Vigilante mobs have abducted and interrogated several young men in Malé City in a push to identify online activists advocating secularism or professing atheism, Minivan News has learned.
Eyewitnesses told Minivan News the young men were taken to isolated locations in Malé City in separate incidents in recent days.
A vigilante mob interrogated them on the identities of administrators of Facebook groups advocating secularism and atheism in the Maldives.
Minivan News understands the abductions are also related to the hijacking of a Facebook group called ‘Colorless’ on Sunday.
The group has 4,865 members and was set up with in the wake of February 2012’s transfer of power with the aim of bringing a “divided nation to a common ground as a platform to advocate peace, love and harmonic co-existence.”
The group’s administrators were expelled on Sunday and new administrators have changed the group’s banner to a black flag with the Shahadha or the Islamic creed declaring the oneness of Allah and the acceptance of Mohamed as Allah’s prophet.
Meanwhile, the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) issued a statement condemning the abductions and said the hostages were threatened with death. The party has called on the government to take immediate action.
The Maldives Police Service said it is looking into whether these incidents have been reported. The President’s Office was not responding at the time of press.
The vigilante mob – estimated at 40 men – accused the young men of homosexuality and atheism, eyewitnesses said. The mob consisted of religious extremists and prominent Malé City gang members, sources said.
Eyewitnesses said the young men were interrogated on their religious beliefs and asked to recite the Shahadha as a test of their belief in Islam. They were also tested on prayer verses and passages from the Quran.
The young men were threatened and forced to hand over the passwords to their Facebook accounts.
They were also asked to identify the administrators behind the ‘Secular Democratic Maldives Movement’ and ‘Maldivian Atheists’ on Facebook.
The ‘Secular Democratic Maldives Movement’ page was founded in December 2012 to advocate for a secular democracy in the Maldives. It has 2,463 followers.
The ‘Dhivehi Atheists/ Maldivian Atheists’ page has 575 followers and advocates for the rights of atheists in the Maldives. It was set up in June 2013.
All abductees were eventually released, sources said.
The MDP believes religious extremists were behind the abductions.
“The Maldivian Democratic Party has received information that some religious extremists have kidnapped young people claiming they had committed irreligious acts. The extremists blindfolded the young people, took them to remote locations against their will, threatened them with sharp weapons, threatened them with death, issued sentences in a vigilante trial and are now implementing these sentences,” the party’s statement said.
The kidnappers then told the hostages they would be killed if any news of the abduction were shared, the MDP said.
The party said it believed “these dangerous acts of terrorism” are against the Maldives constitution, laws and Islamic Sharia and committed by individuals for a certain gain.
Jennifer Latheef, a human rights activist and former administrator of ‘Colorless’, said the four administrators of the group had received several warnings from Facebook users over recent months to remove offensive comments posted by members allegedly mocking Islam.
However, the administrators opted to allow free speech and appealed to all members to be responsible and refrain from attacking and insulting the other’s religious beliefs.
Pictures identifying the group’s administrators were then posted and circulated online by a separate Facebook group called ‘Shariah4Maldives’.
The group alleged ‘Colorless’ administrators had allowed “the mocking of the Prophet Sallalaahu Alaihi Wassalam and outright lies about Islam on their group, and when we warned them about this issue, they refused to remove such posts mocking Islam.”
On Sunday, infiltrators expelled and removed Jennifer and the group’s original administrators without warning.
Jennifer, who currently lives abroad, said death threats have been issued against the group’s administrators.
“I am scared for Maldives. I am scared for the people who are there,” she said.
Analysts have raised concerns over the growing threat of extremism in the Maldives. A recent report by the US State Department expressed concern over radicalization of youth groups and said funds are being raised in the Maldives to support terrorism abroad.
Maldivians are alleged to have died in suicide attacks in Syria, and online jihadist groups last week insulted and taunted the Maldives Police Services after they said they were investigating the deaths.
Maldivian media have also said they feel threatened by religious extremists and gangs.