Covering events from January - December 2003

Repression of peaceful political opposition continued. Government opponents, including prisoners of conscience, continued to be detained and imprisoned after unfair trials. Fundamental flaws in the criminal justice system were partially addressed.


There were severe restrictions on freedom of the press, and political parties were unable to function. The government refused to acknowledge responsibility for wide-ranging human rights violations. Unprecedented civil protests in late September gave voice to increasing anger at the lack of human rights protection. Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was elected President for a sixth consecutive five-year term in a referendum in October. In December, in response to the September protests, the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives was established under a presidential decree with a mandate to protect and promote human rights in the country.

Prisoners of conscience and mass arrests

At least six prisoners of conscience continued to serve long sentences after grossly unfair trials. Among them were Fathimath Nisreen, whose 10-year sentence was reduced to five years and who was transferred to a remote island in December to serve the remainder of this sentence in "banishment"; Mohamed Zaki and Ahmed Ibrahim Didi, whose sentences of life imprisonment were reduced in December to 15 years; Naushad Waheed, who was serving a 15-year sentence; and Ibrahim Fareed whose whereabouts remained unknown to AI at the end of the year.

Following unprecedented civil protests in Malé, the capital, in September, scores of people were arbitrarily detained and interrogated. The protests were sparked off by a prisoner's death at the hands of National Security Service (NSS) personnel in Maafushi prison and an attempt to bury him secretly. On 20 October, police officials claimed they had released 95 of the 121 people arrested in the wake of the September protests. However, some sources put the number of people arrested at more than 300, including children. Among those detained was prisoner of conscience Jennifer Latheef, an artist and film-maker whose work focuses on the prevalence of sexual abuse and who had been critical of government policy and censorship. Jennifer Latheef and the remaining detainees from the September protests were released on 9 December, but she was prevented from travelling abroad.

Torture, ill-treatment and killings by the security forces

Torture or ill-treatment of prisoners at Malé police headquarters, Dhoonidhoo detention centre, and Maafushi prison continued to be reported. At least two prisoners were beaten to death by NSS personnel in Maafushi prison. Most prisoners suffered from a lack of adequate food or access to medical facilities, but were reportedly afraid of being beaten if they complained. Some prisoners were subjected to severe beatings or held in chains for days at a time. Others were deprived of medication despite their deteriorating health.

  • Hassan Evan Naseem died on 19 September after being beaten by NSS personnel following an altercation with a prison guard. The news of his death triggered unrest in Maafushi prison and protests in Malé.
  • Abdulla Amin died in Maafushi prison after NSS forces opened fire on protesting prison inmates on 20 September. Dozens of other prisoners received gunshot wounds. Over a dozen of the injured were flown to Sri Lanka for medical treatment. Three subsequently died of their injuries. The rest of the injured were reportedly not given adequate medical treatment. Several were held at Malé airport and others at Maafushi prison rather than being transferred to hospital.

President Gayoom ordered an investigation into the death of Hassan Evan Naseem and the shootings at Maafushi prison. Subsequently, a number of NSS personnel were arrested. On 29 December, President Gayoom announced that he had received the report of the investigating commission which, he said, would be published by the end of January 2004. He said he would "study the report and implement the necessary steps".

Violence against women

The government appeared to have acknowledged the need for the adoption of legislation to protect women from domestic and other violence. A project to draft a bill to this effect was reportedly under way at the end of 2003.

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