Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 July 2014, 14:54 GMT

Internet Under Surveillance 2004 - Maldives

Publisher Reporters Without Borders
Publication Date 2004
Cite as Reporters Without Borders, Internet Under Surveillance 2004 - Maldives, 2004, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/46e6918e28.html [accessed 24 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
  • Population: 309,000
  • Internet users: 15,000 (2002)
  • Average charge for 20 hours of connection: 43 euros
  • DAI*: 0.43
  • Situation**: very serious

The Maldives are an island paradise for tourists but an all-out hell for cyber-dissidents. President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who has ruled for more than 25 years, cracks down hard on free expression. Three people have been in prison since January 2002 for producing an e-mail newsletter.

Article 25 of the Maldivian constitution states that "all citizens have the right to express their opinions orally, in writing or by any other means." In September 2003, President Gayoom even set up a commission to investigate human rights violations. But in practice, he continues to crack down on any form of dissent with brutality. "The president's actions never match his words," says Ibrahim Lutfy, a cyber-dissident who avoided serving a life sentence by escaping from his guards (see his account opposite).

E-mail newsletter team still in prison

Ibrahim Lutfy was arrested along with Mohamed Zaki, Ahmad Didi and Fathimath Nisreen (Lutfy's assistant) in January 2002 for producing Sandhaanu, a newsletter about human rights violations and corruption that was distributed by e-mail. Accused of "defamation" and "trying to overthrow the government," Lutfy, Zaki and Didi were condemned to life imprisonment on 7 July 2002. Nisreen, who was only 22 at the time of the trial, received a 10-year prison sentence.

Lutfy gave his police guard the slip on 24 May while in nearby Sri Lanka for an operation to his eyes. He was suffering from chronic conjunctivitis, aggravated by poor prison conditions. After refusing many times, the authorities had finally given permission for him to go to Sri Lanka for treatment. He spent several months in hiding in Sri Lanka with the help of a network of friends. Then the UNHCR helped him obtain refugee status in Switzerland, where he currently lives. The policeman assigned to guard him while in Sri Lanka was imprisoned.

After Lutfy's escape, Zaki and Didi were transferred to the Dhoonidhoo island detention centre where they were placed in solitary confinement for six months. They were humiliated and mistreated. After rioting in September that was linked to the death of a detainee in a prison in the capital, Male, they were moved to a prison on Mafushi island and their sentences were reportedly reduced to 15 years in prison.

Didi was hospitalised in Male in February 2004 and was then put under house arrest. He had serious heart problems which probably needed surgery. Zaki, whose health deteriorated seriously while in prison, was also put under house arrest. He was supposed to return to his prison cell once he had recovered. Nisreen, Lutfy's assistant, was banished to Feeail island, south of the capital, after spending a year in the prison on Mafushi island in tough conditions. Her sentence was reduced to five years.

Artist gets 15-year jail term

Painter and political dissident Naushad Waheed was arrested on 9 December 2001 for contacting Amnesty International by e-mail. He was sentenced on 12 October 2002 to 15 years in prison for "an anti-government act. " Tortured several times while detained, he was placed under house arrest in April 2004 to receive medical treatment but was supposed to return to prison when the treatment was over.

Censored Internet

The authorities do not block foreign news sites or those of international human rights organisations. But they censor online publications edited by opponents of the regime, such as www.sandhaanu.com, which Ibrahim Lutfy relaunched in March 2004. The website of the main opposition party, www.maldiviandemocraticparty.org, and the online magazine www.maldivesculture.com, which focusses on human rights and is based abroad, are also censored. The government also blocks access to online discussion forums used by dissidents.

Links

* The DAI (Digital Access Index) has been devised by the International Telecommunications Union to measure the access of a country's inhabitants to information and communication technology. It ranges from 0 (none at all) to 1 (complete access).

** Assessment of the situation in each country (good, middling, difficult, serious) is based on murders, imprisonment or harassment of cyber-dissidents or journalists, censorship of news sites, existence of independent news sites, existence of independent ISPs and deliberately high connection charges.

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