BANGKOK (TrustLaw) – Authorities in the Maldives must urgently investigate allegations that police beat and sexually harassed four women arrested during an anti-government rally last week, Amnesty International has said in a statement.
The four women were detained on March 19, at a rally organised by the Maldivian Democratic Party to protest the opening of parliament, Amnesty said in the statement released this week.
The Maldives, a collection of picture-perfect islands and small atolls in the Indian Ocean, has been rocked by political upheaval since February when president Mohamed Nasheed, a well-known climate change campaigner, was overthrown.
The rights group said the women were beaten during and after the arrest and forced to undergo naked body checks because they were suspected of concealing drugs in their genitals.
Twenty-two-year-old Yusra Hussein told Amnesty that four women police officers arrested her and beat her.
“They beat me on my stomach, which was very painful as I had had a caesarean section in the past,” Amnesty quoted her as saying. “They grabbed my breasts and twisted them,” she added.
She was then taken from the police station to the Dhoonidoo detention centre, on an island about 5 kilometres away from the capital Malé, the report said.
Hussein said she was beaten again there with electric cables.
“They then forced me to strip naked and made me squat on the floor. They took a urine test and did a body check on me,” she said.
She was forced to sit in that position several times, she said.
“Each time I felt sick but they paid no attention. They just wanted to humiliate me as they were shouting filthy words at me all the while,” she added.
The three other detainees told Amnesty similar stories.
‘CRUEL AND DEGRADING TREATMENT’
According to Amnesty, there is no indication the women were involved in any acts of violence during the rally. “Their detention therefore was arbitrary,” it said.
Amnesty is asking the government of the Maldives to ensure that these allegations are investigated and that those found to be responsible are brought to justice.
The Maldives’ police has denied the allegations and said those aggrieved should ask the Maldives Human Rights Commission (MHRC) to investigate their allegations, Amnesty said.
However, MHRC told Amnesty it has serious limitations in terms of trained investigative staff. The Commission has yet to complete its investigations into the alleged sexual harassment of female detainees in 2004.
By referring cases of police abuse of power to the MHRC, “when it is clear that such investigations are beyond its capacity,” the government is sending the wrong message to the police who will be encouraged to act with impunity, said Amnesty International's Maldives researcher Abbas Faiz.
"The Maldives has an image as a luxury holiday destination, and over the past few years, it had established a positive track record on human rights,” Faiz added.
“But the fact is at the moment, not only is repression of peaceful political protest an everyday reality, it has taken an appalling new twist with this cruel and degrading treatment."
(Editing by Rebekah Curtis)