At a press conference on 1 March 2004, organised by Reporters Without Borders and Amnesty International in Geneva, journalist Ibrahim Lutfy told his story for the first time since his escape from prison. Now living in exile in Switzerland, Ibrahim Lutfy spoke out against the jailing of his journalist colleagues, torture and repression on this "paradise island".
Ibrahim Lutfy sent us a summary of his statements and reflections on the current situation in Maldives.
"Before answering questions I briefed on two different presentations which I prepared for the conference.
Why Sandhaanu, a clandestine Internet e-mail magazine?
Torture on Paradise, Back of the sunny side of life.
Before answering the first question I said I am not a politician neither I belong nor represent any political organisation. In spite of that I was asked, if I am working for a post in next government or aiming for a parliamentary seat. I said NO. I am a person who is very much conscious of the problems we have and trying to help solve them.
When asked whether a boycott of tourism would help reform, I said, "I feel a trade embargo or boycotting tourism is immediately not necessary, but a little pressure could help. Our country is very vulnerable, the only industry we have is tourism and fishing." Further I was asked if tourism were boycotted general public would suffer? I said that the first victims would certainly be them.
Another reporter asked me if the promised reforms, which are taking, place due to international pressure and the media converge, be respected and how long would they last? "In the constitution there are good things written, and the President’s promises in the Parliament opening session on February 26 are really nice. But the problem with him is that his words and actions never match. When he is trouble he makes all sorts of promises and after a while he forgets them." I said.
Displaying the Evan Killing and the Maafushi Shootings censored reports to the press, I said: "Here you see the official report giving little details on the torture in our jails." Again displaying my 1999 report, I said "In this 52 page report, I summarised the brutal methods applied in Maldivian jails and asked the President for a special appointment to further explain them. But the reward for writing this report was a 3 months holiday package in solitary confinement on a beautiful island where you all visit and spend your dreamed holiday. Its beaches are lovely and it’s really a paradise, but we Maldivians are being tortured in those." "Today after four years of my report the government is compelled to accept the police brutality in the jails under President’s control." I further said.
"As a person who is deeply conscious about the police brutality, I am writing to help change, and of course writing helps and we see some changes. If my children commit a crime they should be arrested, interrogated, tried and punished by law, I do not want them to be brutalised by the police. I have seen so many young and old men being indiscriminately beaten by the police. Among them one is a former judge who lies in sick bed partially paralysed due to the injuries suffered to his backbone. In 1998 after a similar jail beating, inmates rioted to burn the Hinmmafushi jail complete to ground. The police killed a young man. To this day, no media coverage is given about this riot or killing, locally or internationally", I said.
When asked if I observe any changes due these new developments, I said: "The government has relaxed a lot. They do not allow political parities to operate. Recently, in February, some people have been arrested in connection with a political movement. But now, people express dissatisfactions a little openly. They do not simply arrest now. This is a positive sign."
When asked if I would ever think of returning to Maldives, I said: "Switzerland is developed and a beautiful county, but Maldives, semi or undeveloped is really much more beautiful. Unless they cancel the prison term given to me, I wouldn’t be thinking of that. But if they do I shall be very happy to return my country to serve and help the people. But as long as this government is in place or as long as there is no reform to the constitution or as long as the government dose not honour what is written in the constitution I wouldn’t be thinking of returning." I further added: "There are lots of good things written in the constitution, but the problem is its not being honoured."
That is a little summery of a one hour meeting with press. After the official meeting I spend time explaining and answering questions to individual reporters. Four major newspapers have covered the stories and two of them on front page.
I am preparing a Dhivehi version of the press conference for the Sandhaanu 11th issue."