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Maldives 3 August 2006

Authorities urged not to send Abdulla "Fahal" Saeed back to prison

The South Asia Press Commission and Reporters Without Borders today appealed to interior minister Ahmed Thasmeen Ali not to send Abdulla “Fahala” Saeed back to prison at the end of a special leave granted to visit his family in Male which began on 30 July.

Saeed, a journalist with the opposition newspaper Minivan, who received a life sentence for alleged drug possession and trafficking on 19 April 2006, is physically and psychologically debilitated after nine months of detention in harsh conditions. Aged 42, he is currently hospitalised for a week in Male after he fell down the stairs at home.

“In view of his deteriorating health due to prison conditions and the controversial nature of his trial, we formally request that you to allow Abdulla Saeed to remain at home with his family,” the two organisations said in an appeal to the minister. “We think that it is more than necessary that Saeed should be allowed to benefit from house arrest while awaiting a review of his trial.”

While at home, Saeed described the terrible conditions he has had to endure in Maafushi prison to the South Asia Press Commission and Reporters Without Borders.

After being held for several months in a collective cell known for being used for hardened drug addicts, Saeed was transferred to the U2 high security wing and put in a small cell which he shared with another prisoner where there is little ventilation and he is rarely let out into the yard. It was only three months after the transfer that he got a fan.

With no television and, until recently, no pen or paper, Saeed has had to rely on out-of-date pro-government newspapers. He says he is denied the rights accorded to other detainees, such as the right to take exercise. He now has high blood pressure and backbone pain. His family (wife and ten children) visited him in June but due to financial problems they did not go to Maafushi in July.

Observers reported many irregularities during his trial. Reporters Without Borders and the South Asia Press Commission suspect that his life sentence was linked to articles critical of the government that he wrote for Minivan. During a mission to the Maldives, the two organisations met Saeed in Maafushi prison, where he insisted on his innocence.

A report on press freedom in the Maldives was published in July by the International Press Freedom Mission, an independent group of international organisations that included Reporters Without Borders and the South Asia Press Commission. The report, which condemned the fate reserved for opposition journalists, is available at: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=18305




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