Museum vandalism “tremendous loss to our country, our culture and our history: former President

Former President Mohamed Nasheed has expressed “deep concern” over leaked CCTV footage of a group of men vandalising archaeological evidence of the Maldives’ pre-Islamic civilisation in the national museum in Male’.

The incident took place amid the political turmoil of February 7 at around 11:30am in the morning, as police and military officers turned on the Nasheed administration in nearby Republic Square.

The extensive CCTV footage shows a group of eight men entering the building while a ninth appears to stand watch outside. A museum staff member sitting at the desk in the lobby stands up as the men enter, and is grabbed and shoved out of view. The group search the ground floor before running upstairs, knocking over display cases and smashing the museum’s collection of ancient Buddhist relics.

Around 35 exhibits were damaged or destroyed, including the museum’s most significant treasure – a carved ancient head of Gautama Buddha discovered in Alif Alif Atoll Thoddu, dating back to the 6th century.

Police in May 2012 forwarded cases against four suspects to the Prosecutor General’s office. According to the PG’s office, the case was initially returned to police for further clarification. The case has now been returned by police and the PG intends to make a decision by the end of next week, Minivan News understands.

“This misguided act of vandalism caused tremendous loss to our country, our culture and our history. A narrative based on hatred and extremism was deliberately whipped up by those currently in power in order to justify the coup in February last year. That same narrative, and the climate of intolerance and impunity it created, also led to the vandalism at the museum,” former President Nasheed stated.

“Extremist behaviour, and a hatred of other cultures and countries, is very real in the Maldives today. The continual denial of this sorry state of affairs by the current regime is deeply troubling,” he added.

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Mariya Ahmed Didi alleged the government’s inaction on the matter amounted to “state-backed protection” of the perpetrators.

“I am very concerned by the failure of the authorities to take any action against the museum vandals. The Maldives Police Service and the prosecutor general have abdicated their responsibility to act,” she said.

The vandalism was widely reported by international media outlets, many of which were present in the country to cover the political turmoil at the time.

In September 2012, the United States government donated US$ 20,000 (MVR 308,400) to help restore and repair the damaged artefacts, as part of an effort to preserve Maldivian cultural heritage.

Leaked museum CCTV footage:


Political turmoil threatens archaeological treasures in Maldives: New York Times

Nearly a week after vandals stormed into the National Museum here and destroyed almost 30 Buddhist statues — some dating to the sixth century — the broken glass has been swept away and the remnants have been locked up. But officials say the loss to this island nation’s archaeological legacy can never be made up, writes Vikas Bajaj for the New York Times.

Amid the recent political turmoil that has racked this tiny Indian Ocean nation of 1,200 islands, a half dozen men stormed into the museum last Tuesday and ransacked a collection of coral and lime figures, including a six-faced coral statue and a one-and-a-half-foot wide representation of the Buddha’s head. Officials said the men attacked the figures because they believed they were idols and illegal under Islamic and national laws.

There were contradictory reports about whether suspects had been arrested. Mr. Waheed said five men were caught at the museum but a spokesman for the police, Ahmed Shiyam, said on Monday that investigators were still collecting evidence and had not made arrests.

The attack is reminiscent of the Taliban’s demolition of the great Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan in early 2001, and has raised fears here that extremists are gaining ground in the Maldives, a Sunni Muslim country that is believed to have converted to Islam in the 12th century from Buddhism. The country has long incorporated elements of Islamic laws in its jurisprudence. Alcohol, pork products and idols cannot be brought into the country.

On the same day that the statues were destroyed last week, Mohamed Nasheed, who was elected president in 2008 in the country’s first democratic election, stepped down in what he said was a coup and what his opponents argue was a voluntary resignation. His resignation came after nearly a month-long protest by Islamic and other opposition political parties, some of whom criticized him for not cracking down on massage parlors that operated as brothels and for proposing that hotels on islands inhabited by Maldivians be allowed to serve alcohol. Currently, only hotels on islands where no Maldivians live or at the airport are allowed to serve alcohol.

Ali Waheed, the director of the National Museum, said on Monday that officials might be able to restore two or three of the statues but the rest were beyond repair. Mr. Waheed’s staff recently moved some palanquins, beds and jugs from the last 100 years into the gallery that previously housed the statues on the ground level of the museum, built by the Chinese as a gift to the Maldives.

“The collection was totally, totally smashed,” Mr. Waheed said. “The whole pre-Islamic history is gone.”

Naseema Mohamed, a historian who retired from the museum last year, said the loss was particularly devastating because many of the country’s ancient artifacts dispersed across the archipelago had been lost or destroyed over the years by locals and rulers. “There was very little left,” she said.

Full story


Mob storms National Museum, destroys Buddhist statues: “A significant part of our heritage is lost now”

Several historical artifacts exhibited at the Maldives National Museum, including Buddhist statues were destroyed in a mob attack on Wednesday morning, an act of vandalism that is said to have caused “unimaginable damage” to the treasured Maldivian heritage.

Speaking to Minivan News, a museum official said that a group of five to six men stormed into the building twice, “deliberately targeted the Buddhist relics and ruins of monasteries exhibited in the pre- Islamic collection, destroying most items “beyond repair”.

The official said that the details of the damage cannot be released as the police have asked the museum to withhold the information until the investigation into the attack is pending.”‘But I can say that attackers have done unimaginable damage,” he added.

“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 exclaimed.

According to a source, a coral stone head of Lord Buddha, an 11th century piece recovered from Thoddoo in Alifu Atoll, was smashed up by the attackers, one of the most significant pieces at the museum inside Sultan’s Park.

The museum was built with Chinese government aid and opened on July 26, 2010.

Other pieces vandalised include the Bohomala sculptures, monkey statues and a broken statue piece of the Hindu water god, Makara, while the two five faced statues discovered from Male’ were also damaged – the only remaining archaeological evidence proving the existence of a Buddhist era in the Maldives.

The glass casings holding the items were also destroyed in the attack.

According to the museum official, some of the attackers who returned to the museum for the second time were apprehended by the police who arrived on the scene.

“Around five to six people were taken under police custody. But by then they had already done the damage they wanted,” he observed.

Minivan News could get the confirmation on the arrest from the police at the time of press.

The attack on the museum coincided with the political unrest that escalated in Male’ on late hours of Tuesday night, after a group of policeman and military allegedly joined the opposition protestors, forcing Former President Mohamed Nasheed to resign the following day.

AFP reported 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.

The museum official who spoke to Minivan News earlier said that he cannot comment on whether the attack was connected to fundamentalists.

‘We are not trying to promote any religion here. These artifacts are used for the purpose of teaching, archeological research and showing Maldivian history to visitors,” he explained. “But a significant part of our heritage is lost now.”