Comments made by government officials to Indian magazine The Week, concerning the potential for homegrown terrorism in the Maldives, risk portraying the country as a safe haven for terrorists and creating problems for Maldivians overseas, the Islamic Foundation of the Maldives has said.
The cover feature of The Week quoted a “Maldivian intelligence official” as saying that the spread of an extremist belief system in the Maldives “is fueled by hate preachers like Sheikh Fareed and Sheikh Ilyas. Both are [under surveillance],” the magazine reported a “Maldivian intelligence official” as saying, adding that a large section of Maldivian youth were becoming “hooked” to ideas of “transnational jihad”.
“The signs are ominous as seven radicals chose to contest the Maldivian polls in 2008. Though all [of them] lost, we found that Islam is being increasingly used as a political tool in Maldivian affairs,” the magazine quoted the intelligence official as saying.
In response, the Islamic Foundation warned that the government was raising such concerns and allegations “at a time when there is a tremendous rise in religious awareness and people’s attempts to return to mainstream Islam.”
“Apart from the threat of being arrested and interrogated by authorities abroad and being kept under surveillance by foreign governments, the government’s action may create obstacles and insecurity for the Muslim religious scholars and the people of Maldives in travelling abroad,” the Islamic Foundation said in a statement.
“We also call the government to stop stereotyping the people of this country with the hope of getting financial benefits from the enemies of Islam. We also urge the individuals involved in such acts to get repent and return to the Path of Allah.”
In the statement, the Islamic Foundation expressed specific concern about the forthcoming counter-terrorism bill The Week revealed the government was drafting, reportedly in consultation with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and Interpol.
“If the proposed bill has been passed, the law enforcement authorities would get a free hand to crackdown on religious activities with the pretext to preserve national security. The law is likely to provide an ample opportunity for the authorities to arrest Muslim religious scholars and extradite them or send them abroad for investigation, and also ban preaching Islam in public or conduct sermons and lectures to a wider audience,” the Foundation warned.
In the article, Deputy Commissioner of Maldives Police Service Ahmed Muneer is quoted as claiming that the bill would “provide sufficient powers to act pre-emptively on national security matters.”
“Our radical preachers are enjoying street credibility and radicalisation is visible at the street level. It’s a problem for us, but things would aggravate if the radicals get integrated into Maldivian politics,” Muneer told the magazine.
Speaking to newspaper Haveeru yesterday, Attorney General Dr Ahmed Ali Sawad confirmed work on bill and said it was an attempt by the government “to bring in a legislative framework due to our concerns.”
“We are not sure whether the laws and regulations currently in effect provide a complete solution to the issues that we face at present. Other nations of the world also deal with such issues through special legislations. So our security forces will also be able to deal with such issues through the necessary legislation,” Dr Sawad told Haveeru.
In response to reports of the bill, the Islamic Foundation said it “will not be intimidated by any threats from the Maldives government, the Zionist Israel and United States (the self proclaimed super-power) to abandon its work to propagate Islam in this country.”
The Islamic Foundation has also been highly critical of the Maldives’ government’s foreign policy following its decision to allow Israeli eye doctors to perform free surgery in the country during a visit in early December 2010.
The Foundation called on the government to “shun all medical aid from the Zionist regime” prior to the arrival of the seven eye surgeons, claiming that Isreali doctors “have become notorious for illegally harvesting organs from non-Jews around the world.”