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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 26 February, 2003, 14:17 GMT
Maldives defends prison terms
Mohamed Zaki, Fathimath Nisreen, Ibrahim Luthfee
Three of the four now in prison
The Maldives Government says a recent report calling for it to release four people described as journalists is factually wrong and misleading.

The four were convicted last year of inciting violence and defamation.

Three were given life sentences.

The report was published by the organisation Reporters without Frontiers. It says it never described those found guilty as journalists. It maintains that the sentences handed down were harsh.

Electronic newsletter

The three men and one woman were convicted last May.

Mohamed Zaki - life in prison
Ibrahim Luthfee - life in prison
Ahmed Didi - life in prison
Fathumath Nisreen - 10 years in prison
The charges against them were "purely criminal and not motivated by any other reason except to enforce the penal laws" of the Maldives, a statement sent to the BBC by its High Commission in London said.

The four had been working on an electronic newsletter, Sandhaanu.

Sandhaanu "was not a newsletter registered anywhere with any authority", the statement said. Its authors were anonymous, "proving the nature of the activities they were engaged in".

The statement said they had been found guilty of inciting people "to violence and violent and illegal acts against a lawfully elected government and its officials".

'Always critical'

In response, Reporters without Frontiers (RSF) agreed that the four prisoners were not journalists. It said news reports describing them as such were wrong.

However, RSF's Vincent Brossel insisted that the Maldives authorities should review the sentences.

"We found no call to violence in their newsletters," he told BBC News Online on Wednesday.

"It's a group of people that has always been critical of the government.

"It's a very harsh sentence for people who have just expressed their opinions on the government policy."

But the Maldives Government says the four were "tried in open court, and like anyone else, had the right to be represented and assisted by a lawyer and had the right and opportunity to appeal their cases".

RSF says the four prisoners are being held in harsh conditions and a building usually reserved for drug addicts and thieves, with few visits from their families allowed.

The Maldives Government says its prisons are "far better and more humane than many countries with better financial and human resources".

Country profile: The Maldives
18 Jan 03 |  Country profiles
Timeline: The Maldives
07 Aug 02 |  South Asia

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