(This report covers the period January-December 1997)   Several prisoners of conscience and possible prisoners of conscience were held in detention. There were reports of torture or ill-treatment of detainees. Conditions of detention amounted to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Tight restrictions imposed on the right to freedom of expression by the government of President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom made information on human rights violations difficult to gather and verify. In late September, three types of new lower court were established, dealing with civil, criminal and family cases. In November a new Constitution was adopted which for the first time permits rival candidates to compete in the 48-member Citizen's Majlis (parliament) to obtain its nomination for the presidency. Several prisoners of conscience and possible prisoners of conscience were held in detention. Among them were intellectuals, who were subjected to severe retaliatory measures for criticizing the government. Mohamed Shaheeb, a journalist writing for the newspaper Haveeru, was arrested in January, reportedly in connection with a fictional short story he had written about the treatment of a young woman detained in solitary confinement in police custody. He was held as a prisoner of conscience until his release in March In January Ilyas Ibrahim, a possible prisoner of conscience held under house arrest since March 1996 (see Amnesty International Report 1997), was reportedly released from restrictions on his movements. Also in January, possible prisoners of conscience Mohamed Didi, Hussain Shareef and Ahmed Saeed were reportedly released. They were among a group of people arrested in early 1996 in connection with a demonstration about a rise in electricity prices in Fuvahmulaku Island (see Amnesty International Report 1997). There was no news about the other possible prisoners of conscience, including Hussain Shakir, Ibrahim Musthafa and Mohamed Rasheed, who had been arrested with them. In April it came to light that Wu Mei De, a Chinese national, had been held for over three years in Gaamadhoo Prison without charge or trial. His arrest in November 1993 followed a court case in the Maldives in which Wu Mei De was suing a Maldivian national on grounds of alleged irregularities in a business partnership. His continued detention without charge or trial appeared to be due to official connivance in attempts by his business partner to prevent him from pursuing the court case. Possible prisoner of conscience Ismail Saadiq, a Maldivian businessman who had been held in detention or under house arrest for various periods since July 1996, remained in detention without charge or trial at the end of the year. His detention, for alleged business irregularities, appeared to have been prompted by his support for a candidate in the 1993 presidential elections who was defeated and subsequently tried for "unconstitutional behaviour". Ismail Saadiq was reported to be passing blood in his urine and suffering from other health problems, for which he was being denied adequate medical care. There were reports that detainees were subjected to torture or ill-treatment. Methods included leaving detainees for long periods on chairs with their hands handcuffed to their feet, and forcing detainees to stand on a chair for hours with arms outstretched and a coconut in each palm Conditions in most detention centres amounted to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Seventeen Turkish asylum-seekers were reportedly held in a space meant for 10 people, under a metal roof which caused very high temperatures in the cell. They had to drink brackish sea water, food was inadequate, and men and women had to share the same toilets, with no privacy. The 17, students of Kurdish ethnicity, had been detained on arrival in Malé, the capital, in mid-March, and were held in Gaamadhoo Prison without charge or trial. Fifteen of them were released in May. There was no news about the remaining two. Amnesty International urged the government to release unconditionally all prisoners of conscience, expressed concern about conditions of detention which amounted to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and repeatedly appealed to the government to ratify major human rights instruments. In November Amnesty International asked the government to provide adequate medical care for Ismail Saadiq. No responses were received.

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