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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 February 2006, 17:08 GMT
Maldives leader frees dissidents
President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom
President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom pardoned the two prisoners
Maldives President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has freed two dissidents jailed for "criminal activities".

Ahmed Ibrahim Didi and Naushad Waheed were imprisoned for alleged treason.

Mr Didi was sentenced to life in prison in 2002, a term later changed to 15 years, while Mr Waheed also received a 15-year jail term.

The Maldives government rejects claims by human rights groups that it breaches human rights with politically motivated and unfair trials.

London-based Amnesty International is pressing the Maldives government to reform its legal system and introduce a new constitution protecting prisoners from torture and "grossly unfair" trials.

Prison sentences

A statement from the president's office earlier on Wednesday had said Mr Didi and Mr Waheed had been freed after being pardoned.

"Ahmed Ibrahim Didi was charged and convicted under sections 29 and 163 of the penal code on offences against the state and criminal defamation, respectively.

"Naushad Waheed was charged and convicted under section 29 of the penal code on offences against the state," the statement added.

Mr Didi had originally been jailed alongside three other dissidents for writing articles for an underground e-mail newsletter called Sandhaanu.

Maldives beach
The Maldives has been criticised for its human rights record

Mohamed Zaki was sentenced to life in prison, a sentence later reduced to 15 years and then house arrest, before being released in 2005.

Ibrahim Lutfy was sentenced to life in prison, but escaped 18 months into his sentence while undergoing medical treatment in Sri Lanka. He has claimed refugee status and now resides in Switzerland.

Fathimath Nisreen was sentenced to 10 years in prison, but was also released last year.

All denied being involved in the "violent and illegal acts" the government convicted them of.

Amnesty International's South Asia researcher Abbas Faiz said Mr Didi and Mr Waheed's release did not mean political repression in the Maldives was necessarily improving, but that international attention had forced the release.

"The human rights situation is not significantly better. To neutralise the criticism they have released these people," he told BBC News.

He said that at least five people in the 300,000-strong national were currently being detained unfairly - he said it was similar to "500 people being detained in a city the size of London".

President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has ruled the Maldives for more than 25 years and political parties were in effect banned until early June of last year.


SEE ALSO:
Maldives dissident denies crimes
19 May 05 |  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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