Home Minister Imran Abdulla has vowed to end torture and inhumanity in prisons throughout the country after six inmates at Maafushi prison were beaten with batons, pepper sprayed and forcibly head shaved by guards.
The brutality was in response to a guard being attacked by a prisoner, an inmate at Maafushi prison told the Maldives Independent.
The six prisoners who were beaten on Thursday, all from Unit Four, were dragged out of their cells by some 40 prison guards and beaten while handcuffed.
“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.
After the beatings, the prisoners had their heads shaved, while guards pepper sprayed their genitals, he said.
Inmates at Unit Four began protesting on Friday, demanding that the injured prisoners be taken to Malé for medical treatment.
“The injured were [put in] isolation instead of [being taken to] a doctor. After we demanded a doctor, they brought in prison nurses. The prisoners were badly beaten. [There are] no facilities to treat them here at the prison,” another prisoner, also from Unit Four, said.
In response to the assault, Imran ordered authorities to ensure the injured received appropriate medical care. He also acknowledged that “excessive force [had been] used by prison guards”.
“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 minister said in a statement.
Imran, who himself spent a year in jail after being convicted of terrorism in 2016 during Abdulla Yameen’s presidency, said torture and mistreatment of prisoners have no place in the Maldives of today.
“There has been no sufficient reform to the prisons in the Maldives for a long time. The conditions in jails cannot be changed within a day or two. However, we will stop the degrading treatment and torture of prisoners,” Imran said in a tweet.
The minister also warned prison guards that politically motivated prison riots would not be tolerated, while pledging that the accusations against warders would be thoroughly and properly investigated before punitive measures were taken against the guilty.
Meanwhile, the parliament Committee on Human Rights and Gender has launched an investigation into the incident at Maafushi prison.
The first meeting of the committee will be held on Saturday at the parliament building.
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.