Two-thirds of Maldivians back moratorium on flogging: survey

Nearly two-thirds of Maldivians support a moratorium on flogging, according to the results of a survey conducted by Asia Research Partners and social activism website

The survey, the first of its kind to be conducted in the Maldives, found an “overwhelming” 92 percent of Maldivians believe that laws and systems to protect women from sexual assault should be reformed.

Of those polled, 62 percent supported an outright moratorium on the practice of flogging, while 73 percent declared existing punishments for sexual crimes were unfair to women.

Moreover, only one in five of those surveyed said current systems and laws were “adequate or fair”, according to a statement issued by Avaaz.

“While honeymooners relax in paradise, a war against women is being waged in the Maldives which the government is refusing to stop. Over two million people from around the world want them to act and now 92 percent of Maldivians want laws against rape and sexual abuse. President Waheed can easily pass a law banning flogging but refuses to act to end this medieval practice,” said Avaaz Campaign Director, Alice Jay.

“The poll flies in the face of the country’s parliamentarians who have claimed it would be “political suicide” to outlaw flogging and have done nothing to stop the practice, but instead given in to hard-line Islamist calls for harsher Sharia punishments.”

The survey was conducted across Male’ and Hithadhoo in Seenu Atoll in May 2013 by Asia Research Partners, both over the phone and through face-to-face interviews. All respondents were aged over 18 years.

‘Horror in paradise’ petition

The survey comes months after a case in which a 15 year-old rape victim was sentenced to 100 lashes and eight months’ house arrest for a separate offence of fornication garnered substantial international attention and condemnation.

The 15 year-old’s case attracted worldwide media attention and was widely condemned by international organisations and other nation states. Media condemnation was particularly strong in the UK and Germany, two of the Maldives’ most significant tourism markets.

In March, an Avaaz petition calling for the repeal of the sentence and a moratorium on flogging in the Maldives collected more than two million signatures – a figure more than double the number of tourists who visit the country annually.

“Since the campaign launched four months ago, Avaaz has been in discussions with the Maldivian government officials who have so far refused to take action on this issue,” the organisation said in a statement.

“Despite promises from the Gender Ministry, the President’s Office, the Attorney General’s office and the Foreign Ministry, this 15-year old child still faces the flogging sentence and far from ending this practice, some Maldivian political parties are calling for even harsher punishments.

“As a result of their failure to act, Avaaz is now planning to run hard hitting targeted adverts urging President Waheed and several parliamentarians who own some of the major Maldivian resorts, to act,” the organisation declared.


After the sentencing initially made international headlines, President Mohamed Waheed issued a statement expressing “deep concern” over the verdict and pledging an appeal.

At the same time his coalition partner, the Adhaalath Party, warned that “Allah has decreed that expressing disapproval of issues such as this contradicts with faith in Islam”, and cautioned that “If such sinful activities are to become this common, the society will break down and we may become deserving of divine wrath.”

Then-Attorney General Azima Shukoor – now Minister for Human Rights, Gender and Family – subsequently lodged an appeal of the decision in the High Court arguing that the girl’s confession to the fornication offence had been taken in violation of established procedure.

The first hearing was held on April 29 behind closed doors, with no apparent movement in the case since.

Avaaz meanwhile moved to pressure the government into entertaining a moratorium on the practice of flogging.

The most recent Avaaz statement cited UK-based religious scholar Sheikh Dr Usama Hasan, who said “Sharia is not a fixed set of laws that can never be changed. Modern penal codes are thus fully Islamic if they share the values of justice and compassion, even if they do not include amputations, floggings or stonings to death. The latter punishments should be seen as ancient cultural practices, not essentially Islamic.”

The government’s position has meanwhile wavered between broad support for a moratorium and legal reforms to suspicion over the motivations of the Avaaz campaign and allegations of politicisation.

President’s Office Spokesperson Masood Imad was not responding to calls at time of press, but has previously noted that the Maldives had for over 50 years turned away from practicing Sharia punishments such as stoning, amputation and the death penalty, and suggested similar space for a debate on flogging.

However he cautioned that all authorities involved in proposed legal reforms would have to tread “a very fine line” in order to tackle long standing “traditions” and beliefs in the country.

At the same time, recently dismissed Deputy Tourism Minister Dr Maleeh Jamal has called for “negative news to be minimised”, emphasising that “People should not be doing anything to damage the industry. In Switzerland, you would not see a campaign designed to damage Swiss chocolate.”

A parliament committee currently reviewing the new penal code has meanwhile come under pressure from conservative religious elements, including the Adhaalath Party, to ensure Hadd punishments were included in the code – including flogging and amputation.

Speaking recently to Minivan News, one member of the committee said he feared not including such punishments would lead to backlash from conservative groups and amount to “political suicide”.

“We want to remove it as well. But, our hands are tied. Only public pressure can stop it,” he said.

Flogging stats

Almost 90 percent of the people found guilty of “Zina” – fornication – and sentenced to flogging in 2011 were female, according to statistics from the Department of Judicial Administration.

A total of 129 fornication cases were filed in 2011 and 104 people sentenced, out of which 93 were female.

These included 10 underage girls (below 18), 79 women aged 18-40, and four women aged above 40 years.

Gender Ministry statistics meanwhile show 1 in 3 Maldivian women between the ages of 15 and 49 have suffered either physical or sexual abuse over the past five years. At the same time, there has not been a single conviction for rape in the last three years.

Read about the practice of flogging in the Maldives


Tourism boycott would be “setback for economic rights of women” says President, as Avaaz petition reaches two million

President Dr Mohamed Waheed has issued a statement warning that calls for a boycott on tourism over the flogging sentence for a 15 year-old rape victim “will only serve as a setback to the economic opportunities and rights we are all striving to uphold for women, girls and the hardworking Maldivian people in general.”

The President’s statement comes as an petition calling for a moratorium on flogging and better laws to protect women and girls in the Maldives reached more than two million signatures – more than twice the number of tourists who visit the country each year.

In a letter published on Minivan News on Saturday, Executive Director Ricken Patel insisted that the organisation had not called for a outright tourism boycott.

“What we do stand ready to do, however, is to inform tourists about what action is and isn’t being taken by the Maldives government to resolve this issue and change the law, and to identify those MPs and resort owners who are using their influence to push for positive change – and those who are not,” Patel said.

“Around the world people are interested (and have a right to know) what kind of systems they’re supporting with their tourism dollars, and to make their holiday decisions accordingly,” he added.

President Waheed meanwhile thanked the international community “for their concern” in the case, noting that Attorney General Azima Shukoor had met the girl “and she is receiving the appropriate physical and psychological counseling.”

“This case should never have been presented in the courts and we are working to ensure that cases like this are never brought to the courts again,” President Waheed said.

“We appreciate the international compassion for this young woman and ask for your patience as this case moves through the judicial system. As both the President and as a father, I am fully committed to protecting and advancing the rights of women and girls in the Maldives and throughout the world and share your deep concern about this young victim,” he said.

“The Maldives is a young democracy working to balance our religious faith with our new democratic values. I ask that you support us and join us as partners as we work through this challenge.”

President Waheed’s Gaumee Ithihaad Party (GIP) has meanwhile declared itself in coalition with the religious conservative Adhaalath Party (AP), which has publicly endorsed the 15 year-old’s flogging sentence, stating that she “deserves the punishment” as outlined under Islamic Sharia.

The Adhaalath party, members of which largely dominate the Maldives’ Ministry of Islamic Affairs, stated that the sentence of flogging had not been passed against the minor for being sexually abused by her stepfather, but rather for the consensual sex which she had confessed to having to authorities.

“The purpose of penalties like these in Islamic Sharia is to maintain order in society and to save it from sinful acts. It is not at all an act of violence. We must turn a deaf ear to the international organisations which are calling to abolish these penalties, labeling them degrading and inhumane acts or torture,” read a recent statement from the party.

“If such sinful activities are to become this common, the society will break down and we may become deserving of divine wrath,” the Adhaalath Party stated.

A previous call for a moratorium on the flogging of women for the crime of extramarital sex was raised by UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay during an address to parliament in 2011.

Following her address, demonstrators gathered outside the UN building holding placards calling for Pillay to be “arrested”, “flogged” and “slain”.

Pillay’s statement was publicly condemned by the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM), Islamic Ministry, MPs and religious NGOs, while the Adhaalath Party called on then President Mohamed Nasheed to condemn Pillay’s statements “at least to show to the people that there is no irreligious agenda of President Nasheed and senior government officials behind this.”

“What’s there to discuss about flogging? There is nothing to debate about in a matter clearly stated in the religion of Islam. No one can argue with God,” said Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem at the time.

More recently, a  report on extremism in the Maldives published in US West Point military academy’s Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) Sentinel has warned that growing religious extremism and political uncertainty in the country risk negatively affecting the country’s tourism industry.

“Despite its reputation as an idyllic paradise popular among Western tourists, political and religious developments in the Maldives should be monitored closely,” the report concluded.