Dozens of prisoners of conscience and possible prisoners of conscience were held. Prisoners and detainees continued to be ill-treated.

A presidential election in October endorsed Maumoon Abdul Gayoom as President for the fifth term. As in previous years, political parties were not allowed to function.

At least 20 prisoners of conscience were detained in June, most of them in Dhoonidhoo detention centre, on suspicion of spreading Christian beliefs. They were held without trial until November when they were released. The government denied that they had been arrested for professing the Christian faith, but gave no other reason for their detention.

Wu Mei De, a Chinese national held since 1993 apparently as a result of official connivance in attempts by his business partner to prevent him from seeking judicial redress for business grievances (see Amnesty International Report 1998), remained in Gaamadhoo Prison without charge or trial.

The government provided no information about possible prisoners of conscience Hussain Shakir, Ibrahim Musthafa and Mohamed Rasheed (see Amnesty International Report 1998). Referring to their arrests in early 1996 in connection with a demonstration about a rise in electricity prices in Fuvahmulaku Island, the government said these "were for criminal offences of destroying and attempting to destroy properties. The offenders were arrested on criminal charges and dealt with in accordance with the law."

In February Ismail Saadiq (see Amnesty International Report 1998) was transferred from house arrest first to solitary confinement in police custody and then to Dhoonidhoo detention centre. On 15 December he was returned to house arrest. The government stated that he had been sentenced to six months' banishment on fraud charges and that two other fraud cases against him were pending before the courts. It gave no explanation about the date and the manner in which he had been tried or the reason why he was held in Dhoonidhoo detention centre for 10 months.

Prisoners continued to be ill-treated. Women detainees were reportedly held in small, hot and overcrowded cells without adequate sleeping space. Some prisoners of conscience were held continuously for several months in solitary confinement. A former detainee at Gaamadhoo Prison said that she had seen male and female prisoners handcuffed to coconut palms in front of prison cells trying to sleep. During her five-day detention there, she saw girls aged between 13 and 18 almost permanently handcuffed in their cells. Male soldiers jabbed the ribs of female prisoners with wooden batons to wake them for dawn prayers, pointing the batons in a humiliating way, especially at the girls' genitals.

It was learned that a girl had died in Gaamadhoo Prison in 1994 after she was gang-raped by guard soldiers. No further details were known.

Throughout the year Amnesty International sought information about prisoners, called for the immediate and unconditional release of prisoners of conscience, and expressed concern over reports of ill-treatment. The government responded with information on some cases and an assurance that it takes "human rights protection very seriously".

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