Amnesty International has launched a petition calling on the Maldivian government to overturn a court ruling sentencing a 15 year-old rape victim to 100 lashes for an unrelated fornication offence.
The story of the girl from Feydhoo in Shaviyani Atoll, who was convicted of premarital sex in the Juvenile Court February 26 and sentenced to 100 lashes and eight months of house arrest, has been reported by media around the world and been widely condemned by international NGOs and embassies.
“It’s so horrific that it’s hard to believe it’s true: a 15 year old rape survivor has been sentenced to 100 lashes for ‘fornication’ in the Maldives,” stated Amnesty International, which has followed the case since January.
“The traumatised girl was allegedly sexually abused by her step-father for many years. He has since been charged with sexually assaulting a minor. During the investigation however, authorities came across evidence to support separate charges of fornication against the girl for pre-marital sex,” Amnesty stated, demanding the government overturn the “disgraceful” sentence.
The Maldivian government – which is currently vying for re-election to the UN Human Rights Council, launched its campaign in Geneva on February 28 on a platform of “women and children’s rights and the rights of persons with disability” – expressed “deep concern” at the decision to prosecute the girl.
“Though the flogging will be deferred until the girl turns 18, the government believes she is the victim of sexual abuse and should be treated as such by the state and the society and therefore, her rights should be fully protected,” said the President’s Office in a statement.
“The government is of the view that the case merits appeal. The girl is under state care and the government will facilitate and supervise her appeal of the case, via the girl’s lawyer, to ensure that justice is done and her rights are protected,” the statement added.
Amnesty International welcomed the government’s stated commitment, but noted that “at this stage she is still facing flogging. We need to keep the pressure up to remove flogging as a form of punishment in her case and all cases in the Maldives.”
Foreign Minister Dr Abdul Samad Abdulla meanwhile announced on state broadcaster Television Maldives (TVM) that the girl had post traumatic stress disorder and certain medical issues, according to local media.
“The girl was abused since she was 12 until she turned 15, so multiple times for three years. She was abused by her stepfather. She has said that her baby was murdered. You can imagine the mental status of a child in this situation. She suffers from this condition,” local media reported Dr Samad as saying.
According to Sun Online, Dr Samad said the international community was not fully informed about the reason for the girl’s sentence, which was not due to her abuse by her stepfather, but her confessed fornication with another man.
He also warned that a failure to unite as a country during times of such international criticism would provide opportunities for “groups that want to harm the country,” Sun reported.
The government’s denouncement of the sentence is meanwhile at odds with its endorsement by the Adaathath Party, members of which make up the majority of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs.
“The purpose of penalties like these in Islamic Sharia is to maintain order in society and to save it from sinful acts. It is not at all an act of violence. We must turn a deaf ear to the international organisations which are calling to abolish these penalties, labeling them degrading and inhumane acts or torture,” the party said in a statement.
“Furthermore, Allah has decreed that expressing disapproval of issues such as this contradicts with faith in Islam,” the statement continued, quoting verses from the Quran.
“Allah has also commanded that we show no kindness when implementing these penalties,” the party added.
Flogging and politics
UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay in an address to the Maldivian parliament in November 2011 urged the government to issue a moratorium on sentencing women to flogging for extra-marital sex.
“This practice constitutes one of the most inhumane and degrading forms of violence against women, and should have no place in the legal framework of a democratic country,” Pillay stated.
Her comments were condemned by religious groups in the Maldives, with protesters urging authorities to arrest the UN High Commissioner and gathering outside the United Nations carrying signboards with slogans such as “Islam is not a toy,” “Ban UN” and “Flog Pillay”.
A presidential state apology for allowing Pillay to speak to parliament was one of the five demands of the December 23 coalition [of 2011], a mass gathering in the capital Male’ that saw the fractured opposition unite against President Nasheed on the pretext of protecting Islam.
Following the fall of Nasheed’s government on February 7 2012, government-aligned Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) MP Abdul Azeez Jamal Abu Bakr withdrew the Pillay apology petition in parliament.
Amnesty International’s petition: