Backup guards from the Emergency Support Group have confiscated a shank and eight mobile phones from cells at Maafushi Prison after being given permission on Sunday to conduct an inspection.
The ESG carried out the search after prison guards refused to enter cells, fearing detainees were armed with makeshift weapons.
The four-hour inspection, which was carried out in the presence of Commissioner of Prisons Abdulla Munaz and representatives from the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives, went peacefully, the Home Ministry said.
“Officers found a sharp object fashioned from a steel rod which can be used as a weapon. The rod was taken from one of the steel doors of the cells,” Munaz tweeted.
Tensions are running high at the largest prison in the Maldives after guards beat six detainees on Thursday following an attack on a fellow officer.
According to witnesses, ESG guards dragged the inmates from their cells, cuffed their arms behind their backs and beat them with batons for about an hour. The guards then proceeded to forcibly shave the inmates’ heads and pepper sprayed their private parts.
“All of them had their hands cuffed to their back and were lying on the ground. Some of them were blindfolded. We heard their screams for more than an hour,” an inmate, who witnessed the brutality, said.
Following the attacks on the inmates, the Home Ministry pledged to punish those responsible.
“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.
Home Minister Imran Abdulla has also suspended the commander of the ESG.
On Saturday, in apparent retaliation for the attacks on the inmates, all from Unit 4, a group of men from Malé travelled to Maafushi Island and attacked an off-duty prison guard.
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.