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Maldives 9 May 2005

Jubilation as Fathimath Nisreen is amnestied

Reporters Without Borders expressed its profound relief at a presidential amnesty on 9 May for cyberdissident Fathimath Nisreen. "It’s a huge delight," said the organisation. "This courageous young woman can finally resume a normal life after three years in prison, banishment and then house arrest."

"We hope this amnesty will quickly be followed by that of Mohamed Zaki and Ahmad Didi, the other contributors to Sandhaanu".

Mohamed Zaki, Ahmad Didi, Ibrahim Lutfy and his assistant Fathimath Nisreen were all arrested in January 2002, for working on Sandhaanu, an email newsletter that exposed human rights abuses and corruption in the Maldives. Accused of "defamation" and "attempting to overthrow the government" Zaki, Lutfy and Didi were sentenced to life imprisonment, on 7 July 2002. Nisreen, who was only 22 at the time of the trial, was jailed for ten years.

"Despite everything let us not forget that the iniquitous justice system in this country has deprived Fathimath of three years of her life," said Reporters Without Borders. "At less than 25, she has already been sent twice to prison and been banished for long months on an island far from her family. We hope that the amnesty that has just been granted is the first sign of a commitment by Maldives President, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, to respect free expression in future".

Fathimath Nisreen was summoned on 9 May to the prison affairs department in the capital Malé. She had to sign a paper officially accepting the amnesty but in which she undertook to "respect the Islamic religion" and "the Maldives constitution".

She told Reporters Without Borders by phone that she wanted to send "a big thank you" to everyone who supported her during the ordeal. "It is certain that international pressure played a big part in my release," she added.

Ibrahim Lutfy, another contributor to Sandhaanu who managed to escape from prison 18 months after his arrest, told Reporters Without Borders that he hoped the president had realised "the imprisonment of his colleagues was totally iniquitous" and that he would "in consequence quickly and unconditionally release Mohamed Zaki and Ahmad Didi".

A year after her imprisonment, Nisreen had her sentence reduced to five years banishment on the island of Feeail, south of the capital. Since summer 2004, she had been allowed to return to Malé where she lived under house arrest.

Didi and Zaki have also been under house arrest since February 2004. Their sentences were reduced to 15 years in 2003.

Ibrahim Lutfy managed to escape from police custody on 24 May 2003, while he was in Sri Lanka for an eye operation. He now lives in exile in Switzerland.

Over 13 years ago, Reporters without Borders created its "Sponsorship Programme" and called upon the international media to select and support an imprisoned journalist. More than two hundreds news staffs around the globe are thus sponsoring colleagues by regularly petitioning authorities for their release and by publicising their situations so that their cases will not be forgotten. Currently, Fathimath Nisreen is sponsored by : NRJ (Belgium), Marie Claire,, Marie Claire Espagne,, Flair, RTBF Télévision, Le Courrier, Fun Radio Belgium, Elle Québec, El Mundo, IPS, Tele 5,

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