Long wait for justice | Sunday Observer

Long wait for justice

Lahiru Madushanka
Lahiru Madushanka

A father who struggled for three long years to get his only son released from a high security prison in Maldives, today lies paralysed on a bed. In his mind he is nothing but a failure.

The unspoken and long contained grief that welled up for so long finally, gave way rupturing one of the veins on his head and reducing him to a mere invalid who couldn’t even help himself. Being the only man in the family who could speak in English and communicate with people who would help, this unexpected plight of Lahiru’s father Ananda Manikkuadura left the family in utter hopelessness.

“He is the only one who knows everything about our son’s release, he handled everything and I don’t know what to do,” mother Shanthi told the Sunday Observer on Friday between uncontrollable sobs.

Their son Lahiru Madushanka, is detained for the past three years in a maximum security Maafushi prison in Kaafu Atoll, 18 km off capital Male in the Maldives. The charges against him are as serious as - taking part in a conspiracy to assassinate Maldive’s President Abdulla Yameen. Maafushi is the largest prison on the islands and has held various political prisoners over the years including ex-Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed.

The case against the Sri Lankan remains frozen with no hearing scheduled for the past two years.

Lahiru, a 25-year-old was arrested by the Maldivian law enforcement officers in October 2015 at the Male International Airport while he was waiting to return to Colombo. Initially, he was charged with ‘trying to distribute money among gangs creating civil unrest’. But after several months the charges became far more serious.

Some ‘confidential intelligence’ was cited as evidence for his arrest. But his lawyer says she is yet to see hard proof for his arrest.

“Under Maldivian law the police can hold a suspect for only 15 days without filing charges. So, they produced Lahiru in Court after every 15 days to extend his detention. This was done for eight months,” the lawyer appearing for the defence Fareesha Abdulla speaking to Sunday Observer from Male said .

In March 2016, another lawyer was appointed to the case and on August 8, 2016 Lahiru was officially charged with the serious offence of plotting to assassinate President Yameen. He was accused of attempting to carry out a sniper attack on the President.

His charges were based on intelligence reports and confidential documents. The lawyer claims the evidence produced against him was circumstantial. Later, Maldivian investigators filed a case in court under the criminal procedure law. Five witnesses were called to give evidence against Lahiru. The witnesses gave evidence anonymously with their voices changed to protect their identities.

“Four witnesses were called on two days. None of the witnesses mentioned Lahiru in their statements. In fact the fourth witness told court, that his statement was given to the police under duress because his younger brother was tortured by them. ”

As a result, the fifth witness was never produced in court. The court had given indefinite time to call the fifth witness. “Prosecution gives flimsy excuses to justify the delay,” the lawyer said. The last hearing of the case was held on 22 September 2016 and that was over two years ago.

Lahiru was kept in solitary confinement until early September, for nearly a month, which is against the Maldivian law. His lawyer said even a hardcore criminal cannot be held in solitary confinement in Maldives under its law. Upon inquiry she was told that he was a threat to the prison. “How can a locked up prisoner be a security issue to a prison, that does not make sense,” she had asked.

However, her fight with the authorities resulted in him being taken off solitary confinement. But the result was not entirely satisfactory. Now, Lahiru has to share his small prison cell with another Sri Lankan, held for drug offences. “His cell is next to where prisoners with mental issues are detained. I suspect those prisoners developed such issues after imprisonment. That worries me,” the lawyer said. She said the Court is also contravening the criminal procedure law, which says once the trial starts, the hearings must be completed within 70 days in the case of a remand prisoner unless a valid reason is given. Lahiru is being kept in remand for over three years now. The hearing began in late 2016. An initial request for a meeting by Lawyer Abdulla, after she took over the case was turned down by the prison authorities, because they thought it was not necessary since a hearing was not scheduled. But due to the lawyer’s persistence she was allowed to meet him for half an hour once in late August.

“He did not have any signs of physical abuse but he was sad and appeared to have lost weight.”

After his arrest Lahiru’s , remand hearings and interrogations were conducted in Dhivehi, which he neither spoke nor understood, Amnesty international observed adding that the remand prisoner had been forced to fast during Ramadan, despite him being a Buddhist. At the time he was not allowed legal representation. He was arrested on the charges of knowingly funding groups causing civil unrest but it was changed into a more serious offence later. Lahiru’s mother maintains that her son went to Maldives on October 22, 2015 responding to a job offer as a taxi driver by a fellow Sri Lankan.

He was to be picked up from the airport. But Lahiru was never met by anyone at the airport, so he booked into a hotel. Stranded in an unknown land, he decided to come back the next day. When he was waiting for his flight at the airport, he was arrested by Maldivian police. “He was asked to check into a particular hotel room but he did not go there. I was told by the Sri Lankan authorities that they haven’t found anything incriminating in his hotel room, they have found some clothes and sweets. the mother lamented, pleading for help to get his only son released.” Lahiru has a six year old son, a wife and two sisters.

He was working as a driver for his kindergarten teacher before his trip to Maldives, allegedly looking for greener pastures. Amnesty International in a release in June called on the Maldivian government, to release Lahiru unless there is sufficient credible and admissible evidence against him. They also requested frequent access to his lawyer, and medical care and right to freedom of religion.

His lawyer said Lahiru is not allowed out of his cell and his eye sight is deteriorating. He has been asking for glasses for the past four months.

Lahiru’s supporters say he is caught up in a political power struggle in Maldives. President Yameen’s former Vice President Ahmed Adheeb is held in prison on a separate charge of an attempted assassination plot on the President.

The Government prosecutors suspect Lahiru was hired by the ex-Vice President. With a crucial Presidential election scheduled today in Maldives, his fate hangs in the balance.