Private broadcaster Raajje TV has aired leaked security camera footage showing a group of men vandalising pre-Islamic artifacts in the national museum on February 7, 2012.
Around 35 exhibits were destroyed when half a dozen men stormed into the museum amid the political chaos of February 7, after former President Mohamed Nasheed resigned under controversial circumstances during a police and army mutiny.
The footage shows a group of men entering the museum, knocking over glass cases and smashing Buddhist-era statues.
Local daily Haveeru reported today that it had learned the men were “religious extremists” who belonged to a local group.
In May 2012, police forwarded cases against four suspects involved in the vandalism to the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO). Police at the time declined to reveal any information regarding the identity of the four suspects.
Officials at the PGO were unable to confirm today if the cases had been filed at the Criminal Court.
According to museum director Ali Waheed, the vandals destroyed “99 percent” of the evidence of the Maldives’ pre-Islamic history prior to the 12th century, including a 1.5-foot-wide representation of the Buddha’s head – one of the most historically significant pieces at the museum.
An official at the museum told Minivan News following the incident that the group “deliberately targeted the Buddhist relics and ruins of monasteries exhibited in the pre-Islamic collection, destroying most items beyond repair.”
“This is not like a glass we use at home that can be replaced by buying a new one from a shop. These are originals from our ancestors’ time. These cannot be replaced ever again,” the official said.
In September 2012, the United States government donated US$ 20,000 (MVR 308,400) to help restore and repair the damaged artifacts.
The vandalism was reminiscent of the Taliban’s demolition of the great carved Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan in early 2001 and raised fears that extremists were gaining ground in the Maldives, the New York Times reported in February.
AFP meanwhile reported former President Nasheed as saying that the vandals included Islamist hardliners who had attacked the museum because they believed some of the statues inside were “idolatrous”.
In the weeks leading up to the transfer of presidential power on February 7, former President Nasheed’s administration was accused by a coalition of religious NGOs and opposition parties of weakening Islam in the Maldives under the influence of “Jews and Christian priests.”
On December 23, 2011, the opposition alliance held a massive rally in the capital Male’ to “defend Islam” from Nasheed’s allegedly liberal policies and securalisation agenda.
In November 2011, monuments gifted by the South Asian countries to the Maldives ahead of the 17th summit of South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC), hosted in Addu City, were denounced as idolatrous and vandalised.
Removal of the contentious monuments was one of the five demands of the December 23 coalition, who also demanded that the government prohibit Israeli airlines from operating in the Maldives, shut down brothels doubling as massage parlours, reverse policies to allow sale of alcohol in city hotels and condemn United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay for her suggestion that flogging be abolished as a punishment for extra-marital sex.
After coming to power, the ruling coalition withdrew the demands in the People’s Majlis.