MDP MP ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik has called for an investigation of the “silent protest” for religious tolerance, held last weekend at the Artificial Beach.
The religious Adhaalath Party and NGO Jamiyyathu Salaf have also asked the police to investigate the participants.
The group, who dubbed themselves ‘Silent Solidarity’, issued a press release following the event stating that the cause of the gathering was “to make the Maldives and the international community aware of the rising religious intolerance in the Maldives, and to condemn the constitutionally-endorsed suppression of religious freedom. It is also intended to denounce the increasing use being made of Islam as a tool of political power.”
The actual protest, held on International Human Rights Day, turned into a bloody affair when controversial blogger Ismail ‘Hilath’ Rasheed was struck on the head with a stone. The other 15-30 protestors were also attacked.
Moosa has said that the protests should be treated in the same way that slogans calling for the murder of non-Muslims, published “by accident” yesterday on the Maldivian website 23December.com, are being investigated by police.
The website is currently organising a protest to “defend Islam” on December 23. The ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) recently announced its intention to hold a counter-rally on the same date.
According to Haveeru, Moosa said the rising number of religious activities are the “first in a series of events conspired to create chaos in the Maldives”. He insisted that the protest threatens national security, and admitted that MDP’s decision to protest against the religious rally would create further problems.
Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair today said that those organising the public demonstrations to protect Islam had a “hidden agenda”, and had “increased the scale of danger to public order”.
According to a statement published on the President’s Office website, Zuhair claimed religious scholars Sheikh Adam Shameem bin Ibrahim and President of Adhaalath Party Sheikh Imran Abdullah had publicly associated their names and images with the 23December.com website. He believed that their reputations as respectable scholars were at risk over the affair.
Although the violent slogans were removed and said to be the result of hacker activity – at one staged blamed on intelligence officials – Zuhair called the removal “meaningless, because newspapers and internet websites are usually published as daily editions.”
The publishers have not refuted their violent objectives by simply removing the slogans published on their inaugural edition, he added.
Head of the National Security Committee and Thodoo MP Ali Waheed noted that the cases were of national interest and would be put on the agenda soon.
Moosa further claimed that the religious agitation was a reaction to the country’s successful tourism industry. “The Maldives’ tourism industry’s growth has attracted the foreign eye”, and foreigners are joining hands with locals to create national instability, he claimed.
Secretary General of Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI) ‘Sim’ Mohamed Ibrahim said the recent political and religious activity has not affected foreign investment or tourism.
“By and large, the Maldives is peaceful and a good place to invest,” he said.
He said MATI is not taking a stand on the issue.
“All people have the right to express themselves according to their constitutional rights. All we are saying is that you have to present a balanced picture of what’s going on. There is enough written about the Maldives for people to decide for themselves” if and how to invest, he said.
Foreign travelers and investors are not concerned about the politics on Male’ and other islands, Sim explained.
“The question for them is, how safe are their investments and how safe are they on resorts,” which Sim said “exist by themselves.” He added that an investor’s chief concern is whether the Maldives’ legal system enables or protects his/her business.
“The Maldives’ system still makes it very difficult for foreigners who want to invest,” Sim observed. Under the current system, investors wade through “layers and layers of bureaucracy” involving multiple ministries and councils.
“You would assume that foreign investment could be handled by the Ministry of Economic Development, or that a Foreign Investment Services bureau would allow someone to do everything in one go,” Sim suggested. “But often, people are referred to a website for information. Now, it takes time for paperwork to be processed, and too many people are needed to make a decision. It’s very discouraging to an investor,” he said.
Formerly, foreign investment was handled under Invest Maldives. Since the company drifted into an inoperative stasis following the successful GMR bid, Sim said no other government group has actively promoted foreign investment in the Maldives.
“MMPRC [Maldives Marketing and PR Corporation] is in charge but it is hard to see them carrying the Maldives’ banner and selling the various products Maldives offers,” he claimed.
“Environment is the main selling point for the Maldives, and you don’t need to do much to sell that. But someone needs to build confidence and value among investors.”