to his eyes caused by chronic conjunctivitis after years of unhygenic prison conditions in Maldives.

Luthfee was treated in Malé's Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital for seven weeks before being moved in May to Colombo under Maldive police guard.

In July 2002, Luthfee and three others received draconian sentences for writing and publishing nine editions of the banned email newsletter, Sandhaanu, which condemned leading figures in the Gayyoom regime, accusing them of corruption, sexual misconduct, use of intoxicants, and religious hypocrisy.

Fathimath Nisreen

Luthfee, now 38, was sentenced to 25 years imprisonoment for defamation and treason. Two other Sandhaanu writers, Mohamed Zaki and Ahmed Ibrahim Didi, both 51, received the same penalty. Fathimath Nisreen, 22, was given 10 years in gaol.

Below is a slightly edited section from a letter written by Ibrahim Luthfee soon after his escape:

"After P Terygium excision surgery on my right eye on March 31, I spent four days in the general ward at IGM hospital in Malé, and a lot of relatives and many others from all walks of life also visited.

Dr Abdullah Zahir (Senior Registrar in Ophthalmology) suggested that I take 20 days medical rest at home. The nurses called Dept of Corrections and they were assured that I would be allowed to stay at home.

Instead, the guards locked me in a dirty congested cell in Malé with approximately 30 inmates, mostly drug addicts. Later in the afternoon, they took me back to hospital and admitted me in a small private room with 4 policemen as guards inside the room. They enforced strict rules and round-the-clock security was in place with a backup 4 member team.

A combat uniformed policeman arrived and ordered the hospital staff to remove the phone. Only a few family members were allowed to visit, and most of our conversations were listened to. Nurses were not allowed to talk to me beyond their duty requirements. The Dept of Corrections placed a notice outside the room forbidding visitors without permission. A list of permitted relatives was put up inside.

Although I was given medical leave, orders from an unidentified authority prompted the Dept of Corrections to send me back to the Maafushi 'torture centre'. All expenses for the hospital stay were borne by my family. Only after a lot of pressure from my relatives, were they admitted under tight security to the hospital for the duration of my stay there. If my family had not agreed to meet the payments, I would have been sent back to jail. The hospital charged MRf 300 a day for room.

On the 10th post-operative day, a problem was found in my eye and immediately Dr Zahir consulted with a team of eye surgeons. I was put on anti-inflammatory drugs, and an emergency surgery was planned, but dropped on same day.

A letter signed by four surgeons and the hospital CEO went to the Dept of Corrections asking that I be sent abroad for immediate grafting of a thinning area on my eye. I asked the Dept of Corrections to send me to the Madhurai Eye Institute in India. After three days, they told me I could go to Colombo. I asked again to go to Madurai. Despite the urgency of the matter, Corrections took 25 days to tell me that arrangements could not be made to visit Madhurai.

Later I learned that because of President Maumoon Gayyoom's state visit to Colombo on 6-9 May, my trip was put on hold. Maumoon decided that I should be sent to Sri Lanka only after his visit, because he was aware that the media in Colombo would question him about us (the Sandhaanu prisoners) and other Lankans back in jail in Maldives.

After spending a month and 19 days in the Malé hospital, I was taken straight to Hulhulé airport. I was not allowed to call my mother, father and grandmother back at home in Addu. I was not allowed to visit my wife and children at home in Malé.

Warrant Officer (Grade II) Shukuree, and Lance Corporal Asad Waheed from the Maldive police accompanied me to Colombo. On arrival, Maldives High Commission staff took us to a city hotel. I consulted two different eye surgeons and was put on drugs and observation for a week. Doctors told me the damage to my eyes is permanent.

Purely for President Mamoon Gayyoom's own political benefit, he delayed sending me here and my eye was left to disintegrate. Can't I call him a Dictator now?

Recalling the torments back in jail, I cannot bear the heavy torture I have to face on my return, and I decided to escape from the hotel. My elder brother, Mohammed Luthfee, who accompanied me to Colombo, was permitted to travel at his own expense. After my escape, I called him and found that the police barred him calling or visiting his guardian who lives in Colombo, and they held his passport. The hotel receptionists tell me that they checked out early next morning.

Relatives back at home tell me that they believe he arrived back, but are reluctant to talk of his whereabouts. In Malé, my wife is so worried of a possible arrest, she asks me not to phone her.

I was in solitary confinement for 5 months and then until I was hospitalised, I spent time with mad drug addicts, and was routinely assaulted, tortured, and harassed by police.

I appeal for civil, political protection, medical assistance from friends, relatives, well-wishers, OHCHR UHCHR-UNOG and other local and international organizations. Please help me urgently!"

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