Supreme Court backs down from issuing ruling on legality of selling pork and alcohol

The Supreme Court has rejected the government’s request for a consultative opinion over whether the Maldives can import pork and alcohol without violating the nation’s Shariah-based constitution.

Pork and alcohol are prohibited items under Shariah law.

The judges unanimously rejected the case on the grounds that the matter did not need to be addressed at the Supreme Court level.

The Court did note, however, that pork and alcohol have been imported under provisions of the Contraband Act and that there is a regulation in favor of the trade. As no law has declared the regulation unlawful, the import of pork and alcohol is indeed legal, the court claimed.

Meanwhile, Article 10 of the Constitution states that “No law contrary to any tenet of Islam shall be enacted in the Maldives.”

The Constitution also states that any law not struck down by the courts is valid.

The government last week requested a consultative opinion from the Supreme Court on the matter to level a heated debate over the compatibility of resort tourism and Maldives’ national religion Islam, prompted by protests on December 23, 2011 in defense of Islam.

Responding to demands made of the government by the protesting coalition of religious NGOs and opposition parties, the government issued a circular closing spas in all resorts and announced it was considering a ban on pork and alcohol, in a move to align government policies with Islamic standards.

While the trade of alcohol is not conducted by the government, the government receives a significant profit of the trade from the Goods and Services Tax (GST).

In particular, opposition Jumhoory Party (JP) Leader and MP ‘Burma’ Gasim Ibrahim owns Villa Hotels resort chain and is allegedly one of the biggest beneficiaries of the alcohol trade.

A tolerant society with a dependent economy

Since resorts first opened in the Maldives in the 1970s, tourism has been the core of the island nation’s economy. To accommodate the industry as well as the national Islamic faith, in 1975 the Ministry of Economic Development regulated the sale of pork and alcohol to tourist establishments (Act 4/75).

While there is no regulation or set of guidelines specific to spa operations in resorts, Article 15(a2) of the Goods and Services Tax Act stipulates that spas are legally accepted in the Maldives as tourism goods, and therefore may be operated in compliance with tourism regulations.

After its formation in 2009 the Parliament had nine months to reject any legislation which did not conform with the Constitution.

Parliament did not reject the regulation on the sale of pork and alcohol in 2009, thus allowing it to stand by default.

Speaking to Minivan News last week, Attorney General (AG) Abdulla Muiz believed that although the regulations were clear, legal clarification would mitigate concerns. He suggested that the recent debate has had more to do with internal politics than the oft-cited public preference.

“We are quite a tolerant society, although there a few elements which walk a hard line,” he observed. “I don’t think there is a public concern over the sale of alcohol and pork in resorts.”

The AG pointed out that the majority of the nation’s citizens are primarily interested in the quality of their daily life. He added that the population of 350,000 is annually trumped by the over 700,000 tourists would come to- and invest in – the Maldives.

“If there is a decision prohibiting the sale of alcohol in the tourism sector, it will have a great impact on the economy. The 2012 State Budget of Rf14 billion [US$946.8 million] is very much based on the estimated revenue from the tourism sector. And the government has obligations to investors–it has leased 100 resorts and awarded 5o to 60 islands for development. I hope the Supreme Court will take the economy into account,” he said prior to the Court’s decision.

Muiz said a court ruling would assure investors that the current system is valid.

A problematic profile

Two months ago, protestors demanded that UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay be “slain” for her comment against flogging as a punishment for extra-marital sex. One month ago, the coalition formed by religious groups and opposition parties for the “defend Islam” protest called for stricter regulations in keeping with Shariah law, notably stricter regulations on the sale of pork and alcohol and the closure of massage parlors “and such places where prostitution is practiced.”

International media subsequently reported the story with varying degrees of accuracy, presenting a Maldives starkly different from widely-marketed white sand and turquoise waters.

Noting that the tourism sector had suffered many cancellations in past weeks, MATI Secretary General Sim Ibrahim Mohamed previously pointed out that “people get jittery when you talk about fundamentalism, radicalism, extremism–since 9/11 these have been very sensitive words.”

Speaking to Minivan News last week, religious conservative Adhaalath Party chief spokesperson Sheik Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed said, “Maldivians are very nice people, you don’t see any country like the Maldives in the Islamic world, so why would we want to damage these people? These are Muslim people and they like moderate views.”

Calling tourism “the backbone of our national economy”, Shaheem said he was “100 percent sure there is no prostitution in the tourism industry here. It is very professional, it is the most famous tourism industry in the world and is accepted by the international community. Why would we want to attack ourselves?”


40 thoughts on “Supreme Court backs down from issuing ruling on legality of selling pork and alcohol”

  1. It does need to be addressed by the Supreme Court! It relates to the backbone of the Maldivian economy and the society!

    The Supreme Court Judges are there for life, they should not back away from the important questions of our day.

  2. It is misleading to say that the Supreme Court backed down from issuing on legality of selling alcohol and pork. What Supreme Court did was to refuse to rule as there was no case to do so.

  3. HEP called their bluff, and he won !!

    That is the end of that for now. Well done indeed. Who can take anyone to do with that stone age protest seriously again!

  4. Salim,

    We have a Constitution and laws in place. If we fail to abide by them we can never become a mature democracy. As I am sure those institutions in the U.S. must have imparted a clear understanding of the rule of law and its importance to a democracy to you.

    Please refer to our Constitution. The government does not have a mandate to question Acts of Parliament. In fact, the government is required to enforce every Act of Parliament to the letter.

    While the sale of alcohol and pork in privately-owned islands leased for tourism purposes is regulated by law and convention, there has been no question regarding these laws for the past 40 years.

    What those poor common folk and their richer rally organizers were calling for last December was to address social issues facing populated islands where the Maldivian public reside. NOT privately-owned islands leased for tourism development. The demonstrators spoke on that fateful day about illicit activities carried out at certain establishments such as massage parlors, therapeutic centers and homeopathic treatment centers in population centers such as Male and Addu.

    Why all of us hear of several raids on such establishments in Addu and Male almost every month. Another concern was raised about the illegal sale of black market alcohol once again in population centers such as Male and Addu. The trade of alcohol on the black market is associated with several other criminal activities in our communities. Alcohol-fueled crimes and other anti-social behavior has become an issue of national importance.

    A community which does not have a tradition of widespread alcohol consumption and also believes that such consumption is a sin cannot be expected to consume such drinks in a responsible manner. Rape, associated recreational drug use, gang violence and health issues have been reported to stem from the widespread practice of consuming black market alcohol among the Maldivian youth. Should we not address this issue?

    Meanwhile all respectable tourist establishments in this country are operated miles from population centers and on privately-owned islands separated by water. These contained environments are well-regulated and operated by professional businesses. We have heard no reports of such resorts aiding and/or abetting the illegal black-market alcohol trade in the Maldives.

    The opposition scored some political points on the 23rd of December last year. The President should not have retaliated by dragging the innocent tourism industry into this whole quagmire. The Attorney-General should have some self-respect and refuse to entertain every demand the Nasheed administration makes. He has lost a lot of respect among the legal community due to this travesty.

  5. They are all paid by the hotel owners, so they decided to leave Islam high and dry. Bunch of cowards.

  6. As an over eighteen who can vote in the next Presidential election, I would like to ask the Political Parties who attend the 23 December 2011 demonstrations to protect Islam, what is there stand on the question of Alcohol, Spas and Pork, will they import it or not and are they going to carry out Sharia Law if they are elected, if so are they going to chop our hands, are they going stone our children to death,

    These question needs to be answered by those who attended the demonstration to protect Islam, before they come to our houses begging for our votes in the next general and Presidential elections.

    Not only me, Every voter who is going to vote in the next Presidential election and general election must make sure they know what they are voting for.

    Political parties position should be made clear to us voters in black and white, with regard to what punishments they will carry out and what they want, what their position should be made clear to us voters before we voters vote, so that we could make up our minds before who ever who is elected.

    These are serious question, which us voters need to get answers from the political parties who attended those demonstrations to protect Islam.

    Since Supreme Court has taken the easy way out, its time we the citizens of Maldives got an answer from our parliament on this question as well.

    I specifically would like to ask Adaalath Party, can you please tell us are you going to ban Alcohol, Pork and Spa's in Maldives if you get elected to rule this country, plus will you support a political party who will not ban these items.

    Give us citizens answers. I urge the Parliament to call for a referendum on these issues too.

  7. The Supreme court are uneducated cowards. Gutless.

    These last weeks reveal a lot. It shows the blatant hypocrisy of the likes of MATI and MATATO if they think that you can forever separate tourism and their bank balances from the real problems for everyone. We live in a whole society not in a bubble. you can not help yourself to the part of the society that you like, behave how you wish and then spit out the rest in the name of religion.
    Democracy and tolerate Islam is about a whole society without hypocrisy or different rules for different people.

  8. The Supreme Court has done the what is best in the interest of nation and its economy. The Govt had a motive behind this submission. They would have used the verdict of Supreme Court as a tool had they chose that selling alchole & pork is legal or illegal. This Govt knows only one games & stunt shows and usually they all back fires.
    We have been observing Govts acts from day and progressively up to date we can see many elements of hipocracy & supression on people.
    This govt won the hearts of people by promoting full democracy. The reality now is its a beggining of the end of democracy.

  9. @Lubuna on Fri, 13th Jan 2012 12:22 AM

    "Not only me, Every voter who is going to vote in the next Presidential election and general election must make sure they know what they are voting for."

    Ahhh, in there lies the rub. If every voter in this country cared as much as Lubuna does, we'd be a model of a democracy. Alas, most people only care how much bribery they can elicit from the vote beggars!

  10. @tsk tsk on Thu, 12th Jan 2012 10:35 PM

    "Meanwhile all respectable tourist establishments in this country are operated miles from population centers and on privately-owned islands separated by water. These contained environments are well-regulated and operated by professional businesses. We have heard no reports of such resorts aiding and/or abetting the illegal black-market alcohol trade in the Maldives."

    C'mon, do you seriously believe this stuff? For decades, alcohol has been readily available to any Maldivian who wanted it. Where did that come from? From Heaven?

    In the past, the only places that had alcohol were tourist resorts and one or two hotels in Male. Despite these "controlled" businesses, alcohol was available anywhere and at any time.

    The protestors demand as far as alcohol was concered was a demand to ban them on "inhabited" islands. Now this only relates to very few places in the Maldives. Hulule Island Hotel is one example.

    The rest are proposed developments in Addu and Falklands. Addu and Falklands are rather unique in their geography and without special "exemptions", neither place is suitable for tourism development. For example, Addu has kilometre after kilometre of uninhabited space, artificially joined together. The government is trying to regulate these areas for tourism development and that should be welcomed.

    If no alcohol will travel from the "controlled" environment of Bandos to Male, then no alcohol will get into a car and drive from a resort in Hankede to Hithadhoo either!

  11. Maldivian life line, the survival only guarantees tourism. We have to adjust to things that create mental conflict; the dramatic change in our way of thinking always creates uncomfortable feeling. “a cognitive dissonance”. If we can’t change our attitude, that means we are some kind of neurotic and unhealthy people. It is the government’s duty to create sustainability of tourism and also take the tourism to a different stage to reap its all potentials. We can’t involve the common man to devise policies that changes the course of the country in terms of its future. The government should have control on the media to educate general public to overcome the cognitive dissonance, and start some new beat that the country should start listens every day. Alcohol, prostitution, casino, Kafir, Yahoodhy and all those things we now hear as foreign things and are taboos in a culture, we have to treat them as part of our society and create a psyche that these are the acts of spoiled people and teach our children ethics, good manners and that good healthy educated respected people do refrains from these anti social behaviors.

  12. @tsk tsk

    "We have a Constitution and laws in place. "

    And said laws are unislamic by nature, as they go against the tenets of islam. 🙂

  13. Why doesn't Minivan News report on whats going on in the country right now?

    No less than three political leaders are arrested and all Minivan can do is report on some past events.

  14. @Ahmed bin Addu bin Suvadheeb on Fri, 13th Jan 2012 7:47 AM

    Not to mention all the safari boats, which are one of the main sources of 'black market' alcohol.

  15. When we talk about alcohol on the black market and otherwise availability of alcohol one must think about where the alcohol comes from whether on the black market or at someone’s house. First of all alcohol is imported by or sold to licensed parties such as resorts. If these respected businesses in alcohol don’t sell it outside their business premises how come it is on the black market.

    The natural bounds of islands are no longer barriers to having access to islands. There aren't any privately owned islands where local Moslems don't reside. Tourist resorts in the Maldives should provide employment to Maldivians. Besides, employment is a constitutional right to whom who seeks it. Of course certain jobs may be restricted to the local employees. So resort islands are not exclusively for foreigners to work or otherwise reside. If access to Maldivians is the issue to allow or disallow alcohol to be sold then there is no island where there are no Maldivians, and therefore there is no island in the Maldives where alcohol could be permitted.

    Now if the question is that alcohol is prohibited in Islam, no Moslem person or country should have anything to do with it. No Moslem person or country shall deal in alcohol; they must simply ban it. Alcohol should not be allowed anywhere within the boundary of a country whose religion doesn't allow it. There cannot be laws or regulations that could permit alcohol. If they do the effect of such laws and regulations is to modify the religion which is impossible; not as far as Islam and Moslems are concerned.

    There is no argument therefore that alcohol can be dealt in on resort islands or the law could allow something prohibited in Islam.

  16. @tsk tsk

    Massage parlours are illegal in the Maldives and do not have a government licence to operate. As I have said in an earlier comment why call for a ban on something that is already banned?

    If illicit activities are being carried out in "therapeutic centres and homeopathic treatment centers in population centers such as Male and Addu" as you have said, it is just that: illicit activities, just as drinking alcohol and taking drugs and sex outside marriage banned by Islam and carried out in peoples homes and public places.

    Regulations and laws are already in place to deal with illicit activities.If the demonstrators believed that law enforcement is inadequate shouldnt that be what the demonstrators should have focussed on? Why call for a ban? I don't for a moment believe that was the case. the Adhalath party was calling for a ban on spas. The silly parties that joined Adalath Party in the demonstration, clearly did not do their homework before the demonstartion and find out exactly what the agenda of the Adhalath party was. The joke was on Gasim and co, our big resort owners.

    And on the subject of illicit activities, don't you find it odd that the Adhalath Party, so called for justice?? (sic) continues to ignore the shocking state of affairs in our justice system that is setting free murderers, drug dealers, gangsters, rapists on the slightest possible excuse they can find. Is the sex trade and alcohol the only thing the Adhalath Party finds going wrong in our society? What about the thousands of our young people on drugs and the people who supply our young people with the poisons causing irreparable damage to themselves and their families, and the nation? What about the concubines? What about female genital mutilation? I could go on.

    The 23 December demonstration was staged to launch the 2013 election campaign of the Adhalath Party and the opposition parties that want to get back into power. This was not about Islam, no amount of spin will make people think that. Whoever came out that day did so to bring the leaders of the parties who participated in the demonstration to power. Spin as much as you like. Our people are not as stupid as you think we are.

  17. @Tsk tsk.

    " all respectable tourist establishments in this country are operated miles from population centers and on privately-owned islands separated by water. These contained environments are well-regulated and operated by professional businesses. We have heard no reports of such resorts aiding and/or abetting the illegal black-market alcohol trade in the Maldives"

    You should seriously take up fiction as a career.

  18. Nothing wrong with the institutions. The only problem is we elected vakaruge kids to run our country.

  19. @tsk tsk on Thu, 12th Jan 2012 10:35 PM

    ” all respectable tourist establishments in this country are operated miles from population centers and on privately-owned islands separated by water. These contained environments are well-regulated and operated by professional businesses. We have heard no reports of such resorts aiding and/or abetting the illegal black-market alcohol trade in the Maldives”

    Ah, silly me, I just realised what's going on. tsk tsk has been paid for this piece of writing. The bugger's sold his soul!

  20. Minivan news,

    I wonder how to forgot to report that the famous political activist Sandhaanu Didi was arrested last night and taken to Dhoonidhoo jail. We are now entering a new era of dictatorship. Our president just cannot digest criticism against him.

    I call on the Amnesty International to put pressure on the government and try to release him.

  21. I personally think that government is handling this all wrong. Five or Ten thousand people in corner of the Malé do not represent the population. We need a legally binding referendum with a straight forward simple question. Something in the lines “Do you agree to sale of Alcohol, Pork and Spa service for foreigners in Maldives?” Yes or No. Let’s see how Party leaders/Sheiks campaign.

  22. From what some of us are saying, it appears that Populated Islands like Male' and Addu should be saved from prohibited activities live Alcohol, Pork and Spa's.

    Dose these people seriously are agreeing to build Temples and synagogues and gamble in these so called "Private Islands" (if there is such a thing.)

  23. Dear Lubuna, Thank you for your comment and I as a citizen of Maldives need to know the answers to the questions you have raised.

    Yes and before the next general and presidential elections, I think every candidate or party who are running to get elected must give these answers to us voters.

    I personally will not vote for any candidate who will carry out such punishments and further more, I will even leave the shore of our beloved country for good, with my family to any other country who will have me and my family, if such people are elected.

    My Allah bless Maldives.

  24. These namby pambies will never get anything right. I urge all maldivians to take matters into their own hands; our moral consistency and afterlife depend on stopping this blasphemous trade.

    I would strangle my own child if I caught him with a pork sandwich.

  25. @Zeena

    It is a punishnable offense to slander.Sandhaanu Didi cannot just go on TV and says whatever he wants to say, he should give evidence, especially on such an potentially inflammable subject as religion.

    If you recall there were posters prepared in the 2008 election depicting Nasheed as a christian building churches in the Maldives which fortunately never saw the streets.

    Why is Nasheed being targetted for Christianity when it was Gayooms Official photogapher who was jailed for doing Christian Missionary work and doctors at the AMDC clinic owned by his personal secretary Adam Naeem had to be deported for doing missionary work.
    And have you forgotten the famous wedding photograph of Nasreena and Gayoom? Wasnt she wearing a mini dress for her wedding?

    Pot calling the kettle black.

    Democracy does not mean you can say whatever you like.

    And for your information, Zeena, people do get a lawyer in this government and are represented in court. have you forgotten the days when people just disappeared and you could do nothing about the rubber stamp convictions that came out of court eventually when they got the confessions they wanted after torture?

  26. @ Hani,

    it is simply not acceptable to arrest someone for expressing what he believes. If he has said something incorrect our president can go to the courts and use proper channels to express his concerns - You cannot just arrest someone and sent him to jail even the person made a false claim.

  27. The Maldivians are good in nature, the problem started by the dictator Qayoom by brainwashing people with a false ideology. His intention was, maybe to give some good culture to uncivilized society; his approach was wrong because the fundamental of that ideology was most backward thoughts of religions ever formed and were breeding so many types of extremists popping out from original teaching of Islam. Qayoom tried to contain those extremist movements by suppressing their voice without eliminating them entirely and without giving an alternative good Islam that is modern and universal. The result is what we see now, this extremism was getting fuel from poor socio economics condition and promoted by Mullahs as the solution for the better life. This was boiling inside to explode when the conditions is right. The so called democracy is best tool for these extremist to exercise their lost freedom to promote their brand of Islam which is true Islam that was projected as the solution for all misery

  28. In my opinion, the supreme court must have decided on a conclusion for the submitted issue.

    Anyone can conclude now that the judiciary has failed yet again or have a hidden agenda to blame the government. Tsk Tsk! What a country.

  29. Hani and Zeena you are both right in my opinion.

    Defamation laws have their limits in almost all countries. Politicians and other popular figures are usually exempt from certain protections afforded to private persons. However slander should not be encouraged.

    Yet these are civil matters or rather in this case political. The use of the police forces to investigate is an indication that the government wishes to retaliate outside the bounds of the law. If a simple lesson was meant to be taught to Ahmed Didi and his DQP friends, Nasheed would have filed a defamation suit in court. Of course reparations for defamation may not be the most ideal yet a court ruling declaring their statements as slander would be enough to affect public opinion.

    The police in the Maldives is a militia that reports directly to the President. The inability of the Nasheed government to continue efforts to reform the appointment process of police heads and to save the police from allegations of bias has led to a situation where most of the public views our hardworking cops as mere thugs serving the administration of the time. So in such a climate and without the presence of some form of checks to ensure police accountability to the public, no investigation carried out by the Maldives Police Service at the behest of the government will be seen as impartial.

    Real issues we need to face and institutions we need to strengthen but through all this political conflict can we manage to make some real gains in strengthening our democracy?

  30. Zeena,

    Police investigates allegations of crimes (in this case talking about something that is seen as a threat to national security and "islamic unity"), the courts will rule. nothing unconstitutional about that.

  31. Maldives is a tourist destination. We have to cater to the demands of visitors.

    For example, Dubai. Pork and alcohol both are easily available. Not only that even Church, temple and Gurdawara are there.

    Initially, some Mullahs there had expressed concern over churches/temples and sale of these two items but Sheikh Mohammed Mukthaum firmly told them that he has built mosque in every nok & corner of the country for those who want to prayer and bars for visitors as he has to take care of his citizen. Why can't we follow the example of Dubai?

  32. The Supreme Court is right. They are there not to play political games. If the Majlis and the Government is so stupid that they do not know what is written in the laws then why should the Supreme Court get involved in this?
    This was simply a political gamble by the GOM and it is back to square one.
    The Supreme Court has got some learned people with a good law back ground there and they made the right decision in throwing this out.

  33. I think the 'judgment' shows what cowards they are...
    They could have easily dismissed the case citing apparent procedural matters... but they just HAD to sate 'some people' and say something about the substance of the case...
    And to think they are the so-called 'protectors' of our Constitution! Sad how political the Supreme Court really is!
    God help us!

  34. hmmmmmm:

    Actually for once the Supreme Court did something truly admirable.

    It did not 'back down' per se. It actually set a precedent by making it clear that cases involving mere 'clarification' or rather repetition of the substance of laws is too trivial a matter to be accepted at the courts.

    Think about it. There is no conflict between legal instruments, there is no violation of Constitutional rights, there is nothing wrong going on at a policy level. If we are to drag our judiciary into open political showboating then we will be digging ourselves into a cesspool far deeper and smellier than the underground water lens of Male City.

  35. @ Zeena

    When someone commits a crime, or acts against the law you can get arrested and get taken in for questioning. It is up to the police whether they release us after questioning or if they continue to keep us in custody for the legally permitted duration while they gather evidence with which they can request the Prosecuter Generals office to charge us with the crime. If at the end of the detention period the Police require an extension they have to get a court order to do so. I don't see any violation od Didi's rights here. Given that he has been arrested for politically motivated comments, its not surprising that he is being detained in Dhoonidhoo.

  36. I agree with tsk tsk on this. Hmmm, Supreme Court is not there to do these kind of things. Why should they say procedural matters?
    They did exactly what they had to do and kudos for them for not playing the game.

  37. If the act of 23rd December was of any political drive, not what they claimed for, the only party who benefitted was the MDP. If not all, but most of us truely know that the public concern was not the spas, nor selling of alcohol and poke in the Resorts. But, the Spas and selling of Alcohol in the residentail islands like Male'.
    The propaganda today did nothing, but destroy our good old reputation as a tourist destination and a peace loving and country with friendly people. But, we asked te world to write our name down in the list of Extremists, Terrorists and the like. I would urge our political parties and NGOs to please not to put the country in these situations, But pass this country to our children as a country they will enjoy living in and one day call it a home.


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