Prosecutor General (PG) Muhthaz Muhsin has said that the office is considering demanding that internet service providers in the Maldives block pornographic websites.
Speaking to Avas, Muhsin said pornographic websites are blocked in most Islamic countries and that the Maldives should follow suit.
“This is how it is in the lot of Muslim countries. We are thinking of doing the same in the Maldives,” Muhsin told Avas.
According to current laws and regulations, possessing and distributing pictures or videos with pornographic content is illegal in the Maldives.
Last year, nine underage students were arrested in Feydhoo School in Addu City for the possession of pornographic pictures and videos while a man was sentenced to six years of imprisonment for possessing pornographic material.
The government has published new regulations to control tobacco, banning smoking inside all government buildings, private restaurants, cafes, teashops and social spaces.
The regulation prohibits smoking at Rehabilitation Centres, children’s parks and places frequently visited by children, aboard ferries and ferry terminals and at any place where people have to wait in a queue to obtain services.
According to the new regulation places such as cafes and restaurants that want to have smoking allowed will have to apply for permission from the Ministry of Health. The permission will be granted to places determined by the Ministry.
Any person who smokes in an area determined to be non-smoking can be fined to MVR 500 (US$32) and the owner of a place that allows smoking in such places without authority can be fined MVR 1000 (US$64) according to the regulation.
The regulation states that if the owner of the premises has not put up the sign board to inform that smoking inside the place is disallowed, the ministry has the authority to fine the venue MVR 500 first time and MVR 5000 (US$3200) on further occasions.
The Centre for Community Health and Disease Control (CCHDC) estimates that the 44 percent of the total population use tobacco, mainly by smoking.
According to the Maldives Demography and Health Survey (MDHS) 2009, 42 percent of people in the age group 20-24 are smokers while 20 percent of 15-19 years age group smoke.
Customs data shows that in 2010 alone 346 million cigarettes were imported into the Maldives at a cost of MVR 124 million (US$8 million) – a disproportionate figure considering the 350,000 populace. In 2009, MVR 110 million was spent to import 348 million cigarettes – mostly included well-known brands such as Marlborough, Camel, and Mild Seven.
The first President of the Maldives Ameen Didi, who assumed office in 1953, banned tobacco in the Maldives. However, people were outraged over this decision and a group of rebellious citizens overthrew his government and lynched Didi in the street.
The UK has banned Islamic speaker Dr Zakir Naik from entering the country, preventing him from giving a series of lectures in Sheffield and northern England on ‘Freedom of Expression: An Islamic Perspective’.
Dr Naik recently presented a series of lectures in the Maldives at the invitation of the Ministry for Islamic Affairs. One session in particular made headlines when Naik was confronted by a self-declared apostate, who later reconverted to Islam after two days of counselling in police custody.
News agency Reuters reported that Conservative Home Secretary Theresa May had barred Dr Naik from entering the country because “numerous comments made by Dr Naik are evidence to me of his unacceptable behavior.”
“Coming to the UK is a privilege not a right, and I am not willing to allow those who might not be conducive to the public good to enter,” she said.
The UK’s Daily Telegraph newspaper reported Ministry sources as saying the decision to refuse entry to Dr Naik was based on footage in 2006 in which he appeared to endorse terrorism against the United States: “If he [Osama Bin Laden] is terrorising the terrorists, if he is terrorising America the terrorist … I am with him. Every Muslim should be a terrorist,” Naik says in the clip.
Naik has argued that these comments were taken out of context, and has since issued a statement saying he “unequivocally condemns acts of violence including 9/11, 7/7 and 7/11 [the serial train bombing in Mumbai], which are completely and absolutely unjustifiable on any basis.”
The Telegraph also claimed Dr Naik had said Western women made themselves “more susceptible to rape” by wearing revealing clothing.
“Western society has actually degraded (women) to the status of concubines, mistresses and social butterflies, who are mere tools in the hands of pleasure seekers and sex marketeers,” the paper quoted him as saying.
One of the topics of Dr Naik’s planned speeches in the UK was ‘freedom of expression’, and the decision to deny him entry to the country has sparked vigorous debate in the UK among civil rights campaigners.
The Muslim Council of Britain has also expressed “grave concern” over the decision, with Secretary General Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari stating that “this exclusion order demonstrates the double standards practised by the government concerning freedom of speech. While preachers of hate such as Geert Wilders are free to promote their bigotry in this country, respected Muslim scholars such as Dr Naik are refused entry to the UK under false pretences. It is deeply regrettable this is likely to cause serious damage to community cohesion in our country.”
A spokesman for Dr Naik told the BBC that the Home Ministry’s decision was “deeply regrettable” and that the UK had “bowed to pressure” from “certain groups” to exclude him.
He said Mr Naik had been holding talks in the UK for 15 years and the decision to bar his entry was “disappointing.”
Parliament has narrowly rejected a bill outlawing the sale of alcohol in inhabited islands, airports and other places frequented by Maldivians.
Of the 57 MPs in attendance, 28 voted against proceeding with the legislation, while 23 voted in favour and six abstained.
Several MPs from the two main parties vociferously raised points of order when independent MP Muttalib, who proposed the legislation, in his closing statement after the debate, told DRP MP Ali Azim to repent for his remarks and called on the authorities to take action against him.
Azim had argued against the legislation, claiming it was not a “sensible” or “necessary” law.
However Deputy Speaker Ahmed Nazim did not allow any points of order, leading to pandemonium in the chamber. The sitting was temporarily called off after almost every MP walked out in protest and quorum was lost.
Muttalib also accused MDP MP Mariya Ahmed Didi of opposing the bill because of her “close association” with the Holiday Inn in Male’, and accused MDP MP Mohamed Mustafa of defrauding pilgrims to “steal their money”.
After the sitting resumed at 11am, Muttalib said MPs would have to “bear responsibility” when the government authorised sale of alcohol in hotels in Male’.
A number of Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party-People’s Alliance coalition (DRP-PA) MPs joined several independents and all the MPs of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) in either abstaining or voting against the bill.
Among the MPs who opposed the legislation were Thohdhoo MP Ali Waheed, Galolhu South MP Ahmed Mahlouf, Vili-Maafanu MP Ahmed Nihan, Mid-Henveiru MP Ali Azim, Villigili MP Mohamed Ramiz, Feydhoo MP Alhan Fahmy of the DRP and Maavashu MP Abdul Azeez Jamal Abukaburu and Isdhoo MP Ahmed Rasheed Ibrahim from the People’s Alliance.
During the debate, several MPs argued the bill was unconstitutional as it would indirectly authorise the sale of alcohol.
Article 10(b) of the constitution states no law contrary to any tenet of Islam shall be made or enacted in the Maldives.
Machangaoalhi North MP Mariya Ahmed Didi, chairperson of MDP, argued tourist resorts should also be considered inhabited islands.
“The constitution states all Maldivians have equal protection under the law. Therefore, if we are to give protection to people in inhabited islands, we must provide it to people in resorts,” she said, adding resort workers spend most of the year living in the resorts.
Ungoofaru MP Dr Afrashim Ali of the DRP, a religious scholar, said MPs were mistaken when they argued a law was not needed to ban a practice forbidden in Islam, as it was necessary to devise regulations to protect Maldivian society from social ills such as alcohol.
He added flaws and imperfections in the bill could be remedied at committee stage.
His DRP colleague, Mid-Henveiru MP Ali Azim said MPs should consider whether such a law was needed and whether it would protect Islam in the country.
“My thinking on this is very different. We have to consider who we are trying to forbid alcohol to. We are trying to make it illegal for expatriates and foreigners who visit the Maldives. I don’t think this is a reason we should make it illegal,” he said.
With the economy reliant on the tourism industry, he continued, it did not make sense to outlaw the sale of alcohol only in parts of the country as this would not prevent Maldivians gaining access to it.
Azim said the bill was backed by “the Jews” as part of a long-term plan to weaken the country and introduce other religions.
Meanwhile People’s Alliance MP Abdul Azeez spoke in favour of the bill and urged MPs to send it to committee, but voted against it.
Speaking to Minivan News today, Mauroof Zakir, spokesperson for the coalition of NGOs and associations campaigning against the sale of alcohol in inhabited islands, said the reasons given by MPs for rejecting the bill were “unacceptable”.
“We agree that there are problems with the bill, but throwing it out doesn’t solve anything,” he said. “While [parliament] has the power to send it to committee and cut and trim it, the things they said were intended to mislead the public.”
The coalition was considering proposing another bill, he said, and planned to stage protests and employ civil disobedience if the government enforced the revised regulations on the sale of alcohol.
Last month, the government revised the regulations on the import and use of alcohol to revoke over 800 liquor permits issued to expatriates in favour of authorising hotels to serve foreigners under strict supervision.
The Economic Development Ministry argued lax monitoring of the liquor permits had resulted in a black market for alcohol in the capital Male’.
But, the Ministry’s revised regulations were withdrawn following public pressure before it could be enforced and were sent to a parliamentary committee for consultation.
Under the regulations, tourist hotels in inhabited islands with more than 100 beds would be authorised to sell alcohol to foreigners, but the hotel bar should not be visible from outside or employ Maldivians.
Further, an inventory of the alcohol in storage and daily sales has to be maintained and made available to police on request, while the storage room has to be monitored by CCTV cameras.
Alcohol could not be kept at mini-bars in the hotel rooms and expatriate employees at the bar would be subject to police clearance.
Zakir said the coalition would begin work “immediately” on filing a case at the Supreme Court to abolish regulations made 50 years ago that gave authority to the Economic Development Ministry to allow the import and use of alcohol.
Following today’s vote, he said, the coalition expected the revised regulations to be enforced.