Amnesty demands release of detained women in Maldives
Amnesty International (AI) has accused the police in the Maldives of beating and sexual harassing four women detained during an anti-government rally.
It has demanded that the authorities investigate the allegations and release the women.
According to testimony gathered by AI, the women, who were arrested on 19 March, were beaten during and after their arrest.
While in detention they were forced to undergo naked body checks on the spurious grounds of concealing drugs in their genitals. They were forced to strip and squat several times while in prison.
AI’s Maldives researcher Abbas Faiz, said:
“The Maldives has an image as a luxury holiday destination, and over the past few years, it had established a positive track record on human rights.
“But the fact is at the moment, not only is repression of peaceful political protest an everyday reality, it has taken an appalling new twist with this cruel and degrading treatment”.
The rally on 19 March was organised by the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) to protest about the opening of parliament where the new President, Dr Waheed was to give a speech.
Protests have continued in the capital Malé and other cities since 7 February in support of former president, Mohamed Nasheed, who was ousted after a police and military mutiny.
There is no indication that the women protesters were involved in any acts of violence during the rally. Their detention therefore was arbitrary.
Cases of molestation and other humiliating sexual acts against women have been reported in the past but these latest allegations highlight a new police drive to suppress political activity under the pretext of body searching female detainees for alleged possession of drugs.
Maldives police have denied the allegations and said those aggrieved should ask the Maldives Human Rights Commission (MHRC) to investigate their allegations.
But the MHRC has told AI that they have serious limitations in terms of trained investigative staff and dealing with human rights issues in a highly politicised environment is an overwhelming challenge for them.
The MHRC has yet to complete investigations into the alleged sexual harassment of female detainees in 2004.
“By referring cases of police abuse of power to the MHRC, when it is clear that such investigations are beyond its capacity, the government is in effect forfeiting its own responsibility to enforce respect for human rights within the police force.
“This is the wrong message to give to the police as it will encourage police officers to violate human rights with impunity. The Maldives government must ensure that the right to freedom of assembly and expression is protected at all times.“