Religious NGO Foundation of the Maldives has called on the government to amend the new Religious Unity regulations, saying it opposes several articles that are contrary to the ”freedom of expression” given under the article 27 of the constitution.
Other articles could potentially be used as a political tool, the NGO warned in a press release issued today.
Press Secretary for the President Mohamed Zuhair has similarly expressed concern over the new regulations, claiming they contain ambiguities and policy issues.
The Islamic Foundation NGO highlighted several articles in the regulations it believed should be amended prior to publication of the regulations in the government’s gazette, such as the criteria for issuance of preaching licenses.
The Islamic Foundation noted that under the regulations, the preaching license requirement that a person be older than 25 years of age was not a criteria required under the tenets of Islam, and furthermore claimed it was contrary to article 27 of the constitution guaranteeing freedom of expression.
The NGO also raised concern over Article(16)(b)(4), which claims preachers must not have been found guilty in a Sharia Court of having violated any clause of Law 6/94 of Religious Unity Act.
It condemned the articles as ”many religious scholars have been given several punishments under the religious unity Act in recent years for political purposes,” and added that that article 27 of the constitution did not restrict a person’s right to express their opinion even though he had been found guilty in a court of law.
The NGO also expressed concern over Article(19) requiring foreign preachers to respect local norms, claiming it was not necessary for all foreign preachers to understand the traditions and culture of the Maldives.
Article(27), which governs illegal actions while preaching or giving sermons, was also concerning, the Foundation claimed. In particular point (2), which prohibits encouraging violence; inciting people to disputes, hatred and resentment; and any talk that aims to degrade a certain sex and gender in violation of Islamic tenets, and the telecasting and broadcasting of such speeches, could be interpreted in different ways and “used for political purposes”, it said.
The Foundation also criticised Article(27)(4), which bans the promotion of any opinion contrary to religious ruling as unanimously agreed upon by the Fiqh Academy of Maldives, claiming that the Fiqh Academy “was not a committee based on independent scholars.”
”We believe that there should be the freedom for a scholar to express how he thinks on a specific doubtful issue,” the press release said.
On Article(38), concerning punishment as prescribed in Law 6/94 of the existing Religious Unity Act, the Foundation claimed the law narrowed freedom of expression guaranteed by the constitution and said was “not acceptable.”
Moreover, it referred to the constitutions article number 63, article 64 and article 268 and called on the government to amend the mentioned articles of the new religious unity act.
State Islamic Minister Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed however stated that while the Ministry respected opinions and comments on the new regulations, it had been drafted with the assistance of 11 reputable scholars and widely approved by both government and police.