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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 September, 2003, 10:49 GMT 11:49 UK
Amnesty attacks Maldives 'abuse'
Election Commission headquarters in Male
The Election Commission building was one of those rioters targeted
Amnesty International has said that last weekend's rioting in the Maldives was provoked by the government's systematic political repression and has called for reform of the judicial system.

The London-based human rights group issued a report on Wednesday after rioting and arson attacks in the capital Male that were sparked by the deaths in custody of three prisoners.

Amnesty said torture, unfair trials and abusive power by the security forces were endemic in the Indian Ocean islands chain.

Maldivian President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has ordered an inquiry into the deaths but there has been no official response yet to the Amnesty report.

The unrest in the Muslim nation began after members of the president's National Security Service clashed with prisoners at Maafushi prison, on an island close to the capital.

Two prisoners died on Friday and Saturday and a third later after being transferred to a Sri Lankan hospital.

Election decision

Crowds began rioting in Male on Saturday, setting fire to government offices, the high court, police stations and vehicles.

The violence also came a day after the elections commissioner announced that Mr Gayoom, 64, would run for a sixth term in office in November.

President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom
The political system has created economic growth, says Mr Gayoom

Analysts say Mr Gayoom, who has governed since 1978, will almost certainly win.

In its report, Amnesty said the riot damage revealed people's anger about the repressive conditions.

"The scale of civil protest in Male last weekend and the targeting by the protesters of government buildings which are closely associated with endemic human rights violations, underlines people's anger caused by the blatant abuse of their human rights," it said.

Radical reform of the criminal justice system, it said, was urgently needed.

Amnesty said that although the president had ordered an inquiry into the jail shootings, there were concerns about its independence, and the group pointed to a new wave of arbitrary arrests, saying there were reports that children were among those picked up and taken away.

Mr Gayoom said the probe would be completely independent, adding: "No person in the government can influence it."

He said five security officers had been arrested.

Mr Gayoom has defended his country's limited democracy, saying it has helped create strong economic growth.

One opposition website has said that more than 100 people were detained in the riots by security forces, but other sources put the number lower.

A Sri Lankan teacher who spent three months in jail in the Maldives last year said it was common for inmates to be tortured - hung upside down on bars and beaten on their feet or submerged head first in water.

He said after the beatings, the guards would throw sugar on the prisoners so they'd be bitten by ants in their cell, and he said political prisoners were kept in the same cells as ordinary criminals, where powerful lights would be kept on to make sleep difficult.

Did you witness any of the disturbances in the Maldives? Send us your comments using the form below. If you have any photos send them to yourpics@bbc.co.uk


I'm really glad about the way the government has handled this situation
Tomato, Maldives
If people had gone on minding their own business the riot might not have taken place in the first place. Parents should start watching over their kids more carefully cos those 'people' throwing stones at the offices and putting public property on fire were barely more than 15-16 years old. Someone should have told them that they still had 2 terms left for them to vote. I'm really glad about the way the government has handled this situation.
Tomato, Maldives

We are still unsure what really happened at the jail nor do we know how many prisoners were injured. Only God knows how many died, when and why. It's high time that some sort of transparency/reforms (especially the police) come up to enable control these kind of situations.
Ekkala Soru, Male, Maldives

What surprised me was the manner in which what seemed a spontaneous attack on the police quickly turned into what then seemed an increasingly organised and well coordinated attack against the high institutions of the country. It seems to me that someone or some people have been very opportunistic to take advantage of a grave situation and tried to shake the culture of political stability that has served the nation so well and enabled the citizens to enjoy such peaceful lives for such a long time.
Mohamed, Maldives

What we want is stability
Mohamed, Maldives
I was in a public building that was ransacked by the mob on the said day. We were in the building, what we saw was a group of youngsters who were out of control on a senseless spree. The debris from their stone throwing injured them too. I understand that mistakes were made, which led to the riots and the trouble. However, as a Maldivian I feel that outsiders like the Amnesty should appreciate the fact that they have no right to determine what we should want. What we want is stability. Our daily bread depends on it. Whether we forego a western style democracy to do that is our business. I think the Amnesty should first clean up the backyards of the so called "Western Democracies" - where the rights of certain citizens only matter. But I thank BBC for reporting the incident in a democratic manner. Just don't judge for us. We will do it ourselves.
Mohamed, Maldives

The violence at Maafushi prison is due to unprofessional NSS Guards, who have been trained to kill the enemy. To avoid this kind of aggression in future Mr. Qayyoom must replace them to policemen as the police are more sensitive with the people. He should also separate the military and police to two different commands and their training must be different. The uniform must be different so that public will know who is to care for them and who is to defend them. This will surely effect the officer's actions.
Luthufee, Malaysia

Our company is just opposite to the parliament house, almost all of my office mates left since the management decided to close business till peace is regained. Just as I got out, I saw a huge crowd marching towards the parliament house with large pieces of timber and iron rods...they came and smashed the lights, doors, and were doing all the damage they could to the building, but I could not believe my eyes when they lowered the national flag and set it on fire. This action did not communicate the actual message they thought they were displaying and I don't see any reason why they should protest against the government in such a manner. There is always a better way.
"Disappointed Civilian", Maldives

I was watching the mob on the streets from my house on Saturday night. The crowd was huge, armed with butchers' knives and iron rods... basically anything they could find. Suddenly the police arrived in armoured vehicles, and dropped a smoke bomb right in front of my house. Within minutes the crowds dispersed. A curfew was set for the night and my brother [who lives on a nearby island] was stopped by the police on his way to the ferry terminal and was asked to stay in Male and to stay indoors. Since then the police have been everywhere, questioning everyone on the streets, schools have been closed and even some businesses. Everyone is stopped on the road and asked for their identification and details of where they are going.
Violet, Maldives

For the first time in the modern history of Maldives there was such unrest and mayhem. I saw youngsters burning the High Court building. All the sub-police stations, Office of the Commissioner of elections and the National Conference Centre (Dharubaaruge) were also attacked by mobs. Unfortunately no news of the incident appeared in any of the newspapers. The radio and TV didn't broadcast any.
Ismail Abdulla, Maldives

I saw the riot in progress and have witnessed much of the police's activities that have been going on today [Tuesday]. My friends and I have seen many people being hauled in off the streets in Male by the police and the government's security forces - being dragged out of shops and homes. We have heard that people have been taken away by the police and security forces in the middle of the night, nobody knows where to or under what charge. The police and the security forces appear to be arresting anyone who was seen during the riots and anyone who was caught on camera when the buildings were attacked. The police had cameras during the riots and there were cameras in the buildings that were attacked. My friends last night saw two men being hauled out of their shops and thrown into police vans, just before curfew started. I have also seen many young people being arrested, not hardened criminals as the government claims. Everyone here is very scared of possible government reprisals.
'Rosa', Maldives

Here in the capital Male everything was calm and stable as usual until the afternoon at about 2:00 AM on Saturday [20 September 2003]. It was only a few crowd running around burning and destroying some of the government buildings. No private property was damaged or affected. It is very first time in the current history of Maldives that this kind of a thing happened. People obeyed the request from the president and most had returned home instead, enjoying the scenery.
Rasheed, Maldives

People here have no right to throw stones and fire government buildings. It was almost crazy but the government is doing its best and I am sure they will do it. It's all rumours in here.
Pink, Maldives

The violence first erupted near the hospital when the police refused to let the friends and family of the injured inmates access to the hospital. In a tense situation the police tried to show its macho muscles and this sparked further agitation and unrest. Now three inmates have died due to police brutality.
Ibn Hazm, Maldives

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SEE ALSO:
Maldives 'had second jail riot'
23 Sep 03  |  South Asia
'Arrests' after Maldives riots
22 Sep 03  |  South Asia
Maldives capital tense after riot
21 Sep 03  |  South Asia
Amnesty blasts 'holiday paradise'
30 Jul 03  |  South Asia
Country profile: The Maldives
05 Sep 03  |  Country profiles
Maldives defends prison terms
26 Feb 03  |  South Asia


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