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Maldives 18 August 2004

Call for European Union to press for release of cyber-dissidents

Reporters Without Borders called today on the European Union to obtain the release of four Maldivian cyber-dissidents, including three persons working for the e-mail newsletter Sandhaanu, who have been jailed since police broke up a 13 August pro-democracy demonstration. One of them, Ahmad Didi (photo), has been tortured and is reported to be in critical condition.

The worldwide press freedom organisation also urged the EU and its external relations commissioner Chris Patten to "firmly condemn the harsh repression" of President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s regime and said it was urgent to so because the prisoners were being ill treated.

The three Sandhaanu cyberdissidents - Mohamed Zaki, Ahmad Didi and Fathimath Nisreen - and cyberdissident Naushad Waheed were arrested after they escaped their confinement to house arrest in the capital, Male, and had attended the protest and addressed the crowd.

(JPEG) Didi returned home before the demonstration ended and police arrested him a few hours later and took him blindfold and handcuffed to the Girifushi army camp, where he was continually beaten and held in filthy conditions with very little to eat. He received no medical treatment despite having serious heart problems.

(JPEG) Nisreen was arrested at her home the same day by National Security Service (NSS) agents and is reportedly being held in solitary confinement at Maafushi prison in a 3 sq.metre cell with no mattress and very little food.

Zaki was also arrested on 13 August but released a few hours later. He was picked up again on 16 August by NSS agents. He has serious back problems. His son was also arrested during the protest and is reportedly being held at the Girifushi camp.

Waheed has also been detained but it is not known when, or where he is being held.

Several thousand people demonstrated in Male late on 12 August to demand the release of political prisoners, including the three Sandhaanu cyberdissidents. The peaceful protest was broken up with violence the next day and President Gayoom imposed a curfew and cut the entire country off from the Internet for two days.

The regime has one of the world’s worst press freedom records, both in the traditional media and concerning the Internet. Online access is handled by the British-owned telecommunications firm Cable & Wireless.

Zaki, Didi, Ibrahim Lutfy and his assistant Nisreen were arrested in January 2002 for publishing the e-mailed Sandhaanu, which exposed human rights abuses and corruption in the Maldives. Zaki, Lutfy and Didi were jailed for life on 7 July that year for alleged libel and "attempting to overthrow the government." Nisreen, then 22, was given a 10-year sentence. Lutfy escaped on 24 May last year and now lives in Switzerland.

Painter and dissident Naushad Waheed was arrested on 9 December 2001 after sending e-mail messages to Amnesty International and jailed for 15 years on 12 October 2002 for alleged anti-government activity. He has been tortured several times in prison.

Medical certificate of Ahmad Didi :


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