The Maldives Police Service (MPS) has forwarded a case to the Prosecutor General against four persons suspected of destroying historical artifacts in February at the Maldives National Museum.
Around 35 exhibits — mostly images and carvings of Buddha — were destroyed when half a dozen men stormed into the museum amid the political chaos of February 7, and ransacked a collection of coral and lime figures. They included a 1.5-foot-wide representation of the Buddha’s head – one of the most historically significant pieces at the museum.
The vandals destroyed “99 percent” of the Maldives’ pre-Islamic artifacts from before the 12th century – most of them beyond repair – according to the museum director Ali Waheed.
An official at the museum told Minivan News following the incident that the group “deliberately targeted the Buddhist relics and ruins of monasteries exhibited in the pre-Islamic collection, destroying most items beyond repair.”
“This is not like a glass we use at home that can be replaced by buying a new one from a shop. These are originals from our ancestors’ time. These cannot be replaced ever again,” the official said.
The vandalism was reminiscent of the Taliban’s demolition of the great carved Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan in early 2001 and raised fears that extremists were gaining ground in the Maldives, the New York Times reported in February.
Police Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef told Minivan News that no information could be revealed at this time regarding the identity of the four suspects. A number were detained at the scene following the incident, however no formal arrests were made at the time.
Prosecutor General Ahmed Muizz said on Wednesday that a decision on the case will be made within the next 15 days.
The attack on the museum came on the same day President Mohamed Nasheed was ousted in an alleged coup d’etat following weeks of anti-government protests.
In the weeks leading up to Nasheed’s controversial resignation, religious and other opposition parties accused him of undermining Islam in the country and being influenced by Jews and Christians.
Nasheed’s government clashed regularly with religious parties now linked to the government, over issues that included not condemning United Nations Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay for her suggestion that flogging be abolished as a punishment for extra-marital sex, and any operating agreement with Israeli national carrier El Al Airlines.
AFP reported former President Mohamed Nasheed as saying that the vandals included Islamist hardliners who had attacked the museum because they believed some of the statues inside were “idolatrous”.
The monuments gifted by the South Asian countries to the Maldives ahead of the 17th summit of South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation SAARC, hosted in Addu city were also denounced as idolatrous monuments and vandalised, including the monument gifted by Pakistan.
Removal of the contentious monuments was one of the five demands of the December 23 protesters, including religious groups and opposition, who also demanded that the government prohibit Israeli airlines from operating in the Maldives.
After coming to power, the ruling coalition withdrew the demands in the Majlis.