"I was never physically tortured. But the psychological scars from what I underwent in prison are irreversible."
Fathimath Nisreen was arrested in January 2002 for helping to publish an e-mail newsletter called Sandhaanu that covered human rights violations and corruption in the Maldives. Accused of "libel" and "trying to overthrow the government," she was sentenced to 10 years in prison. This was commuted to five years banishment on Feeail island in 2003. Fathimath was just 22 years old at the time of her trial. A peaceful gathering in protest against the regime began in the capital, Male, on the evening of 12 August 2004, while Fathimath was being allowed to spend several weeks there. Although under house arrest, she was able to participate in the protest. She agreed to talk about the violent crackdown that ensued.
"People I did not know came to fetch me by motorcycle on the night of 13 August 2004, asking me to come to a pro-democracy demonstration which had begun that morning in Republic Square. I agree to go with them. I addressed the crowd there, speaking about my experiences and the unfair conviction of which I was a victim. This entirely peaceful rally lasted all night. At 11 a.m. the next day, the National Security Services told the demonstrators to go home. The television and radio relayed these instructions. But no one moved.
At around 2:30 p.m., I heard the wail of a siren. I quickly realized the police were going to use tear gas to disperse us. The NSS launched their attack at 3 p.m., using tear gas and raining blows on the demonstrators. I was a bit to one side and watched this terrible scene without being able to react. I don’t understand how these people, who are supposed to protect us, were able to beat us without good reason. I was really traumatised by what I saw that day. More than three months later, I still see what happened in my nightmares. I still have etched in my memory the image of a young boy of about 15 or 16 being beaten with a baton.
Some policemen finally came over to me and threatened to hit me. That’s when I fled. I know they would come looking for me at my home, but I went home all the same. They came in the evening and put me into an NSS jeep, handcuffed and blindfolded. While being detained, a policeman behind me touched my genitals. I would never have believed that members of the security services would do anything like that. It was disgusting.
At first I spent two days, still handcuffed and blindfolded, in a room with 25 other detainees, men and women. It was only on the third day that they told me that I had been arrested for taking part in an illegal gathering. I was questioned for the first time on 17 August. I told them I wanted to see my lawyer, but they refused, telling me that President Gayoom had proclaimed a state of emergency and that any basic right could be violated during this period. I was never physically tortured during the subsequent interrogation sessions, but they shouted at me and tried to scare me.
I was transferred to Dhoonidhu prison on 21 August and shut in a small cell with another woman detainee. My mother was able to visit me for the first time. She had been deeply shocked by my arrest and seemed to be suffering from depression. After her visit, I prayed every day for her.
They interrogated me several times. One day, they asked me if I wanted the president to resign. I replied that I found it intolerable that a man used religion to keep himself in power and that, furthermore, there was no justice in my country because of him. The police insulted me on several occasions during these interrogation sessions, even calling me a prostitute.
I got out of prison on 24 October. Prior to that, I had to undergo a final interrogation in which the police tried to make me sign a statement. I refused to do so in my lawyer’s absence. When I read the statement, I saw that several of the things I had said had been changed and that entire passages had been added. They finally agreed to put me under house arrest without my signing the statement.
I was never physically tortured. But the psychological scars from what I underwent in prison are irreversible. Today I am more determined that ever to fight so that we are respected as human beings. Our suffering won’t stop as long as this regime endures. Fortunately, I have faith in God, who works for humankind’s good and who will always support us."
Fathimath Nisreen should shortly be sent to Feeail Island to serve her sentence of banishment. She has suffered from back pain since she went to prison but has not received appropriate medical treatment.