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Maldives 13 October 2004

Concern about the fate of four cyberdissidents two months after their arrest

Reporters Without Borders expressed concern about four cyberdissidents who were arrested on 13 August 2004 as police broke up a pro-democracy demonstration.

The worldwide press freedom organisation said it was especially worried about their prison conditions and called for their immediate release.

Those who were arrested were: Mohamed Zaki, Ahmad Didi, Fathimath Nisreen and Naushad Waheed.

The organisation also called on the European Commission to put into effect a resolution passed by the parliament in mid-September on freezing all financial aid to the Maldives.

"President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom continues to rely on hypocrisy in his dealings with the international community. He has indeed just lifted the state of emergency, but most of the demonstrators who were arrested on 13 August are still being held."

"We particularly fear for the life of Ahmad Didi, who is currently in the emergency room of the government hospital" in the capital Malé, said Reporters Without Borders.

Didi, who suffers from heart problems, is reportedly in a critical condition. He has been beaten several times and was held in solitary confinement at Dhoonidhoo prison. His wife has been able to visit him only once and in the presence of police officers.

Fathimath Nisreen is also imprisoned in Dhoonidhoo. Her mother, the only person who has been allowed to see her, said that she had been ill-treated but declined to give any further details.

Mohamed Zaki was put under house arrest on 6 October after spending a month at Maafushi prison and several weeks in hospital. Naushad Waheed was initially held at Malé police station but then transferred to Dhoonidhoo.

The official Maldives human rights commission has said after visiting them that the prisoners ’treatment was "inhumane" and their families say they have been unable able to find any lawyers prepared to defend them.

The state of emergency declared after the demonstrations was only lifted on 10 October, under pressure from US and European delegations. Nevertheless, the European Commission has until now refused to apply sanctions recommended by the parliament - freezing of all aid and putting out a warning about the situation to tourists planning to visit the archipelago.

Several thousand demonstrators gathered in the capital on the evening of 12 August to call for democratic reform. The peaceful demonstration was brutally suppressed the following day on the orders of President Gayoom. He also ordered a curfew and cut Internet access throughout the archipelago for two days. The four cyberdissidents, who had been placed under house arrest shortly beforehand, nevertheless managed to take part in the demonstration.

The regime of President Gayoom is one of the world’s most repressive countries in terms of press freedom both on the Internet and for traditional media. British firm Cable & Wireless manages the Internet service on the archipelago.

Mohamed Zaki, Ahmad Didi, Ibrahim Lutfy and his assistant Fathimath Nisreen were arrested in January 2002, for their work on Sandhaanu, an email news bulletin that exposed human rights abuses and corruption in the Maldives.

They were charged with "defamation" and "attempting to overthrow the government". Zaki, Lutfy and Didi were sentenced to life imprisonment on 7 July 2002. Fathimath Nisreen, who was only 22 at the time of the trial, was sentenced to ten years. Lutfy managed to escape from prison on 24 May 2003 and now lives in Switzerland.

The painter and political dissident Naushad Waheed was also arrested on 9 December 2001, for sending an email to Amnesty International. He was sentenced on 12 October 2002 to 15 years in prison pour committing "an anti-government act". He has been tortured on several occasions.

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