Opposition MP Alhan Fahmy stabbed

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Alhan Fahmy has been stabbed in Malé this evening, while at the Breakwater cafe in the artificial beach area of the capital.

Eyewitnesses have said that police caught and arrested one of the opposition MP’s attackers. Police officials were officially able to confirm only that a man had been stabbed at around 9pm this evening.

Minivan News witnessed a lot of blood at the scene, with a large area having been cordoned off by police.

The MP has been taken to ADK hospital for treatment. A video emerging in local media appears to show a stricken Alhan arriving at hospital on the back of a pick-up truck with what appeared to be a wound on his back, around the shoulder area.

Alhan’s brother is reported to have told local media that his brother received a stab wound to the back.

The results of the final MDP parliamentary primaries were officially revealed today, with Alhan losing the Feydhoo constituency seat to Mohamed Nihad, who received 316 votes to the incumbent’s 154.

After the results of the primary contest emerged, Alhan alleged irregularities in the vote via social media, declaring his intention to challenge the outcome.

I don’t accept the results of MDP Feydhoo Parliament Primaries . I have officially informed the party of election irregularities.

— Alhan Fahmy (@FahmyAlhan) January 31, 2014

The MDP’s primary election to determine the contestants for next month’s parliamentary elections, has been marred by suggestions of irregularities.

Machangoalhi Uthuru candidate Aishath Velezinee last week complained of manipulation of party registries, while prominent Raajje TV journalist Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed suggested the number of ballots cast had exceeded the eligible voters after narrowly losing the Maafannu-south constituency race.

The MDP’s election complaints committee has investigated the latter, finding the contest to have been fair.

Political past

Alhan has had a chequered recent past with the MDP, rejoining the party in June last year after an apparently acrimonious departure in April of the previous year. Then party vice president, Alhan was ejected – alongside then party President Dr Ibrahim Didi – after the pair publicly questioned the party’s official interpretation of the February 7 ousting of President Mohamed Nasheed.

The Feydhoo MP subsequently organised a rally – sparsely attended – calling for the freeing of the MDP from its talismanic leader Nasheed. Alhan’s soon joined the government-aligned Jumhooree Party,

Alhan was initially elected to parliament on a Dhivehi Rayithunge Party (DRP) ticket, making him one of the few MPs to have been a member of almost every major political party represented in parliament, barring the DRP’s splinter party, the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM).

He was dismissed from the DRP in 2010 for breaking the party’s whip line in a no-confidence vote against then Foreign Minister, Dr Ahmed Shaheed

Last August, Alhan was summoned by police in connection with the alleged blackmailing of Supreme Court Justice Ali Hameed, using footage of the judge having sex with two foreign women said to be prostitutes.

The MP tweeted a screenshot of a text message he claimed had been sent to his mobile phone by Superintendent of Police Mohamed Riyaz. The text read: “Alhan, will make sure you are fully famed (sic) for blackmailing Justice Ali Hameed. You don’t know who we are.’’

Following a number of prosecutions of MPs during the repeatedly delayed president election late last year, the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) requested an urgent visit to the Maldives.

Secretary General of the IPU, Anders B. Johnsson wrote to Speaker of the Majlis Abdulla Shahid, requesting that a delegation was sent to discuss steps to ensure MPs “can do their work unhindered, without fear of intimidation and harassment or attack on their physical integrity,” added the Secretary General.

Alhan’s name appeared on an IPU list of 21 Maldivian MPs being monitored by the group. The list included Progressive Party of Maldives MP Dr Afrasheem Ali who was murdered in October 2012.


PPM and MDA leadership to host coalition rally in Male’ tonight

The government-aligned Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) has scheduled a “mass rally” for the artificial beach area of Male’ this evening, according to media reports.

PPM representative and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dhunya Maumoon was quoted by Sun Online as stating that the event would be attended by senior party members, as well as representatives from coalition partner, the Maldives Development Alliance (MDA).

The PPM announced earlier this month that it would be forming an alliance with the MDA, headed by MP and resort owner Ahmed ‘Sun Travel’ Shiyam, ahead of the presidential election scheduled for September 7 this year.

MP Shiyam is expected to be in attendance during tonight’s rally, along with PPM presidential candidate Abdulla Yameen and his running mate former Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed.

Party founder and former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom – Yameen’s half brother – is also expected to attend, according to local media.

PPM MP and Spokesperson Ahmed Nihan was not responding to calls at time of press.


‘National Movement’ exercising freedom of assembly with artifical beach gatherings

The self-titled ‘National Movement’, comprising several NGOs and the religious conservative Adhalaath Party, has said it is exercising constitutional rights by holding gatherings at the artificial beach area in Male’, despite claims it has not been granted permission to do so.

State Finance Minister Abbas Adil Riza, a member of the National Movement’s Steering Committee, said the group’s followers had the right to freedom of assembly to express dissatisfaction with parliament.  He also today (April 11) claimed the movement’s supporters may “storm” the People’s Majlis to protect the national constitution.

The National Movement has held a series of gatherings in recent weeks that its supporters have said are targeted solely at parliamentarians and their conduct in the country. The group previously accused MPs of violating the constitution late last year and said they would consider a plan to “break up” parliament if its members’ constitutional concerns were not addressed.

Housing Minister Dr Mohamed Muiz today turned to social media site Twitter to claim in Dhevehi that the ‘National Movement’ had not obtained permission to hold its gatherings in the artificial beach area beyond April 8 this year.

Dr Muiz was not responding to calls at time of press.

Meanwhile, Male’ City Council (MCC), which claims to be responsible for providing the artificial beach area to political parties, said it had filed separate cases with the Maldives Police Service and Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) over continued use of the land by a group proclaiming themselves as the ‘National Movement’.

Permission obtained, “Most probably”

Abbas Adil Riza told Minivan News today that one of the NGOs making up the National Movement had “most probably” obtained permission to use the land.

“We are of the opinion that the constitution allows every citizen the right of peaceful assembly,” he said.

Abbas claimed that the artificial beach area was a part of the capital where the public were free to gather, adding that he did not believe use of the space would be an issue if no other parties or groups had reserved the area at the same time.

According to Abbas, if the artificial beach area could not be made available for the ‘National Movement’, then MCC Councillors were required to provide land in the capital where they could continue to host gatherings.

He alleged that the MCC had tried to block National Movement supporters from holding their meetings at the artificial beach.

“Singular objective”

Regarding the ongoing series of gatherings, Abbas said the ‘National Movement’ was focused on the “singular objective” of not allowing parliament to damage the functioning of the Maldives constitution.

“We have given them the same warning that we gave to [former President Mohamed] Nasheed,” he said. “We will try to storm the Majlis if we have to protect the constitution.”

In December 2011, former opposition parties – now members of President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s unity government – and a number of NGOs included in the ‘National Movement’ gathered in Male’ with thousands of people to “defend Islam”.  Organisers said the rally was a response to what they alleged were the irreligious practices of former President Mohamed Nasheed’s government.

Nasheed’s government was controversially removed from office two months later following a mutiny by sections of the police and military.

Many of the parties in attendance at the “defend Islam” rally have taken cabinet posts in the new government.


Responding to Abbas’ claims today, MCC Councillor Mohamed Abdul Kareem claimed that the municipal council presently held the responsibility to provide permits for the use of the artificial beach area for events and gatherings.

He said that with work now being undertaken to ensure the area is ready for use around the time of presidential elections scheduled for September this year, the MCC had requested the land not be used at present by any political organisation or group.

Kareem went on to accuse the ‘National Movement’ of not being a registered organisation, but just a name used by Adhaalath Party President Sheikh Imran Abdullah for his own political ends.

He went on to allege that as a result of Sheikh Imran’s involvement with the movement, Housing Minister Muiz, who is also Secretary General of the Adhaalath Party, had previously provided permits for a limited period of time to use the artificial beach area for the gatherings.

Kareem also rejected accusations that the MCC had any involvement in attempts to try and block or sabotage the National Movement’s gatherings or work.

“Usfasgandu” dispute

The MCC has itself been locked in legal wrangling with the Housing Ministry over the last 13 months concerning its ability to lease an area of land known as “Usfasgandu” to the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) for use as a protest staging ground and other activities.

Usfasgandu was handed back to the MDP by the Male’ City Council last month.

The area was cordoned off by police in January after the High Court issued a warrant requesting the area be kept under police custody until it reached a verdict on the case.

Male’ City Council leased the Usfasgandu area to the ousted ruling party in March 2012, prompting repeated attempts by the government to reclaim the area on the grounds it was being used for criminal activity, including the practice of black magic.

The MDP had moved to the area after a previous protest camp at the tsunami monument was dismantled and completely repainted by police and military on March 19, 2012.


Will form large coalition to “shock” Nasheed if elected: PPM Umar Naseer

Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) presidential primary candidate Umar Naseer has revealed he intends to form a multi-party coalition should he win the PPM presidential election.

Speaking at artificial beach on Friday night (March 1) as part of his campaign rally, Naseer announced that a “wide coalition” must be formed in order to defeat the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) in the elections scheduled for later this year, local media reported.

Latest figures from the political party registry of the Elections Commission (EC) show that PPM currently has 22,765 members signed to its party – 23,769 members less than the MDP’s 46,533 total membership.

“It is not the way these days to do things on your own. If you give me the PPM leadership, I will form a wide coalition, God willing.

“I will attain this country’s power through a coalition that will shock Mohamed Nasheed,” Naseer was quoted as saying by Sun Online.

When Minivan News attempted to contact Umar Naseer today (February 2), his secretary stated: “Umar said we are not sharing any information with Minivan News”.

Speaking at the rally, Naseer claimed that Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party’s (DRP) refusal to form a coalition during the second round of the 2008 presidential elections had been a mistake, further claiming that should DRP decided otherwise, the MDP may not have achieved power in 2008.

“It is possible that Mohamed Nasheed could not have been able to get the last three years if the DRP had reached to other parties and formed a coalition.

“It was a strategic mistake we made that day, to not work with parties. PPM shall not make such a mistake,” Naseer said.

The PPM presidential primary candidate claimed there is now a need for leaders to work against the MDP from coming to power, assuring that he will make the effort if he wins the PPM ticket, local media reported.

Last month, the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) called on the Elections Commission (EC) to dissolve the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), calling it a “terrorism party”.

“There is the fear that MDP might come to power again. They are planning it very well. They even have the money. They are still a threat.

“This country needs strong leaders. Because this country is still not rid of MDP’s threat. I would like to tell you that if you give me the votes and elect me, I will achieve this for you,” local media reported Naseer as saying.


Government feud with MCC moves to beach and park

The Housing Ministry has written to Male’ City Council (MCC) informing it that Sultan Park and the Artificial Beach areas of Male’ have been reclaimed by the government.

These areas represent two of the 32 land plots transferred from the Housing Ministry to the MCC after its establishment as part of the previous government’s decentralisation policy in 2010.

Dr Mohamed Muiz, Minister for Housing and Infrastructure, informed Sun Online that it was only the development rights that had been removed from these areas, insisting that the MCC would still be responsible for municipal services such as cleaning and maintenance.

Councillor Mohamed Abdul Kareem said that this was “proof that [the government] are politically motivated in other takeovers.”

“They are trying to take all the things handed over to the city council,” said Kareem.

The ongoing stand-off between government and MCC, which is dominated by the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), has been growing in intensity over the past two months.

The removal of these two areas from the council’s jurisdiction follows disputes over a number of areas in the capital which the MCC had allocated to the MDP for an ongoing series of protests. The reasons given for the jurisdictional challenges have varied in each instance.

  • March 19Lonuziyaaraiy Kolhu, “Justice Square” – The MDP camp was dismantled by security forces after a day of unrest in the capital. The government claimed illegal activities were being conducted in the area. It also claimed that the leasing of the land for political purposes was in contravention of the decentralisation act. The case remains stymied in the courts.

  • April 17Dharubaaruge Conference Centre – MCC informed that staff working at the centre would be transferred to the Housing Ministry. Police reopened the centre after the MCC locked the doors. The centre is currently still under the MCC’s jurisdiction.

  • April 18Huravee offices – The Housing Ministry informed the MCC that its staff were being evicted from their offices in the Huravee building to make way for two newly-created government ministries. The second of these ministries was  been officially introduced today. The MCC says the centre is still under its control.

  • May 9Usfasgandu – A letter in April informed the MCC that the land would be removed from their power if the MDP activities on the site were not stopped. The ministry again used the breach of the decentralisation act’s stipulations as justification for these breaches. Yesterday, the Home Ministry instructed the police to seize the area. Today, the police announced their intention to obtain a court order before taking further action.

  • May 21Artificial Beach – Government cites reclamation in order to develop the area.

  • May 21Sultan Park – Government cites “reasons of national security”.

The MCC has consistently denied the legality of these reclamations. Kareem said that the council will go to court to challenge the legality of the process of reclamation itself, rather than with regards to the individual cases, as he believes the government would prefer.

The reasons Muiz gave for today’s takeovers were the receipt of multiple requests to develop the artificial beach area and the importance of the Sultan Park area for national security.

Contrary to the development arguments cited by the Housing Ministry, Kareem argued that the MCC had intended to develop the area, something that the government did not want to see happen.

“They are trying to frighten investors”, Kareem alleged.

The importance of the area surrounding Sultan Park, mentioned as reason for the government’s takeover of this area, was highlighted by independent MP Mohamed Nasheed last month when speaking to Minivan News about a freedom of assembly bill entering the Majlis.

Nasheed stated that the unusual nature of the country meant that the area surrounding the state’s vital institutions must remain free from static protests, lest the security force’s ability to operate be jeopardised, reports Sun Online.

Dr Muiz was unavailable for additional comment when contacted by Minivan News.

Sultan Park lies on a short distance from the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) headquarters and the Maldives Police Service (MPS) headquarters in Republican Square.

Both the MDP’s original “Justice Square” camp as well as the one currently threatened at Usfasgandu were leased to the party by the MCC.

Interim MDP Chairman Moosa ‘Reeko’ Manik was today reported in the local media as saying that the MDP would make all of Male’ its base should the Usfasgandu area be cleared.

Kareem also reported that a petition, signed by 60 people was handed in to the Local Government Association (LGA) today criticising the MCC’s provision of services. Kareem argued that the MCC was in fact delivering services to thousands of people every day on a small budget.

Sun Online has reported that the petition criticised the council’s policy of not permitting certain religious speeches, which it argued was biased. The petitioners were also reported to have criticised the city’s maintenance of streets.

The MCC asked police to break up a speech given by Sheikh Ilyas Hussain on Friday which they argue had not been authorised.


Male’ City Council to put up sign boards in Male’ to stop tourists from swimming in bikinis

Following an incident yesterday in which a group of tourists arrived in Male’ and went swimming in the Artificial Beach wearing bikinis, Male’ City Council has decided to put up sign boards informing tourists that it is prohibited to swim in the area wearing bikinis.

Male’ City Council member Mohamed Shujau today told Minivan News that the decision to put up sign boards was to prevent such incidents from occurring.

‘’It will happen when large groups of tourists come to Male’,’’ Shujau said. ‘’We do not want to punish the tourists so we will try to put up sign boards as a method of prevention.’’

Shujau said the Male’ City Council was in an agreement with tour operator and agents responsible for bringing tourists to Male’ that they will inform tourists that wearing bikinis while in Male’ is not allowed.

He said the council was yesterday informed “by many people” about the incident, and requested the council look into the matter.

Secretary General of the Maldives Association of Yacht Agents (MAYA) told Minivan News that the council had informed the association about the tourists swimming in the Artificial Beach wearing improper clothing.

‘’We always inform tourists that it is not allowed to wear bikinis in Male’ under Maldivian regulations,’’ Mohamed Ali said. ‘’We informed the tourists that came yesterday that the only place in Male’ that is for swimming is the Artificial Beach, and informed them that Maldivians also swim there.’’

Mohamed Ali said the association also informed tourists that anything they wear had to cover up to their knees, and that it was inappropriate to wear bikinis.

He said Male’ City Council has asked MAYA to assist the council in putting up the sign boards, and said MAYA had agreed to help.

A large group of tourists arrived yesterday from a cruise liner carrying more than 3000 tourists, he added.

In February last year the Adhaalath Party complained that tourists had been wearing improper clothing and consuming alcohol on Hulhumale’ beach in public, and that the area was becoming “a place where Maldivian families cannot visit.”

Islamic Minister Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed today told Minivan News that the issue was not related to the Islamic Ministry and that Islamic Ministry “has nothing to say about it.”

He said that the Islamic Ministry had not received any complaints regarding the issue.


Comment: Sun, sand and intolerance

Saturday’s attack on a group of people silently protesting against religious intolerance is just the latest in a series of orchestrated, well-choreographed acts of violence, hatred and intolerance sweeping across the nation in recent months.

Independent journalist and blogger, Ismail ‘Hilath’ Rasheed, whose personal blog was censored by the Maldivian government last month, was among those attacked, sustaining serious injuries to the head. Others who attempted to intervene also suffered minor injuries.

Ahmed Hassan, one of the protesters, said, “We planned a silent sit down protest in order to make a statement over the lack of religious freedom for minorities, especially those who aren’t Sunni Muslims.”

“We are entering the fourth year of democracy but unfortunately, many basic freedoms and rights have yet to be achieved for all Maldivians. It is unacceptable in this day and age that non-Muslim Maldivians are discriminated against in their own country,” he said. “This is their country as much as ours.”

He further added “I would like to say to those that attacked us today that violence is not a part of Islam. Islam is a religion of love, peace and shura (consultation). The unprovoked attack is clearly an act of intimidation. We realize that as our movement grows, we could face many more such attacks, but we will not be backing out. We will not be intimidated into silence.”

Local writer and blogger, Aminath Sulthona, who was also among the protesters said, “These are not people worthy of being termed ‘religious’, but they are misguided thugs spreading terror and violence in the name of religion.”

Sulthona complained that the police at the scene failed to carry out their duties. “I was being openly threatened and verbally abused in the presence of a police officer who paid no heed to the man… I managed to take pictures of the attackers, but as soon as I got home I started receiving calls saying I would be attacked on the streets if the pictures were leaked.”

The injured protester, Hilath, has also previously faced death-threats over his vocal criticism of Islamic radicalism on his personal blog.

Million-Man March of bigotry

As the rest of the world celebrates the International Human Rights day to commemorate the adoption of the UDHR, a network of NGOs in the Maldives and seven political parties are preparing to conduct a large protest on December 23 – with organisers vowing to assemble a rather ambitious 100,000 protesters, including mothers and their newborns, in order to ‘protect Islam’.

The protests were announced in the aftermath of a speech delivered in parliament by Navi Pillay, the visiting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, after she sought the removal of discriminatory clauses in the Constitution towards non-Muslims, as well as an open debate on the subject of degrading punishments like public flogging that are still practised in the Maldives.

Pillay argued that flogging as a form of punishment was “cruel and demeaning to women”, while pointing out that apart from just one other Islamic country, the practise wasn’t condoned even among Muslim nations.

Available statistics appear to support the claim that women are disproportionately affected by punishments such as flogging. Mariyam Omidi, then Editor of Minivan News, reported in a 2009 article that according to government statistics, out of 184 people sentenced to flogging for ‘fornication’, 146 were women.

However, the report was met with outrage from conservative sections of the public who gathered with placards at the same venue where the protesters were attacked yesterday, and demanded that the journalist be deported.

There was simply no room for intelligent discussion on the subject and the offending statistic mysteriously disappeared from government websites not long afterwards.

Similarly, the response to the UN Human Rights Commissioner’s recommendations has been a brutish all-out war on the very idea of having a debate on the subject.

One gimmick to rule them all

One might wonder how in a country where Islam is safeguarded by the Constitution, and where there is overwhelming support among both leaders and the general public for mandating Islam’s role in state affairs, and where educating the public on other religions is not only taboo, but also illegal by law – could there still exist such insecurity among citizens that they need to rally in order to ‘protect Islam’.

The explanation is simple.

For 30 years, former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom carefully consolidated the state’s authority over personal beliefs by successfully selling the idea of a ‘100 percent Sunni Muslim’ nation, and making the Dhivehi Identity virtually synonymous with Sunni Islam, which needed to be fiercely protected at all times from ever-present, invisible threats.

One of Gayoom’s most damaging legacies is that a paranoid Maldives found itself among the top ten countries in the world noted for religious intolerance, according to a study by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life published in 2009.

Employing religion to keep his citizens in check was a master stroke that ensured him a long reign, but Gayoom’s chickens came home to roost in the dying days of his regime when the democratic uprising threw up a medley of ultra-conservative mullahs who would take over the religious mantle from Gayoom.

Following the first democratic Presidential elections, the ultra-conservative Adhaalath Party assumed control of the newly created Ministry of Islamic Affairs, and took upon themselves the onerous responsibility of deciding who were the ‘true Muslims’ and what constituted ‘true Islam’.

It didn’t help matters that despite the freedom of speech granted by the constitution, the mainstream Maldivian media continues to exercise strict self-censorship when it comes to issues of religion and human rights.

The subject remains taboo among other public institutions and agencies as well, as evidenced by the statement released by the Maldivian Human Rights Commission yesterday on the occasion of Human Rights day, which glaringly omits any mention of minority rights or non-Muslim Dhivehin.

Speaking at a National Awards ceremony last month, President Nasheed gently rebuked his citizens for reacting ‘in a jihadi manner’ over the Navi Pillay controversy.

Instead, he exhorted the citizens to “have the courage to be able to listen to and digest what people tell us, what we hear and what we see”

President Nasheed would have done well to foster this spirit in his own government which, in the first few months after coming to power, shut down several websites that were allegedly critical of his then coalition partner, the Adhaalath Party.

Less than two weeks before he implored his citizens to have the courage to digest others’ opinions, President Nasheed’s government banned the blog of independent journalist Hilath who had been critical of Islamists in the government.

Even more startling was the reaction of his foreign Minister, Ahmed Naseem, to the controversy over Navi Pillay’s recommendations for doing away with degrading punishments.

“You cannot argue with God”, he said, in what was a clear surrender to the politics of bigotry.

The President would also do well to convey his ideas to his erudite Islamic Minister, Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Baree whose response to the call for open discussion on the subject was merely, “No Muslim has the right to advocate against flogging for fornication.”

The Islamic Minister had also previously condemned the presence of commemorative monuments presented by participating nations in the recently concluded 17th SAARC summit in Addu.

Burning Bridges

The destructive outcome of emotive politics of hatred, strife and fear was clearly demonstrated by the hyper-paranoid religious vandals who burnt, damaged and stole multiple SAARC monuments because they allegedly depicted ‘idols of worship’.

One police officer on duty guarding the monument recollected being approached by hostile members of the general public asking why they were guarding “temples”.

The opposition parties, seeing political expediency even in the most unfortunate acts of xenophobic vandalism, quickly hailed the vandals as “national heroes”.

In a related incident, some MPs of the Progressive Party, including MP Ahmed Mahloof apparently hijacked a ferry in a valiant effort to save Islam from a banner hung at the International Airport, before they were intercepted by the Police and diverted to another island.

The offending banner at the airport depicted an image of Jesus Christ, a Buddhist chakra, and other religious motifs symbolising the religious diversity of South Asia, which the design consultants who came up with the concept said was in keeping with this year’s SAARC summit’s theme of ‘Building bridges’.

Notably, none of these MPs had anything to say on the young non-Muslim Maldivian man who hung himself from a tower at that very airport in July 2010, following immense pressure from family and state religious authorities after he, in his own words, “foolishly admitted (his) non-religious stance” to friends and colleagues.

If the 17th SAARC Summit proved anything, it is that building bridges is impossible when there are greedy political trolls ready to pounce on anyone willing to cross it.

Uphill struggle

It also appears that the Mullah and the MPs seem to be firm in their understanding that Islam has no room for thinking, no room for debate, no room for tolerance and no room for intelligence.

The seemingly endless series of ugly incidents and violence carried out in the Maldives in the name of Islam only reinforces the reputation of Islam as an intolerant, backward religion fit for narrow minded thugs who are incapable of dealing with 21st century realities or co-existing peacefully with the international community.

According to a March 2011 Universal Periodic Review Report for the Maldives, the Maldivian government had pledged to raise awareness and public debate around the issue of freedom of religion and religious tolerance.

The report states that “The Maldives commits to begin domestic awareness-raising and an open public debate on religious issues. Moreover… the Maldives requests international support to host, in 2012, a major international conference on modern Sharia jurisprudence and human rights.”

However, this may be a difficult task given the sense of over-entitlement prevalent among sections of the Maldivian public that, though it demands – nay depends – on foreign aid, income and expertise to keep their families clothed and fed, nevertheless scoffs at the very thought of having to fulfil any obligations to the international community at large.

When confronted by the UN Committee on the the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in August 2011 on the constitutional clause depriving non-Muslims of citizenship, the Maldivian delegation reportedly had this to say:

“It was not true that under the new Constitution existing citizens could be arbitrarily deprived of their nationality if they were to stop practicing Islam… The Muslim-only clause under the citizenship article of the Constitution only applied to non-Maldivians wishing to become naturalised.”

However, just one month later, the government published new Regulations under the Religious Unity Act of 1994, making it illegal to propagate any other religion than Islam, or to be in possession of any material or literature that contradicts Islam. Any violations of the regulations would carry a 2 to 5 year prison sentence.

In other words, as the silent protesters attacked in broad daylight yesterday learned, the struggle to achieve universal human rights in the Maldives is a seemingly impossible and uphill task that only keeps getting harder, thanks to the cesspool of paranoia, hatred and violence generated by a band of short-sighted politicians who are happy to abuse religion and opportunistic religious clerics who dabble in politics.

As with last year, where a motorcade of fundamentalists rode around the capital yelling loud anti-Semitic slogans about visiting Israelis, this year too the Human Rights Day has been marred by gloomy incidents of intolerance that only remind us of how the idea of mutual respect and civility still eludes us as a nation.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


Male’ City Council denies plans to erect signs banning ‘immodest dressing’

Male’ City Council member Ahmed Falah has denied media reports today that the council has decided to put up sign boards banning immodest dressing to discourage tourists from wearing bikinis on beaches and other public areas in the capital.

Local newspaper Haveeru reported Male’ City Council member Ibrahim Shujau as telling the paper that the council had received complaints from the public that tourists had been wearing improper clothing around the capital’s beach. He reportedly said the council met with the Tourism Ministry and decided to put up sign board to inform tourists that improper clothing was not allowed.

However, Falah today said that the council has not made any such decision.

‘’I am sure that the council has not decided anything like that,’’ Falah said. ‘’Media reports are incorrect.’’

Speaking to Minivan News earlier this year, Secretary General of the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI), ‘Sim’ Mohamed Ibrahim acknowledged that such occurrences would be a challenge for the mid-market tourism ambitions of the Maldives.

“The way it is currently structured is that alcohol is banned and there is a dress code for inhabited islands. Unless the regulations are changed – and I’m not saying they should be relaxed – tourist areas will need to be separated from local areas. In Male’ people cannot drink alcohol openly and nobody wears bikinis – it isn’t a problem.”

Ibrahim suggested that unless there were demarcated tourist areas, “there will always be these kinds of issues. It’s not an Adhaalath party issue or necessarily a religious issue – Western tourist dress is very different from traditional Maldivian dress.”

In April this year The Criminal Court sentenced a man to six months imprisonment after he was found guilty of ‘skinny dipping’ (swimming naked) in the Artificial Beach in Male’.