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Maldives 25 October 2004

Cyber-dissident Fathimath Nisreen banished again

Reporters Without Borders welcomed the release from prison today of cyber-dissident Fathimath Nisreen, who was detained on 13 August in the wake of a pro-democracy rally, but condemned as "unacceptable" her announced transfer within a few days to Feeail island south of the capital to resume serving a five-year sentence of "banishment."

"We call for the complete release of Fathimath and the three other cyber-dissidents still being held by the regime," the organisation said.

Nisreen was in good health, but said she had been "psychologically disturbed" by her arrest and the torture she witnessed. Two of the three other detained cyber-dissidents, Mohamed Zaki and Naushad Waheed, are under house-arrest. The third, Ahmad Didi, who has serious heart problems, has been transferred back to Dhoonidhoo prison after several days in hospital.

All four had been able to attend a peaceful pro-democracy rally with several thousand participants on 12 August in the capital, Male, because they had recently been transferred to house arrest after previously being held in prison.

The day after the rally, a violent crackdown began on the orders of President Gayoom, who decreed a curfew and cut all Internet access throughout the archipelago for several days.

Nisreen, Zaki, Didi and Ibrahim Lutfy were originally arrested in January 2002 for publishing an e-mail newsletter called Sandhaanu, which covered human rights abuses and corruption in the Maldives. Accused of libel and "trying to overthrow the government," Zaki, Didi and Lutfy were sentenced to life imprisonment on 7 July 2002. The sentence was later reduced to 15 years in prison.

Nisreen, who was Lutfy’s assistant and who was 22 at the time to the trial, was given a 10-year prison sentence that was reduced in 2003 to five years of banishment on Feeail island. Lutfy managed to escape on 24 May 2003 and today lives in Switzerland.

Waheed, a painter and political dissident, was arrested on 9 December 2001 for contacting Amnesty International by e-mail. He was sentenced on 12 October 2002 to 15 years in prison for "an anti-government act." He was tortured several times in the course of his detention.

The Gayoom government is one the world’s most repressive regimes as regards free expression, cracking down both on the Internet as well as the traditional media. The British company Cable & Wireless operates the Internet in the Maldives.

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