Scribe gets life imprisonment in Maldives

The paper for which Saeed worked for claimed that a case has been planted against him as his articles were often critical of the regime.

india Updated: Apr 20, 2006 13:06 IST

A Maldivian journalist working for a newspaper that advocates democracy in the archipelago has been sentenced to life in prison after police allegedly found him with a small quantity of heroin, his editor said on Thursday.

The Opposition-backed Minivan Daily claimed on Thursday that Abdullah Saeed, who was sentenced on Wednesday, is not guilty and that police planted the drugs on him because his articles were often critical of the regime.

Police arrested Saeed in the capital, Male, in October and charged him with narcotics possession.

"Police found nothing on his person in the initial search. However, he was then asked to strip for a fuller search," the Minivan said in a statement on Thursday.

One officer claimed to have found packets containing 1.1 grams (0.04 avoir ounces) of heroin on his person, the newspaper statement said, adding that Saeed's lawyers were denied access to the room during both searches.

Saeed, known by his nickname Fahala, refused to take a urine test, "stating that if the police were not above planting drugs on his person, they could certainly alter the results of his drug test to suit their trumped-up charges."

During his trial Saeed -- who was convicted on a drug charge in 2000 but pardoned three years later -- was not allowed to present witnesses and remained handcuffed throughout.

"He is innocent and the charges against him are manufactured in order to gag him as a journalist," Minivan said in the statement.

"He is the most recent in a long string of opposition journalists who have faced harassment, abuse, and detention on spurious charges."

The media in the Maldives are tightly restricted and little independent journalism is allowed.

The Indian Ocean archipelago has been firmly governed since 1978 by President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, whom foreign governments have long-accused of failing to introduce long-promised democratic reforms.

A prominent leader of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party who lives in exile in Sri Lanka said the case merely highlights Gayoom's failings.

"The latest development proves that Gayoom is not interested in democracy, because Fahala was framed," said Mohamad Latheef. Chief government spokesman Mohamed H. Shareef denied any conspiracy against Saeed.

"This was a serious narcotic offence and there is no political motivation," Shareef said, pointing out Saeed's earlier conviction.

First Published: Apr 20, 2006 13:06 IST