The Maldives government has told international media that an attack last month on prominent blogger Ismail ‘Hilath’ Rasheed was the work of “rival gang members”and not religious extremists as alleged by the victim.
Rasheed – a controversial figure in the Maldives for his willingness to tackle taboo subjects, particularly religious tolerance – was left in a critical condition after being stabbed in the neck near his home in Male’ last month.
Having since fled the country, Rasheed has told the Agence France-Presse (AFP) news service that he believed the attack, which literally silenced him temporarily after his trachea was sliced clean through, was conducted by extreme religous elements in the country.
“I was attacked because I advocate secularism. The Islamists want Maldives to remain a 100-percent Islamic country,” he stated in an interview the AFP said was conducted through Twitter and email.
However, the government hit out at the blogger’s accusations when contacted by the AFP, claiming Rasheed was targeted for an attack due to gang rivalry, not because of “religious extremism” or the focus of his blog and journalism.
“He is a member of a gang and had been attacked by rival gang members in the past too. It is unfair to blame this attack on anything else,” President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad told the news service.
When contacted by Minivan News today the Maldives Police Service said that investigations were continuing into the case and it was therefore unable to say if there was a specific motive behind the attack.
“So far we do not have a suspect,” Police Spokesperson Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef said. “We are continuing to investigate and are tracing CCTV camera footage in attempts to locate the culprit.”
Despite the government’s insistence that there was no religious motivation behind the attack on Hilath, in a previous interview with the AFP, the recently appointed Minister for Human Resources Mohamed ‘Mundhu’ Shareef said that, “Hilath must have known that he had become a target of a few extremists.”
“We are not a secular country. When you talk about religion there will always be a few people who do not agree,” Shareef said whilst condemning the attack.
Speaking to Minivan News in June, Maldives Islamic Affairs Minister Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed said the current government was seeking to counter the “ideological problems” of extremism in the country.
Shaheem claimed that the threat of home-grown terrorism was a key issue needing to be addressed in the Maldives – something he alleged the previous government had neglected to assist with through proper funding.
Rasheed himself has contended that both the administrations of former President Mohamed Nasheed and serving President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan have shown little interest in prosecuting figures alleged to have conducted religious threats and attacks in recent months – regardless of the number of photos and witnesses.
Aside from last month’s attack, on December 14 Rasheed was taken to hospital with a fractured skull after being attacked during a ‘silent protest’ advocating religious tolerance in the Maldives held to coincide with Human Rights Day.
He was subsequently arrested for questioning over his involvement in the silent gathering, and the Criminal Court granted police a 10 day extension of detention for the investigation.