Watchdog lets police off the hook over torture claims

Watchdog lets police off the hook over torture claims
August 03 07:45 2016

The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives has cleared police officers and prison guards of torture claims in the 65 cases it investigated last year.

The watchdog said it found no evidence to back up allegations of torture because of a lack of medical evidence, eye witness testimony, and CCTV cameras at jails and detention centers.

It also listed shortage of funds, time and expertise as challenges in investigating allegations.

The HRCM’s anti-torture report, an annual publication, said the commission had received 55 new complaints involving 69 men between July 2015 and June 2016.

13 of them had alleged ‘brutal arrests’ and 49 had reported of being tortured in detention centres. Three of the 49 were minors. Two others said they were brutalised during an interrogation. The police were accused in 48 cases and prison guards were accused in six cases.

The commission is obliged by the 2013 Anti-Torture Act to investigate allegations of torture and publish an annual report on its findings. The first report was published last year.

This year’s report also revealed deplorable conditions at jails and detention centers, including overcrowding, round-the-clock surveillance inside cells and toilets, and poor light and ventilation.

The country’s main prison, the Maafushi Jail, housed 777 inmates despite only having the capacity to cater to 600. Scores of inmates spend the night in the dark because light bulbs were broken, the report found.

Many prisoners complained of beatings, poor food and of being bitten by rodents and insects. The HRCM said inmates also faced frequent delays in getting the medical care they needed.

At the detention centers in the capital Malé, some detainees were subject to unnecessary strip searches and complained of verbal abuse, the report said.

At the Fuvahmulah detention center, police took away pillows and mats as disciplinary action and inmates were forced to choose between a phone call or visit by their families, despite the law mandating both.

The report also found that foreign detainees did not have access to translators and were made to sign documents in Dhivehi.

Human rights groups have long expressed concern over the culture of impunity law enforcement agencies enjoy in the Maldives. No police officer or prison guard accused of brutality in the past decade has faced legal action, despite some instances being caught on camera.

The HRCM investigated 37 out of 56 complaints of torture in 2015, and asked prosecutors to file charges in four cases, but the then-chief prosecutor threw them out, citing insufficent evidence. The commission highlighted similar challenges in gathering evidence last year.

The criminal court has meanwhile acquitted all officers accused of brutality in the handful of cases it has reviewed.

The six policemen who were charged with assault during a brutal crackdown on opposition protesters in the aftermath of former President Mohamed Nasheed’s ouster in February 2012 have now been acquitted.

In one of the cases, the court ruled that the video of assault may have been tampered with as it was sourced from private TV stations, Raajje TV and Villa TV.

Photo by Shaari
Additional writing by Zaheena Rasheed