HRCM raises concern over growing religious conservatism in Universal Period Review

The Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) has submitted its Universal Period Review (UPR) report to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), raising concerns over a growing tide of religious conservatism.

“There are roughly 400 children being withheld from attending school by their parents due to religious beliefs,” revealed the report made public yesterday, referring to an estimate from the education ministry in a 2011 assessment by the HRCM on child participation.

In a section titled ‘religious extremist ideologies,’ the HRCM referred to “reports of unregistered marriages encouraged by some religious scholars claiming that registering marriages with the courts are un‐Islamic and unnecessary.”

“State institutions acknowledge this information and raised concerns that children born to such marriages could face serious legal issues. Similarly women in such marriages are bound to face social and legal consequences,” the report stated.

“Conservative beliefs that promote women as inferior to men are being spread at an alarming level. Many women believe that their role in society is to be submissive wives and in raising children.”

In addition to outlining 18 thematic areas, the report provides updates on implementation of recommendations of the first UPR review in 2010, the HRCM noted.

The UPR is a state-driven process that reviews the human rights records of all 193 UN member states every four years, based on submissions by the government, the UN, NGOs and human rights commissions. The Maldives’ review is scheduled to take place in April or May 2015.


Increase in religious conservatism, cultural norms and stereotypical roles depicted by society inhibit women’s equitable participation in public life,” reads the section on women’s rights.

“Women remain under represented in all branches of the state and efforts to secure legislative quotas remain unsuccessful.”

The enforcement of the anti-Domestic Violence (DV) Act was meanwhile hampered by absence of procedures, inconsistencies in application by institutions, and “lack of sensitivity among law enforcement and judiciary”.

The police also failed to meet a legislative deadline on submitting a report to the family protection agency (FPA), the report noted.

“Limited capacity of investigators and their belief that such cases are family matters inhibit victims from getting redress,” it continued.

“FPA with a mandate to combat DV is not provided with necessary financial and human resources. Reporting of DV cases remain low as a result of lack of confidence in the system, fear of intimidation by perpetrators, stigmatisation and inadequate information on protection measures. There is no proper reintegration mechanism.”

Despite reports to the contrary from the state for the mid-term assessment of implementation of UPR recommendations, the HRCM said there were “no strict punishments to perpetrators of DV”.

The report observed that children born out of wedlock faced discrimination.

Paternity testing is not admissible evidence in court and such a child would be denied father’s name, inheritance and child maintenance,” it stated.

While most reported cases of child abuse did not result in convictions, victims often “remain re‐victimized due to systemic failures” including “delays in obtaining evidence and overly strict evidentiary requirements.”

“The legal age of consent, along with societal attitudes to treat child abuse as private matter or to force child abuse victim to deny testimony in court to protect family honour as perpetrator is usually a family member providing financial support are factors that cannot be disregarded,” it explained.

“Moreover, state has fallen short to publish child sexual offender‘s registry. Additionally, overall functioning of victim support system is effected due to a weak child protection system that is under resourced, with inconsistencies in capacity and coordination.”

The report also noted that child marriages were registered in some cases as “the Family Act allows marriage of minors under specific conditions.”

Children were also “involved in commercial sex work,” the report noted.

“Many children migrate to Malé from atolls for education, remain vulnerable to domestic servitude and sexual harassment by host families,” the report stated.

Civil and political rights

The report noted the absence of laws to guarantee freedom of expression despite its assurance in the Constitution.

“Parliament Privileges Act can be used to force journalist to reveal their source, which could undermine the constitutional protection that journalists currently enjoy,” the report observed.

“There have been many reports of death threats to media persons and parliament members. State is yet to take realistic action to address these threats. The recent disappearance of Ahmed Rizwan Abdullah, a journalist and human rights advocate is of critical concern.”

The HRCM also raised concerns regarding the Freedom of Assembly Act, including “provisions of geographical limitations, lack of guidance on control of counter assemblies and requirement to accredit reporters.”

Human rights NGOs have faced intimidation from the state, it continued, while worker’s association perform the role of trade unions.

“Union members face numerous difficulties in exercising collective bargaining, tripartite consultations and work stoppage, as proper legal mechanism is not in place for dispute resolution,” the report stated.


UK foreign office expresses concern over Maldives’ human rights situation and Rilwan disappearance

The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has expressed concern over the human rights situation in the Maldives, as well as the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan.

“We are also concerned by reports that parliamentarians, human rights advocates and journalists have recently been the target of death threats, and by the disappearance and apparent abduction of one journalist on 8 August,” said Minister of State at the FCO Hugo Swire.

Swire’s comments came in response to a written question submitted by Conservative Party MP Karen Lumley.

The minister expressed concern over freedom of religion, rule of law, and women’s rights, as well as reports of death threats made against a number of politicians and MPs in recent months.

Former health minister Dr Mariyam Shakeela is the latest to have reported having received death threats. Similar messages have been received by multiple journalists and politicians, including Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim.

Rilwan, 28-years-old, was last seen on the Malé-Hulhumalé ferry on August 8, just minutes before his neighbours saw a man fitting his description forced into a car outside his apartment.

“Officials at our high commission in Colombo, which is also accredited to the Maldives, have raised concerns on human rights, as well as the recent threats and this reported disappearance, with the Maldives Government,” reported Swire.

“We have also urged them to ensure that those responsible are prosecuted as appropriate. The Maldives Government has expressed deep concern following the disappearance, and noted that they are committed to ensuring the safety and security of all Maldivians,” he continued.

While Rilwan’s disappearance has been highlighted by many international groups – including the UN, Reporters Without Borders, and the Committee to Protect Journalists – the FCO’s comments mark the first time the case has been mentioned by a foreign government.

There is little information regarding Rilwan’s disappearance despite a MVR200,000 reward being offered by his family and a petition signed by 5000 people submitted to the People’s Majlis.

The petition called upon the legislature to find answers to questions regarding the police’s investigations. Similar concerns regarding the investigation’s progress have been raised by the Human Rights Commission and civil society groups.

After police released a statement on Thursday night (August 4) – claiming it had questioned 318 individuals, interrogated 111, and searched 139 locations – Rilwan’s family voiced concerns over the case’s progress.

“These are just statistics. We want to find him. We want the police to tell us if they have leads, if there is progress,” said Rilwan’s brother Moosa.

“We want to know what the results of these extensive searches are. It’s been a month, my family and I fear for his life.”


Threatening texts were sent via a computer application, say police

Police have said that the recent spate of threatening text messages sent to parliamentarians, journalists, and other individuals were sent using a computer application rather than normal texting via local networks.

At a press conference held on Wednesday (August 27), Cyber Policing Department Head Inspector Ahmed Shifau stated that police are currently seeking assistance from several foreign authorities in their investigation into the matter.

Police expressed confidence that the perpetrators can be identified, though they declined from commenting further on the matter stating that the investigation is currently in progress.

Communications Authority of Maldives Chief Executive Officer Ilyas Ahmed said earlier this week that tracing messages from foreign networks,  or computer software were difficult to trace.


Politicians behind death threats to Gasim, claims JP

The Jumhooree Party (JP) has alleged that politicians are behind death threats sent to the party’s leader Gasim Ibrahim.

“We will take your life if you keep talking in the media,” and “We will wipe you and your family from Malé,” read the threats sent via text message to the business tycoon last week.

“The death threats are being issued to Honourable Gasim Ibrahim by those displeased or threatened by his efforts in the People’s Majlis, the media, and various other arenas for the benefit and wellbeing of the Maldivian people, in a planned attempt to intimidate him and push him back politically with politicians behind these threats,” the JP contended in a press statement yesterday (August 17).

The party expressed concern with the persistent threats and noted that Article 29 of the Constitution guarantees the “freedom to acquire and impart knowledge, information and learning.”

“And we note that these threatening messages are being sent at a time when the government and the ruling party have been directly targeting Honourable Gasim Ibrahim’s businesses, carrying out actions to hinder them and taking measures that are not being taken against other [businesses],” the press release stated.

Last week, the government terminated an agreement with Gasim’s Villa Air to manage and develop the Kaadehdhoo regional airport.

The Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture meanwhile decided not to renew the lease of Laamu Baresdhoo, an uninhabited island leased to Gasim’s Villa company for agriculture.

Moreover, the fisheries ministry gave a 30-day notice to reclaim a plot of land in Gaaf Dhaal Hoadehdhoo leased to Gasim’s Horizons Fisheries.

President Abdulla Yameen has, however, denied “impeding” Gasim’s businesses, insisting that the decisions were made due to breach of contract.

In a letter to Commissioner of Police Hussain Waheed informing the authorities of the threats, Gasim reportedly revealed that the owners of the numbers from which the messages were sent has denied sending any texts.

Gasim suggested that the text messages could have been sent through the internet using a phone number duplicating software.

The business tycoon appealed for police to investigate the threats with “utmost seriousness.”

Following similar threats sent in June, Gasim objected to lack of security provided to MPs despite the death threats he received, noting that he has arranged for private bodyguards.

Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) Spokesperson Major Hussain Ali told Minivan News today that “discussions” were currently taking place between the MNDF and the parliament secretariat regarding security arrangements for MPs.

Asked if MPs would have bodyguards from MNDF, the spokesperson suggested seeking the information from the People’s Majlis secretariat.

A media official at the secretariat, however, was unaware either of the present security arrangements or whether MPs had MNDF bodyguards.


Earlier this month, death threats were sent via text message from an unlisted number to six opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MPs.

While one message threatened to kill MPs who “behave inappropriately,” the second stated that it would not be “a sin to kill those who challenge the word of Allah and call for religious freedom.”

“Afrasheem Ali was an example before your eyes,” it read, referring to the murdered moderate scholar and Progressive Party of Maldives MP.

Police confirmed at the time that the threats were being investigated but declined to reveal further details.

Parliament Secretary General Ahmed Mohamed told local media that MNDF were formally asked to provide security for MPs after a number of lawmakers made requests following the swearing-in of the 18th parliament.

MNDF had not responded as of August 3, he said. In July, Defence Minister Colonel (Retired) Mohamed Nazim assured that security would be provided to MPs and that recommendations for security provisions in the parliamentary rules – currently under review – had been shared with the speaker.

Article 105(b) of the Constitution states, “The security services of the state shall ensure the protection and safety of all members of the People’s Majlis.”

Meanwhile, a number of journalists have also received death threats in recent weeks, warning them against reporting on gang violence in the wake of a spate of stabbings in the capital.

An IT expert with experience in the telecommunications field explained to Minivan News at the time that it would be difficult to identify the culprit if the text messages were sent through an online mass text message service.

“Unless it came from a local IP address it would be almost impossible to trace it back. If they used anonymous proxy servers to send the texts it could be traced back to the SMS gateway, but no further,” he said.


Death threats lead to self-censorship, says Reporters Without Borders

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has called on the Maldives to guarantee the safety of journalists after 15 journalists received threatening text messages regarding coverage of gangs in Malé.

“Death threats lead to self–censorship,” said Benjamin Ismail, head of RSF’s Asia- Pacific Desk.

“The authorities have a duty to guarantee the safety of journalists. This includes arresting those responsible for these threats. The authorities must end the culture of intimidation and impunity by ceasing to turn a blind eye to abuses by the rival gangs.”

Journalists with Haveeru, Raajje TV, Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), Villa TV (VTV), Sun Online, and Vaguthu received an anonymous text on Wednesday saying, “[We] will kill you if you keep writing inappropriate articles about gangs in the media.”

The threats came in the wake of extensive coverage of a spate of violence in Malé which saw one dead and nine hospitalised with serious injuries.

The press freedom advocacy group cited a Maldives Broadcasting Commission report published in May, in which journalists said political parties were the main source of threats against journalists, followed by gangs and religious extremists.

“The threats encourage self–censorship, with 30 percent of journalists saying they are afraid of covering gang activity and 43 percent saying they do not report threats to the authorities,” the RSF said.

The organisation noted that although death threats are frequent in the Maldives, they are rarely carried out. However, the near fatal- beating of Raajje TV journalist Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed sets a “disturbing precedent.”

“As Malé is a small town, journalists have nowhere to hide when they are threatened,” noted RSF.

Speaking to Minivan News today, Asward condemned his 18 month long wait for justice. After a second witness failed to identify suspects with absolute certainty at the Criminal Court today, Asward said delays affect memory and allow attackers to tamper with evidence.

“Each day of delay is one more day without justice,” he said.

He called on the courts to expedite the trial and said he had no confidence the courts may deliver justice.

“It’s quite possible that the case will conclude saying that I beat myself up,” he said.

The Maldives Police Services have said the near fatal attack was not politically motivated, but connected to gang activity. Asward has denied this claim.

Gangs often seek media coverage of their actions, but turn against the media when the coverage is not to their liking or when media covers activities of rival gangs, note RSF today.

Gangs enjoy “complete impunity,” as politicians use them to threaten and pressure journalists or people they regard as opponents the organisation said.

The organisation also noted slow progress on prosecuting those responsible for the attack on Asward and the arson attack which destroyed Raajje TV office in October.

“Although the authorities have promised to defend media freedom, they have made little progress.”

Maldives is ranked 108th out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index.

Six opposition parliamentarians have also reported receiving death threats on Sunday.


Government’s reaction to death threats is a test of democracy: IPU

The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) has called on the Maldives to make a speedy investigation into the death threats against opposition MPs and to offer them full protection.

The statement follows a series of death threats made against seven Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MPs on Saturday night (August 2).

“IPU is deeply concerned by these acts of intimidation against MPs in a country where many parliamentarians have been victims of attacks, harassment and arbitrary arrests in recent years,” said the IPU.

Secretary General Martin Chungong said “the authorities’ response to the threats and their capacity to promote, with the help of the opposition, real inclusiveness and political dialogue will be a litmus test for the democratic process in the Maldives.”

“The authorities must act with the necessary resolve to bring the culprits to justice,” continues the statement.

MP Eva Abdulla – a recipient of the threats, and the first Maldivian member of the IPU – told Minivan News that she had received no update from the authorities regarding any investigation or protection after reporting the incident three days ago.

“I am alarmed the parliament has not said anything,” she said.

“The MNDF should take some action, the Majlis have not said anything, and the Inter-Parliamentary Union is speaking before the parliament,” Eva added.

Meanwhile, police claimed that an investigation had been launched on the day the threats were received, with a spokesman describing the investigation as “going very fast”.

When asked about the level of security offered to MPs, the spokesperson stated that it was the responsibility of the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) to provide a bodyguard.

Both the police and the MNDF were unwilling to comment on the level of protection currently offered to MPs.

The Sergeant-at-Arms – the head of the Majlis’ independent security team – told Minivan News that he had been informed of the threats, adding that the usual procedure was to inform MNDF and the police.

He suggested  that authorities have no capacity to track who sends these threats, a point previously contested by the opposition who have suggested those culpable are being protected from prosecution.


In the death threat sent to MPs on Saturday, the perpetrators referred to the murder of Ungoofaaru constituency MP and Islamic scholar in October 2012.

“It is not a sin to kill those who challenge Allah’s words and call for freedom of religion. Afrasheem Ali was an example,” read the message.

While the murder of Dr Afrasheem was the most shocking attack on an elected representative in the country’s history, former MDP MP Alhan Fahmy was left unable to walk for months after being stabbed in the back in February this year.

The safety and rights of MPs have previously been a concern of the IPU, who in November 2013 arranged an emergency visit to the Maldives.

The organisation’s request for an urgent visit was prompted by the growing list of cases involving Maldivian MPs – 24 in total – filed with the IPU’s Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians.

Death threats made against those in the public eye have become a norm in Maldivian cyberspace. Politicians, bloggers, and social media users have reported receiving threats for a range of reasons, from their support of a particular political party to their advocacy of freedom of religion.

Earlier this week, 15 journalists from different media outlets received SMS threats in relation to the coverage of gang violence in the capital Malé.

The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) has previously expressed concern over the prevalence of cyber threats, and urged victims to report threats made via Facebook, Twitter, or comments on blog posts to the police.

“In light of recent events, at a time of high levels of intolerance, and increase in gang related violence, do not treat any form of cyber threat as an idle threat,” said HRCM Vice President Ahmed Tholal.


15 journalists receive death threats over gang reporting

Fifteen journalists received murder threats via text message on Sunday warning them against reporting on gangs in the wake of street violence which has seen at least one death and nine injured.

“[We] will kill you if you keep writing inappropriate articles about gangs in the media,” the message from an unlisted number said.

Journalists from Haveeru, Raajje TV, Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), VTV, Sun Online, and Vaguthu received the death threat.

Maldives Journalists Association (MJA) president and a long time journalist Ahmed ‘Hiriga’ Zahir said the threats have been brought to the attention of the Maldives Police Service (MPS).

“It is still unclear who are behind these texts, or how they are sending it. Regardless, we don’t take this as a simple matter. We have requested the police to look in to this,” he said.

A police spokesperson condemned the threats and said the case is under investigation.

An IT expert with experience in the telecommunications field told Minivan News it would be difficult to identify the culprit if the text messages were sent through an online mass text message service.

“Unless it came from a local IP address it would be almost impossible to trace it back. If they used anonymous proxy servers to send the texts it could be traced back to the SMS gateway, but no further,” he said

Serious threats

Haveeru journalist and recipient of Maldives’ journalist of the year Fazeena Ahmed said journalists have received similar threats in the past, specifically during the Supreme Court’s delay of presidential polls in 2013.

“I don’t think think this should be taken lightly. Especially considering that parliamentarians have received similar threats and that there is a lot of violence going on these days, I would say this is very serious,” she said.

Two more Haveeru journalists received the same text message.

Rajje TV journalist Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed, who nearly died from a fatal beating in February 2013, was among four Raajje TV reporters who received the text message.

“I still haven’t got justice for the life threatening attack against me, and here is a threat once again. I take this very seriously. It has been brought to the attention of the police, I hope they will investigate and provide necessary protection,” he said.

Meanwhile, private broadcaster DhiTV reported receiving threats via phone calls following a report on gangs on Friday.

“Last Friday after we aired a report on gang violence, our office received two threatening phone calls. This happens whenever media cover gang related news,” CEO and Chief Editor of the channel Midhath Adam told Minivan News today.


Raajje TV reporter Ahmed Fairooz believes the threat may be a ‘political ploy’ possibly to divert attention.

“One reason I believe this is because I don’t cover crime at all, I work at the political desk. So there is no reason gangs should worry about me. And the fact that MP Eva Abdulla received a similar message with political references also shows that,” he said.

MP Eva Abdulla received threatening text messages today after she questioned the Minister of Home Affairs Umar Naseer in the Majlis. The texts were sent under Naseer’s name and number, and accused her of making false allegations against the minister

“National police are also with me. Through a single order from me to Special Op[erations] boys you tiny MP can be shredded into pieces,” read one message sent to the Galolhu North MP.

Fairooz said he had received threats in the past from political activists and more recently following a report on Maldivian militants fighting in Syria.

Vaguthu journalist Maahil Mohamed also said these threats are likely to be sent for some other purpose than by actual gang members intending to attack journalists. But regardless of the reason behind it, Maahil said it would not keep him from covering such news.

History of threats

threat analysis report from the Maldives Broadcasting Commission in May revealed that thirty percent of broadcast journalists are reluctant to report gang activity.

The report found a staggering 84 percent of journalists surveyed reported being threatened at least once, while five percent reported being threatened on a daily basis. The report also identified gangs, politicians, and religious extremists as threats to media freedom, and claimed approximately 43 percent of journalists do not  report threats to authorities.

In addition to threats, Raajje TV offices were destroyed in an arson attack in October. The station has accused the police of negligence in preventing the torching of their headquarters and the attack on journalist Asward.

DhiTV’s Midhath also noted that coverage of the Armenian drug traffickers the Artur bothers was followed by threats. The brothers were alleged portrayed in some outlets as having connections to Minister of Tourism Ahmed Adeeb.

In 2010, staff members of DhiTV and Haveeru were attacked following the coverage of the release of a convicted gang leader in 2010. A Haveeru employee was stabbed with a knife in the incident.

On Saturday, six MP s from the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), including three female MPs received murder threats via text message.

The first text stating MPs will be killed if they “behave inappropriately.” The second one said, “It is not a sin to kill those who challenge Allah’s words and call for freedom of religion. Afrasheem Ali was an example.”

Former MP and moderate Islamic Scholar Dr Afrasheem Ali was brutally murdered at his own home in October 2012, while MPAlhan Fahmy was unable to walk for months following a stabbing in February.


MDP condemns death threats received by Majlis members

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) have condemned death threats received by six MDP MPs last night (August 2), and called on  the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) to desist in sheltering radical suspects.

“[T]he PPM government continues to shelter radical suspects and is yet to name or arrest a single suspect accused of having issued such threats in previous cases lodged by the MDP,” read an MDP statement.

The MDP confirmed that MPs Mariya Didi, Rozaina Adam, Eva Abdulla, Ali Azim, Parliamentary Group Leader Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and former Speaker Abdulla Shahid all received death threats.

Two threats were sent to each MP via text message. The first message read, “[We] will kill you if you behave inappropriately.” The party suggested that the police had the technical capability to identify unlisted numbers.

The second read, “It is not a sin to kill those who challenge Allah’s words and call for freedom of religion. Afrasheem Ali was an example.”

In June the party requested that police investigate a series of threats made via Twitter against its members, including former President Mohamed Nasheed.

The MDP statement went on to note the recent spate of murders taking place around the capital, as the number of violent attacks reported rises to nine.

“The Maldivian Democratic Party notes with concern that the present climate of fear in Male’ and several islands began to escalate following Home Minister Umar Naseer’s constitutional powers as the Minister in charge of Police being reduced on 24 July 2014 by his former political rival President Yaameen Abdul Gayoom.”

Writing on her Twitter account, Eva Abdulla challenged the Maldives Police Service to investigate the matter. “You have the means to investigate, if you have the will,” Eva stated.

“[The] police have the means to look this up, if they have the will to do so. If they do not (as they did not with any of the complaints I lodged past two years) well at least I will know this is govt-approved. [sic]” Eva added on social media.

Police have confirmed with Minivan News that they are investigating the matter, but declined to give any more information on the details of the case.

Dr Afrasheem Ali’s murder in October 2012 was the most high profile attack on a member of parliament in the country’s history.

In the second death threat sent to MPs yesterday, the perpetrators referred to the attack on the former Ungoofaaru constituency MP and Islamic scholar.

The ensuing investigation found the crime to have been premeditated and politically motivated. On January 16 2014, the Criminal Court sentenced the prime suspect in the murder, Hussain Humam, to death.

Meanwhile, former MDP MP Alhan Fahmy was unable to walk for months after he was stabbed in the back in February.

The safety and rights of MPs have previously been a concern of organisations such as the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), who in November 2013 called for an emergency visit to the Maldives.

The organisation’s request for an urgent visit was prompted by the growing list of cases – 24 in total – involving Maldivian MPs filed with the IPU’s Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians.


How serious are cyber death threats?

In July 2009, blogger Hilath Rasheed broke news of an underage girl being kept as a concubine on his blog. Soon afterwards, he started receiving death threats online.

He was accused of being an infidel and anonymous commenters sent him messages warning him against walking in dark alleyways. They threatened to slash his throat and behead him.

Two years later, in June 2012, three men ambushed Hilath in a dark alleyway leading up to his apartment block, slashed his throat and left him for dead.

Recalling the events today, Hilath told Minivan News he had not taken cyber death threats seriously before the fatal attack. He had also suffered an assault in December 2011.

“I was naïve and uninformed that some Maldivian youngsters in gangs could be brainwashed to the extent of decapitating a fellow human in the name of Islam,” he said.

Doctors called Hilath’s recovery a miracle.

Death threats have become a norm in Maldivian cyberspace. Politicians, journalists, bloggers and social media users have reported receiving cyber death threats for a range of reasons, from their support of a particular political party to their advocacy of freedom of religion.

Minivan News has also learned death threats were issued in at least one of this week’s abductions by vigilante mobs prior to the act.

Eyewitnesses alleged gangsters and religious extremists carried out the abductions as part of an effort to identify cyber activists supporting atheism and secularism in the Maldives. The abductees were also accused of homosexuality and atheism and were asked to prove their faith in Islam, sources said.

“With the recent kidnappings of some Maldivians by an Islamist vigilant mob of about 40, on the pretext their victims are ‘laadheenee’ or ‘impious’, I will advise everyone to really be careful about any kinds of threats because now I believe they can turn real all too easily,” Hilath said.

The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) has also expressed concern over the prevalence of cyber threats of violence and urged victims to report threats made via Facebook, Twitter, or comments on blog posts to the Maldives Police Services.

“In light of recent events, at a time of high levels of intolerance, and increase in gang related violence, do not treat any form of cyber threat as an idle threat,” HRCM Vice President Ahmed Tholal said.

However, prominent blogger Yameen Rasheed said he does not trust the police to protect bloggers, especially those who advocate for freedom of religion. He noted the police had failed to take action against individuals who had attacked Hilath in the December 2011 assault, despite photographic evidence.

“There is nothing you can do. I do not believe police will take action. There are some among the police who sympathise with the attackers,” he said.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has also alleged that extremist ideologies are prevalent among the security forces.

Yameen, who has also received cyber threats, said his fellow bloggers in the Maldives blogosphere “don’t feel secure at all” in light of the recent abductions.

In a blog post on Tuesday, Yameen has suggested the government backs the individuals behind the abductions. He said he expects more threats for his blog posts, but feels the only precaution he can take is documenting and publicising the incidents.

Whistleblower Aishath Velezinee and Raajje TV journalist Asward Ibrahim Waheed, who both suffered physical violence after receiving death threats online, have also urged victims of cyber harassment to take precautions when threatened online.

Velezinee was stabbed in 2010 for her revelations of judicial corruption while Asward was nearly beaten to death in 2012 after writing reports critical of the government.

Both Velezinee and Asward also expressed low levels of confidence in the security forces’ ability to take action.

“I made public the private messages that had been sent to me. There was no other way but to make the public as aware as possible,” Velezinee said.

Speaking of harassment online, Velezinee said she was the victim of a smear campaign which labeled her as a drug addict and an infidel prior to the attack. “This is systematically done to justify the physical violence,” she said.

“Social media serves as a means of communication with the world. If they can silence social media users, it is a big win for them,” she said.

Asward said he believed the prevalence of death threats to be linked to a culture of accepting violence in the Maldives. In protests across the political spectrum, demonstrators call for people “to be hung, slaughtered, or killed,” he said. “Maldivians do not seem to call for discussion to solve issues.”

A media official at the Maldives Police Services told Minivan News today that cyber crimes are difficult to investigate due to challenges in tracing those who issue threats. A law on cyber crimes is needed to facilitate investigations, the police said.

A former law enforcement official who wished to remain anonymous also raised concerns over lack of legislation on cyber crimes, but said police must make use of their limited capacity to track down perpetrators in order to deter and limit the prevalence of online threats.

Former Deputy Prosecutor General Hussein Shameem has said threats issued on social media can be prosecuted under the Act on Prohibition of Threats and Use of Dangerous Weapons passed in 2010.

The Prosecutor General’s Office has pressed charges against individuals for threats made via phone calls and text messages, but have not yet received cases relating to social media and cyber threats, he said.

Other prominent figures who have eported receiving death threats via text messages and social media include former President Mohamed Nasheed, MDP MP Mariya Ahmed Didi, former Speaker Abdulla Shahid, ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives MP Ahmed Mahloof, and former Election Commission President Fuwad Thowfeek.