Over a dozen political prisoners, among them prisoners of conscience, were detained for expressing views critical of government policies. Many of them were held without charge or trial. At least one prisoner of conscience was sentenced to imprisonment after an unfair trial. The government of President Moumoon Abdul Gayoom maintained tight restrictions on freedom of expression. Intellectuals were imprisoned for peacefully criticizing the government. In April, Mohammed Nasheed, a freelance journalist, was sentenced to two years' imprisonment by a court in Malé, apparently for making comments about the 1994 general elections and the 1993 presidential elections in an article which was published in a magazine in the Philippines. He was denied the right to be represented in court by his lawyer. After three months in Gaamadhoo Prison, he was transferred to house arrest in Malé with no access to visitors or telephone calls. On appeal, the High Court reduced his sentence to six months' imprisonment – about nine days short of the period he had spent in prison and under house arrest. The government did not, however, take into account his period under house arrest and sent him to Gaamadhoo Prison for a further three months. He was released in December on completion of his sentence. He was a prisoner of conscience. Another prisoner of conscience held under house arrest was Ilyas Ibrahim, President Gayoom's brother-in-law, who had sought to run as a presidential candidate in August 1993 and was subsequently charged with unconstitutional behaviour. He fled the country, but was sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment in absentia. Amid reports of assurances from the authorities that he would not be detained, he returned in March and was placed under house arrest. Prisoners of conscience were believed to be among a group of more than 10 people arrested on Fuvahmulaku Island in January and February, apparently in connection with a reportedly peaceful demonstration about a rise in electricity prices. Among those arrested were Mohamed Didi, Hussain Shareef, Hussain Shakir and Ahmed Saeed. Most of them were believed to be detained without charge or trial at the end of the year. In May, Amnesty International issued a report, Republic of Maldives: Continued detention of prisoner of conscience, urging the government to release Mohammed Nasheed immediately and unconditionally. In November, Amnesty International reiterated its call for the release of several prisoners of conscience and a fair trial for about a dozen other political prisoners. In December, the organization learned that the banishing order on Mohamed Saleem (see Amnesty International Report 1996), who was serving five and a half years' banishment on Nilandhoo island, had been lifted. No further details were available.

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