UN Working Group expresses concern on jail conditions

A visiting delegation from the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has said that overcrowding in Maldives' jail strips prisoners of their basic rights.

The delegation arrived in the Maldives on November 29 and departed on December 9. During their stay in the Maldives, the delegation visited jails and assessed their condition. They prepared a report on their findings and presented information on the report to the media on Thursday. The final report will be presented at the UN's Human Rights Council next September.

Speaking to the media, the working group Chair, Dr. Elena Steinert, said the jails in the Maldives are extremely overcrowded. She noted that all prisons had issues in providing adequate health care to prisoners. Capacity issues are the worst in Male' Prison, said Steinert, adding that he group met some prisoners who had not been allowed to step out of their cells for over a month. While some do not have a bed to sleep on, some prisoners do not even have a mattress to lay on, she further noted. Some prisoners cannot stretch their legs when sleeping due to lack of space as a result of overcrowding, Ms. Steinart added.

The group also noted that those imprisoned on terrorism convictions could not properly exercise their rights. It was further pointed out that there was no difference in how those jailed on a conviction and those detained on suspicion are treated.

The group expressed concern that the Maldives jailed those unable to repay their debt. They noted that the act was against international treaties. The group said there are several challenges for prisoners in getting legal help while in jail due to how the Maldives' laws are designed.

Speaking on those jailed for drug-related offenses, the working group said it is recommended to consider addicts as people with illnesses and provide them treatment from that angle. They also noted that the rehabilitation programs conducted in the Maldives are not up to par and stressed that they needed to be enhanced.

It was also noted that foreigners detained due to immigration-related offenses are not treated well and stripped of their rights. They shared information about a case where many foreigners were detained by a state-owned company and held in an unofficial detention center. The group said the foreigners were not presented before a judge and were not given legal assistance. The group did not share further details on the case.