The Criminal Court has extended the detention of controversial blogger Ismail ‘Khilath’ Rasheed by 10 days.
Rasheed was arrested on the evening of December 14 for his involvement in a ‘silent protest’ on Human Rights Day, December 10, calling for religious tolerance.
The protest ended violently after a group of men attacked the protesters with stones, and Rasheed was taken to hospital with head injuries.
Rasheed is one of only a few Maldivians who have openly called for religious tolerance on a blog under his own name. The blog was recently blocked on the order of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs on the grounds that it contained unislamic material.
“I am a Sufi Muslim and there is nothing on my website that contradicts Sufi Islam. I suspect my website was reported by intolerant Sunni Muslims and Wahhabis,” Rasheed said, following the blocking of his blog.
“Under the Maldivian constitution every Maldivian is a Sunni Muslim. The constitution also provides for freedom of expression, with Article 27 reading ‘Everyone has the right to freedom of thought and the freedom to communicate opinions and expression in a manner that is not contrary to any tenet of Islam,'” Rasheed claimed.
While the Maldivian Constitution guarantees freedom of assembly, it outlaws the promotion of religions other than Islam, and all Maldivians are required to be Sunni Muslim.
Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam said that Rasheed was being investigated for campaigning for something against the Constitution.
“Calling for anything against the constitution is illegal,” Shiyam said, agreeing that the circumstances were the same as if the group had been campaigning for something similarly illegal, such as the legalisation of marijuana.
“Once we have finished the investigation the Prosecutor General will decide whether to take action against him.”
Police are also investigating slogans published briefly on 23December.com, a website promoting an upcoming Islamic protest, calling for the slaughter of “those against Islam”.
Protest organisers attributed the slogans to a “technical mistake” and they were quickly taken down. Website developer Ali Ahsan, who also edits online publication DhiIslam, was also taken into custody after police claimed he was the only individual who could have posted the threatening slogans.
According to news outlet Sun Online, police argued that Ahsan’s release “could endanger Maldivian religious unity and even threaten life” and requested the court grant 15 days extension of detention.
Ahsan’s lawyers however argued that the slogans had been uploaded by hackers and the website developer was released.
Meanwhile, Maldives Ambassador to Belgium and the European Union, Ali Hussain Didi, told the Freedom Online Conference at The Hague this week that “it is up to us as representatives of the international community to step up our efforts to remind all governments of their responsibilities, under international law, to protect human rights on-line.”
“It is also beholden on us to better assist those who live under repressive regimes and who are trying to use the internet to spread the word about their plight, to mobilise support and to engender change,” Didi said.
In his radio address this weekend, President Mohamed Nasheed called on political parties to outline their positions on controversial religious issues, claiming that religious protesters were really calling for the enforcement of Sharia penalties such as stoning, hand cutting and execution.
The Maldives had a tradition of issuing pardons for strict Sharia penalties, Nasheed noted, with the exception of flogging for adultery, and called for Islamic scholars to reach a consensus on the subject so that the penal code could be reconsidered and established by parliament.