Maafushi Prison guards fearful of reprisals for attacks on inmates on Thursday are refusing to enter jail cells, disrupting prison operations and effectively halting the movement of prisoners.
Tensions are running high inside the biggest prison in the Maldives after guards attacked six detainees with batons, shaved their heads and pepper sprayed their private parts on Thursday after a duty officer was earlier attacked by a prisoner.
Home Minister Imran Abdulla said the guards had used excessive force to control the situation and vowed to end torture in prisons. He also suspended the commander of the Emergency Support Group (ESG) – backup guards. His name was not released.
Meanwhile on Saturday night, an off duty prison guard was attacked on Maafushi Island. Police suspect a group of men from Malé were responsible for the attack.
A senior prison guard told the Maldives Independent that officers felt threatened because a number of detainees are armed with shanks and steel pipes.
“The guards are demanding that the ESG inspect and remove any weapons. However, the ESG still has not received permission [to intervene]. And a guard was attacked last night while he was off duty,” he said, referring to the attack on Maafushi island.
However, the home ministry issued a statement later on Thursday saying that the ESG would be allowed into the prison to search for weapons.
Guards at Maafushi fear reprisals from prisoners after one of the victims of the beating last Thursday, Mohamed Mafaz Hussain, a serial offender and gang member, was seriously injured.
“The guards know that they are in danger. An attack on a senior gang member could have serious repercussions,” an inmate said.
Meanwhile, the home minister has been criticised by an officer from the Maldives Correctional Service (MCS), who spoken on condition of anonymity, for apparently siding with the injured inmates.
“The officers feel that the minister was biased towards the prisoners. They feel that their safety is not being addressed by the government,” Imran said.
In a protest of their own, detainees on Friday refused to eat until the injured inmates had received medical attention.
“On Friday, prisoners refused to let in the food trolley because the injured prisoners were left untreated,” an inmate at Unit Four, where the injured are detained, said.
In response to the attack on inmates on Thursday, the home minister admitted that the injured inmates should have received urgent medical treatment and pledged to end prison torture.
“We will take legal action against those responsible after a complete investigation,” he told the press on Thursday.
Meanwhile, Commissioner of Prisons Abdulla Munaz was summoned to appear before the parliamentary Committee on Human Rights and Gender on Thursday.
Apparently contradicting Imran’s earlier statement, Munaz told the committee that the prisoners had received medical treatment within 15 minutes of the abuse ending.
“Our in-house doctor saw the injured prisoners 10 to 15 minutes after the incident on Thursday,” he said.
However, a prisoner from Unit Four of Maafushi Prison told the Maldives Indpendent the injured inmates were only treated by prison nurses instead of a doctor.
The inmate said a doctor had eventually looked at the injured inmates in their cells, but not sent them to hospital.
“The injured have still not been taken to hospital,” the innate complained on Thursday. “A doctor came and treated the injured in their cells. Guards did not even take the detainees to the in-house prison clinic,” he said.
In a statement issued on Thursday, the government condemned the attacks on the prisoners.
“We [the government] do not accept and condemn the excessive force used by the guards to control the situation. I have ordered the inspector of prisons to conduct an investigation and to take action against those responsible,” the Home Ministry statement said.
Earlier this month, Imran announced that a committee would be formed to oversee prison reform after the first audit of the country’s jails revealed that inmates were routinely subjected to shocking abuse.
Conditions are “shameful” and inmates are deprived of basic human rights, the audit stated.
Investigators highlighted problems of overcrowding – of prisoners and those on remand or in pre-trial detention, unsanitary living conditions, lack of opportunities to exercise, lack of policies to separate non-violent offenders from inmates convicted of serious crimes, and failure to meet World Health Organisation standards for food and water.
“There is not a single prison in [the] Maldives that does not violate the Mandela Rules, making it a challenge to ensure the rights of inmates,” the report concluded.