Maldives minister slams “dubious” motives behind Avaaz boycott campaign

Deputy Tourism Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal has slammed what he calls the “dubious” motivations behind an petition calling for tourists to boycott the Maldives in protest over the sentencing of a 15 year-old rape victim to flogging, alleging the campaign is “politically motivated”.

While accepting a need for “capacity building” in parliament and other institutions, Maleeh said tourism had been a key driver in ensuring national development and democratic reforms for the last 40 years, granting the industry “sacred” importance in the Maldives.

“People should not be doing anything to damage the industry. In Switzerland, you would not see a campaign designed to damage Swiss chocolate. Likewise you would not see a German campaign to damage their automobile industry,” he said.

The comments were made as over 1.7 million people worldwide have signed a petition on the Avaaz site aiming to target the “reputation” of the Maldives tourism industry and encourage the dropping of charges against the 15 year-old rape victim, as well as wider legal reforms to prevent similar cases.

The girl was sentenced on charges of fornication after confessing to having consensual sex with an unknown man during investigations into her alleged abuse by her stepfather. The girl is also alleged to have been abused by a number of unidentified men on her island dating back to 2009, according to sources on the local council.

The government of President Dr Mohamed Waheed has pledged to appeal the sentence given to the minor by the country’s Juvenile Court, while also reviewing local laws to enact potential reforms of the use of flogging. No time-line for such reforms has yet been set beyond the commitment to hold talks.

Democratic path

In an interview with Minivan News today, Deputy Minister Maleeh argued that over the last 40 years, the tourism industry has been an intrinsic part of not only relieving poverty nationally, but also driving the country’s democratic transition process – leading eventually to elections in 2008.

Presidential elections are now scheduled for later this year in a highly-polarised political environment that follows a controversial transfer of power in February 2012 that saw President Waheed come to power following a mutiny by sections of the police and military.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed and his opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) have alleged that his government was ousted in a “coup d’etat”.  Nasheed has maintained these claims despite the findings of a Commonwealth-backed Commission of National Inquiry (CNI).

“Chaos and anarchy”

Considering the present political landscape, Maleeh claimed had been deliberately “misinformed” in a politically motivated attempt to destabilise the government and tourism industry through negative media headlines.

“By misinformed, I mean that I don’t think they have taken the government’s stand into account, the president has already spoke on the issue , as has the attorney general,” he said. “I think that in time, Avaaz will be informed of this and will even be our partners.”

Maleeh criticised the intentions behind the campaign, alleging the petition was being used for political gain, rather than focusing on the welfare of the 15 year-old girl at the centre of the sexual abuse allegations.

“I would say the motivation [behind the campaign] is dubious. The problem ultimately needs to be addressed by the judiciary and parliament, not the tourism ministry,” he said. “We are in the middle of a successful democratic transition. Killing the most important industry in the country will not give way for reforms, but chaos and anarchy.”

Maleeh claimed that when accounting for the economic significance and societal benefits of tourism to the Maldives, the industry was very fragile.

He added that the tourism industry has ensured continued national developments in “the right direction” that had helped to alleviate general poverty and improve the quality of life in the country. Maleeh pointed to the availability of consumer goods such as like branded coffees and other foods and produce as an example of the quality of life.

Maleeh added it had been tourism that helped drive democratic developments in the nation, with international parties encouraging former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who served as the country’s autocratic leader for 30 years, to undertake a path towards democratic reforms.

“In the last 40 years [since the introduction of tourism]. we have listened to groups like the World Bank and the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO),” he said.

Pointing specifically to reforms that had brought a new constitution to the Maldives in 2008, Maleeh said that rather than seeking a damaging boycott, international partners like the EU, the US and Australia had in the past engaged in dialogue instead.

“We have western-educated people here. We know there are issues in parliament and with capacity building that needs to happen. But we cannot be compared to a Middle Eastern country for example,” he said. “ We are a successful transitional democracy.”

“Concerted effort”

Maleeh said that after facing the impact of negative international and domestic headlines following the controversial transfer of power last year, the country had undertaken a “concerted effort” to promote the Maldives.

“Negative news needs to be minimised as I believe that tourism should be sacred here in the Maldives. In recent years, the democratic system has helped tourism, so we encourage openness and are not afraid of media.  What we want to see is correct information being out there. There needs to be more accountability with stories proven with facts,” he said.

“As far as the tourism ministry is concerned we don’t discriminate against any media. It is only those channels who call to boycott [the industry] that we would hesitate to speak to.”

The government last year agreed a US$250,000 (MVR 3.8million) advertising deal to promote the country’s tourism industry on the BBC through sponsorship of its weather services, as well as signing a £93,000 per month (US$150,000) contract with public relations group Ruder Finn to try and improve the country’s image internationally.

For the coming year, Maleeh added that the Maldives was again seeking similar support from private groups to engage in high-profile marketing efforts with media organisations like CNN and the BBC to try and push the Maldives unique selling points – namely “sun, sea, sand and spa”.

He added that with the expected introduction of new high-profile hotel chains to the country’s resort industry, including Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy (LVMH), there was strong potential for positive international headlines in the media.

With a reduced promotional budget available for the coming year, Maleeh added that regardless of the allegiance of the next government, consistency needed to be seen in the country’s promotional budget to better plan future campaigns.

Accepting the potential budgetary challenges ahead, Maleeh said he believed that the Maldives tourism industry had become adept at promoting itself even with limitations, pointing to the growing importance of social media services like Twitter and Facebook to destination marketing – especially in terms of photo sharing.

“The Maldives stands at an advantage in that no one can take a bad picture here,” he said.

Addendum: Avaaz Executive Director Ricken Patel sought to justify the organisation’s petition in a subsequent comment piece published in Minivan News.


20 thoughts on “Maldives minister slams “dubious” motives behind Avaaz boycott campaign”

  1. Maldivians are just stupid. No matter what political party is in power, tourism should not be messed around with, as it fuels the entire growth of our economy, and sustains the livelihoods of tens of thousands of Maldivians and their families.

    And yet we have devious politicians from all sides of the political spectrum, abusing their political power and calling on boycotts or throwing tantrums against the resorts and urging foreigners not to visit Maldives.

    Just so they can have they 15 minutes of fame, they attack our tourism industry because it is the backbone of our economy, and to gain maximum exposure, these morons target our resorts and spin tales and yarns. So that the media will give an ear to these lunatics.

    Why cant these politicians ad parliamentarians leave our tourism industry alone ? The resorts dont go in butting into Maldivian politics or siding with politicians so why cant our stupid politicians and parliamentarians leave our tourism industry alone ?

  2. Politically motivated?

    This is not just about the 15y girl.

    How may girls have been flogged? you have picked and chosen whom to flog, over the past 40 years. The rich gets away, everytime. No man ever gets flogged.

    The inheritance distribution is all to the boys in the family. The girls just a tiny fraction. The supposed idea is the men will help out siblings. If you believe that is whats happening in Maldives, you will believe it snowed in Male today.

    What you did to Nazim, when he professed his atheism, is inexcusable. Dr slanderer Naik, should have been thrown out of the country, on account of his harassment of a Maldivian.

    Yes. politics or not. statistics or not.

    Everything that needs to be done to stop the slanderers like Sheikhs, intimidators, and above all, scaring the wits out of school kids with 'Oh Hell will roast you alive' stories , MUST be stopped.

  3. Why Maldivian are so worried about Gods law. God has already condemned them to the hell on earth. Foreigners who converted this hell to a paradise are violating God’s law and Toursim Minster should not speak against the God’s justice for Maldivians.

  4. Girl Flogged in #TheSunnySideofLife

  5. Beyond belief, Maleeh wants the best of both worlds when it suits him. Very stupid and selfish for his own gain.

  6. " no one can take a bad picture here???" Yes, have one of the Police beating up some women and it turned out quite well!!

  7. They are targeting the tourism industry because it's literally all the Maldives has to target. This isn't rocket science, it's common sense. The country lives 20 years in the past on every level, there should be no surprise that women don't have rights or get respect from others. Until the country decides to make education and freedom a priority, they will always remain in the past. You reap what you sow and right now the country is still planting the seeds of hate, intolerance and lack of respect.

  8. let's get this straight.
    world population - muslim population of around 1.7 billion is against flogging sentences in the Maldives.

    we don't give a damn. we're not willing to compromise any aspect of our religion. period!

  9. listdown: except when it comes to making a profit from pork and alcohol sales at resorts, right? Unfortunately money still takes precedence over religion. The good news is that it's no different anywhere else in the world.

  10. @ joker

    Ha ha ha! Your nine-inch-nail-to-the-head is killing me man!

  11. Too late you damned prick!

    “We are in the middle of a successful democratic transition..."
    yeah, right!!
    What kind of democracy is that to punish the victim of a repeated rape ??

    you're gonna sink with your great empty resorts dude. Good luck and Adieu !!

  12. You are absolutly correct Mr. minister.
    No where in the world you see that a 15 year old rape victim is punished.

  13. Andre, You are living in your own world and you are just perpetrator .

    There have been many men flogged in this country and either you are ignorant idiot or you do not know it is done.

    Even in this case, the guy who had sex with this girl already flogged and are in jail as we speak.

    Idiots like you , i don't know what you are gaining by spreading the propaganda and spreading false information about our country.

    I don't know where you from but you seemed to be very close ally with the dictator Nasheed .

    We don't care how much you and the dictator Nasheed hate about Islam and non of you can eradicate the islam in Maldives.

  14. Somehow I don't think most people in this world will equate a bad Swiss chocolate with a raped teenage Maldivian girl being flogged in the name of Islam. And you are not transitioning to democracy - you are already transitioned in coup and Talibanism.

  15. it is just stupidity boycotting tourism, won't bring forth anything for the betterment of the country's economy knowing that it's great source of income is this. nor it will help reform the country's ways of governing its people.

  16. We should definitely target the tourism industry and the fish industry if we want change.

    That is the weak point. That is where it will hurt and it needs to hurt if we are to achieve change.


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