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Jennifer Latheef the Activist: One Hundred Days of Solitude
MDP Website - www.maldiviandemocraticparty.org - 1st October 2004
Miss Jennifer Latheef, Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Councillor, Human Rights Activist and film producer, is in solitary confinement in the Dhoonidhoo interrogation centre in the Maldives. Jennifer in her early 30's, during the past one year, has spent more than one hundred days in solitary confinement. Her first incarceration was on September 2003, for her part in the protest that followed the torture and killing of Evan Naseem on the 19th September 2003 and the killing of three other prisoners and fatal injury of many more on the 20th September 2003 in Maafushi Jail.
On 20th September 2003, Jennifer went to the central hospital in Male where the tortured remains of Evan Naseem were resting. The National Security Services (NSS) personal in the hospital were attempting to secretly embalm the remains and send them for burial. Alongside the victim's mother Mariyam Manike, Jennifer demanded that the NSS hand the body over to the parents. The NSS resisted but Jennifer put her foot down and Mariyan Manike continued to demand the remains of her tortured child.
After having got the body and in route to the burial grounds Jennifer told the assembled crowd that: “this is the newest display of the systematic and institutionalised torture of Gayoom's regime, managed by among others Brigadier General Adam Zahir, the Chief of Police”. Amnesty International commenting on the situation stated similarly that the killings were the: “ latest chapter in a catalogue of human rights violations in the country by NSS personnel who function under the President's command”
While Jennifer was with the remains of Evan, more bodies started arriving at the central hospital in Male'. This time the bodies displayed gun-shot wounds. The NSS, in their trademark heavy handed approach, occupied the hospital and denied family and friends of the dead and injured access to their bodies. The crowd overpowered the NSS and stormed the hospital. Commenting upon the disturbances that followed, Amnesty International stated that, The scale of civil protest in Malé last weekend (20 th September 2003) and the targeting, by the protesters, of government buildings which are closely associated with endemic human rights violations, underlines people's anger caused by the blatant abuse of their human rights”
In the mass arrests that followed the uprising, Jennifer was taken in by the NSS. Commenting on her arrest and detention human rights groups have stated that “She is known for holding views critical of the government and against censorship and this is believed to be the main reason for her continued detention”
Jennifer's stand against police brutality and human rights violations galvanized a whole generation of women to political and human rights activism. Jennifer, with her sophistication; intelligent and fearlessness has also become the leader of many of her generation.
Jennifer was released from police custody in November 2003. She was told that no charges were being brought against her. Then Haveeru, the government controlled daily newspaper, in its 22 June 2004 issue, announced the trial of Jennifer Latheef. She was charged under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.
A reporter covering the trial observed that “one had the feeling that the whole scenario had been set up for the benefit of prosecuting Ms. Jennifer Latheef only, since the State prosecution seemed to have prepared a more thorough case, with more evidence and more witnesses, against her than anyone else!”
Jenny's trial continued while at the back drop of it, Mr. Gayoom was busy, as political observers commented, “buying for time”. The pro-democracy forums organised by Hon. Ibrahim Ismail, Member of Special Majlis for Male', were being stalled by the government. The NSS cordoned off and occupied the Northern Esplanade of Male', where people converged in search of freedom of association. On 10 th August Firshan Zahir, a photographer and a close associate of Jenny's was taken in by the NSS. On the same day Hussain Rasheed, a print worker was taken in. Finally on the 12 th August 2004, one of the leading activists of the MDP, Mr. Fulhu was taken in by the police.
The country was looking for direct action. The country was looking for Jennifer Latheef. She was one of the very first to start the vigilance for the detainees and political prisoners held by the NSS. Jennifer was last seen standing beautifully and peacefully in front of the NSS on the 13 August 2004, as the government broke up the pro-democracy demonstration with brutal baton charges and tear gas. She was arrested shortly afterwards.
Since Jennifer's detention, reports coming from Dhoonidhoo interrogation centre have been heart-breaking. On 25 th August 2004, Jenny's family requested the NSS to facilitate a meeting with her. On 31 st August the police denied the request. Again, on 2 nd September 2004, Jenny's brother requested to meet her. The request was denied. On the 8 th September her mother requested the police to facilitate a meeting with her daughter. She was again denied. On 12 th September 2004 Jennifer's mother telephoned the police to enquire about her request for access to her daughter. Police informed her that access could only be granted after the request is scrutinized by a committee. On 16 th September 2004, Police informed her brother he had been granted access to detainee on 17 September 2004.
During this first meeting, Jenny told her brother that the police kicked her back numerous times during detention whilst she was blindfolded.
The MDP is extremely concerned for the safety of Jennifer Latheef and is disgusted by her reported treatment whilst in detention. The MDP calls upon the Government of the Maldives for the immediate release of Jenny and all other political prisoners still held in incarceration.
© Dhivehi Observer 2004