Police on Wednesday evening summoned Vice President of the minority opposition Dhivehi Quamee Party (DQP), Dr Mohamed Jameel, for questioning for the fourth time in a week.
Police are investigating Dr Jameel following accusations by the government that the party was attempting to incite religious hatred.
DQP council member ‘Sandhaanu’ Ahmed Ibrahim Didi, a former Amnesty Prisoner of Conscience, had called on the public to “rise up and defend Islam”, stating that “we brought [President Mohamed] Nasheed to power by mistake. Nasheed is a madman.”
Among the “slanderous allegations”, according to the government, were claims that it was “operating under the influence of Jews and Christian priests” and had been “attempting to spread irreligious practices and principles in the country.”
The government has expressed particular alarm at a pamphlet published by the party in Dhivehi entitled “President Nasheed’s devious plot to destroy the Islamic faith of Maldivians”.
The pamphlet advises that “the Jew’s plan and way of thinking is to divide Islamic countries”, and that Maldivian government officials hold secret identities as “Christian priests”.
Monuments gifted by SAARC countries during the Addu summit in November 2011 were secretly “religious statues, depicting other Gods for praying [towards].”
The traction of such allegations is hard to judge in the Maldives. Historically a moderate country, it has recently found itself facing a rising trend of religious extremism – a stark contrast to the Western hedonism of the resorts, from which the country indirectly derives 70 percent of its income.
The DQP has defended their allegations under Article 27 of the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression “subject to the tenets of Islam”, and is presenting this argument to foreign embassies in Colombo this week.
The government has however claimed that the party’s remarks are “racist, bigoted and anti-Semitic”.
“Freedom of speech does not entitle you to maliciously shout ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre,” President Nasheed’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair has said.
Leader of the DQP, former Attorney General Dr Hassan Saeed, has refused to speak to Minivan News. Dr Jameel was not responding at time of press.
In a bid to justify the continued investigation of DQP politicians – disrupted by the Criminal Court’s refusal to grant police an extension of detention, following the arrest and incarceration of Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed on corruption charges – the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was today briefing the international community on the “recent increase in extremist religious rhetoric being used by certain opposition political figures in the Maldives.”
The Foreign Ministry said it was “extremely concerned by the increase in extremist rhetoric used by certain politicians and NGOs, which can lead to stigmatisation, stereotyping and to incitement to religious violence and hatred.”
“The government of the Maldives shares the concern of others in the international community “at instances of derogatory stereotyping, negative profiling and stigmatiation of persons based on their religion or belief, as well as programmes and agendas pursued by extremist organizations. We also condemn, in this context, any advocacy of religious hatred against individuals that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence,” the Foreign Ministry stated.
“Opposition politicians in the Maldives are using the new climate of free speech and freedom of the press to promote negative religious stereotyping, especially about Christians and Jews, and to incite religious hatred, hostility and violence,” the Ministry claimed.
“This represents a deeply worrying trend that can and will have a lasting negative impact on tolerance across Maldivian society,” it added.
A person familiar with the matter told Minivan News that the government had noted and archived statements made by senior political figures endorsing extremism during and following the opposition-sponsored ‘Defend Islam’ protest on December 23 last year, and was in the process of compiling briefing notes for interested international agencies.