Human rights groups urge Maldives to release activist from prison

International human rights groups on Wednesday called on the Maldives to immediately release a pro-democracy activist who was sentenced to 10 years in prison on terrorism charges. Jennifer Latheef, who was sentenced Tuesday for encouraging others to commit acts of terrorism, is "a prisoner of conscience," said Amnesty International, the London-based human rights watchdog.

Latheef, 32, was sent to jail after being identified as "one of the instigators" of pro-democracy riots in September 2003 in the capital Male, government spokesman Mohamed Shareef said earlier.

She is the daughter of the exiled founder of the country's main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party, Mohamad Latheef.

Unprecedented anti-government riots broke out in the Maldives in 2003 when an inmate died in prison after allegedly being tortured by authorities.

Latheef's father, who lives in exile in neighboring Sri Lanka, called Tuesday's verdict "outrageous."

"She did nothing wrong, there is no evidence whatsoever," Mohamad Latheef said.

President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has ruled the Maldives, an archipelago of 300,000 people off the coast of Sri Lanka, with an iron fist since 1978. Gayoom has promised reforms, but the pace has been slow.

"President Gayoom is head of both the executive and the judiciary," said Nicholas Howen, Secretary-General of the International Commission of Jurists. "With the executive in charge it makes it very difficult to have a fair trial when politically sensitive charges of terrorism or acts against the state are being considered, " reports the AP. I.L.

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