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Safari victim's lawyers reveal alleged police tampering attempt

Mariyam Malsa
12 October 2020, MVT 17:36
A photograph taken during the #JaagaEhNei rally organized by gender advocates and media personnel to make a statement against impunity for high-level officials, over instances of sexual harassment, abuse, assault and rape. PHOTO: AHMED AWSHAN ILYAS/ MIHAARU
Mariyam Malsa
12 October 2020, MVT 17:36

Shafeea Riza and Noorban Fahmy, the legal representatives of the Kenyan woman who was sexually assaulted in June aboard a safari docked at Hulhumale' lagoon, alleged that the police were attempting to tamper with the statement provided by the victim.

The assertion was made on Twitter, alongside a video which depicts investigation officers discussing the omission of portions of a victim's official statement.

According to Shafeea, the video which also shows investigators mocking the victim's lawyers, was unintentionally sent by the police via Skype.

Revealing that the attempt of tampering was reported as misconduct to the police, the Prosecutor General's Office and the National Integrity Commission (NIC), Shafeea stated that the lawyers were "disgusted with the way Maldives Police Service, entrusted to protect and serve the public, find the rights of an innocent woman a joke".

In response, the police issued a statement on Monday asserting that the video only showed investigators discussing a statement, collected through Skype, during the process of drafting the written document. They refuted the lawyers' claim that the video evidenced an attempt to tamper with testimony.

The statement further noted that it was common practice for investigators to discuss testimonies for clarity purposes and that this process could not be considered tampering.

Furthermore, it was stated that victims and their legal representatives would be shown a copy of the written statement and given the chance to make changes prior to approving it with their fingerprint and signature.

Riza and Co LLP is extending legal assistance to the 27-year-old victim on a pro bono basis with consideration to the prevalence of sexual offences in Maldives and the lack of public confidence in official government channels concerning such crimes.

The victim was reportedly invited aboard the safari by a friend, and was later sexually harassed and assaulted by two men. After the woman jumped off the vessel in an effort to escape, she was picked up by a dinghy and transported to the jetty.

The two men, both aged 39, were arrested at the scene. However, they were later released with the authorities claiming, based on the information collected, that detaining them until the investigation concluded would be unnecessary.

Although initial reports by local media state that the victim was raped aboard the vessel, and that authorities released the suspects after phone calls from "people high up", the police maintain that the victim was harassed and not raped.

Mendhuru Online, the local media outlet that first reported the incident as rape, has issued an apology over misinformation in their account of the case and removed the article from their website.

In a later interview published by local media outlet Mihaaru, the victim reportedly stated that she did not wish to press charges, that she did not have complaints regarding the police investigation, and that she had not spoken to any media outlets prior to Mihaaru.

Several members of the public have expressed skepticism over the aforementioned interview, citing the parallels between initial media reports and official police statements as well as the accounts claiming that the woman was intimidated, threatened with deportation and presented with bribes.

Authorities came under fire by the public for releasing the suspects at such an early stage of the investigation, and withholding information about the alleged perpetrators. Negative public opinion was further stoked by rumours that one of the alleged suspects is connected to politicians serving in the incumbent administration.

Public ire continues to soar over the government's meagre record of arresting and convicting perpetrators of sexual offences despite several promises to support the rights of children and women.

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