Hithadhoo Court orders removal of SAARC monuments on religious grounds

Following two months of theft and vandalism, Hithadhoo Court Magistrate Abdullah Farooq has ordered the removal of monuments gifted by the SAARC nations at the 2011 SAARC Summit “Building Bridges” held in Addu City.

This week, Addu City Council removed Bhutan’s monument – a wooden sign – following a demand from demonstrators at the nation-wide opposition-sponsored ‘Defend Islam’ protest on December 23 to that effect.

The council reported that the police surveillance necessary to preserve the monuments  in the current political climate had become unreasonable.

Certain interpretations of the Quran prohibit images of living beings. The Maldives Constitution, itself based on Islamic Shariah, states that no action which violates Islam can be upheld by the courts.

Farooq identified the monuments as “idols of worship” used by non- Muslims which could allow for the growth of other religions in the Maldives.

Farooq further argued that the monuments conflict with the regulations within the Religious Unity Act and were accepted into the country unlawfully according to the Contraband Act.

“No one has the authority to import anything prohibited under the law”, he said in the court ruling. Farooq has requested the Prosecutor General to take legal action against those responsible for setting up the monuments in Addu.

The monuments were unveiled by the leaders of Bangladesh, Pakistian, India, Bhutan, Nepal and Sri Lanka to commemorate the Maldives’ hosting of the SAARC Summit. The evening prior to Pakistan’s unveiling ceremony, its monument was knocked from its pedestal by protestors.

Although individuals were not detained over the matter the Islamic Ministry issued statements claiming that the monument’s illustration of the history of the Indus valley civilisation and a bust of Pakistan’s founder Mohamed Ali Jinah were idolatrous, and requested the government to remove those SAARC monuments which conflicted with Islam.

Addu City Council returned the monument to its mount prior to the ceremony, however it was subsequently set on fire by demonstrators when religious Adhaalath Party issued a statement claiming that “no Maldivian of sound mind” would allow idols or iconography of other religions to be erected in the country.

Opposition parties including Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) voiced their support for the vandals, and the ensuing months Sri Lanka’s monument of its national lion was decapitated, Nepal’s monument stolen and Afghanistan’s miniature minaret of Jam was sunk in a nearby harbor.

The Pakistani monument was “part of efforts by adversaries of Islam to turn the faith that Maldivians embraced 900 years ago upside down,” the party said at the time.

Meanwhile, State Minister for Islamic Affairs Sheikh Hussein Rasheed pointed public opinion to the historical value of Pakistan’s monument.

“The Pakistan monument showed how Pakistan became an Islamic country from its Buddhist origins,’’ Rasheed has previously stated, noting that, ‘’Although the monument does not contradict Islam, it should not be kept there if Maldivian citizens do not want it to be there.’’

Removal of the contentious monuments was one of the five demands of the December 23 protesters, who also demanded that the government prohibit Israeli airlines from operating in the Maldives.

Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair observed at the time that taking down the monuments would diplomatically be very difficult for the government, “especially when it was handed to us by another Islamic country”, however he said the decision belonged to Addu City Council.

Following the removal of Bhutan’s monument three days ago, Addu City Councillor Hussein Hilmee said the council had sent a letter to the Foreign Ministry requesting that it inform SAARC member countries that it was taking the monuments down.

Deputy Sri Lankan High Commissioner Shaanthi Sudusinghe said at the time, “We have requested that if [the government] is unable to preserve the monument that they hand it over to us.”


Blogger detained another 15 days as Bari requests proper punishment

The detention of controversial blogger Ismail ‘Khilath’ Rasheed has been extended by another 15 days, following Sunday’s Criminal Court hearing.

Meanwhile, Islamic Minister Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari has requested that appropriate punishments for those who call for religious freedom be added to the nation’s penal code.

Rasheed, a self-declared Sufi Muslim, was arrested on December 14 by a Court Order for his involvement in a silent peaceful protest calling for religious tolerance in honor of International Human Rights Day. The protest ended violently when a group attacked the approximately 30 protestors with stones, sending Rasheed to the hospital with head injuries.

His detention was extended by 10 days on December 17. He has been held without charges.

The Criminal Court has cited Rasheed’s blog, which was shut down on the Islamic Ministry’s order in November for its alleged anti-Islamic content, as grounds for his extended detention, Haveeru reports.

Ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik called for an investigation into the gathering, along with religious conservative Adhaalath Party and NGO Jamiyyathu Salaf.

The parliament’s National Security Committee (NSC) currently reviewing the silent protest had summoned Rasheed for questioning today, however it was cancelled when officials decided “not to proceed with the hearing at this time,” said an NSC official.

The parliamentary committee did hear Islamic Minister Dr Bari, who observed that the law lacks any clear punishment for individuals promoting religious freedom.

“The protestors did not announce that they had abandoned their religion but they called for religious freedom. The law has no defined punishment. They are just defying the religious unanimity of the country. I don’t believe there is any legal action against the call as no legal action can be taken until one publicly declares apostasy,” he said.

Dr. Bari requested parliament to pass these “much-needed legislations”, and advised that the punishments be added to the Penal Code currently under review.

Guraidhoo MP Ibrahim Riza pointed out that in cases where no clear penalty is stated, punishments can be given under Penal Code Article 88(a), (b) and (c), reports Haveeru.

Dr Bari countered that the code only provides soft punishments.

In a statement protesting Rasheed’s detention, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) challenged the claim that the December 10 gathering violated the Maldives’ national religion.

“The Maldivian constitution bans the promotion of any religion other than Islam but guarantees freedom of assembly and expression as long as it does not contravene Islam. Rasheed professes to be an adherent of Sufism, which emphasises the inner, spiritual dimension of Islam,” reads the statement.

The Maldivian laws state that those seeking elected political office must be Sunni Muslims.

Police commissioner Ahmed Faseeh responded to Bari’s concerns at the NSC meeting by assuring a thorough investigation would be completed within 15 days. He called the case a serious matter.

“I will give the details [later] and I will point out everything even if it includes negligence on our side,” he said.

“We have done a lot and several have been summoned. We are determining the identity of those believed to have participated in the gathering via CCTV footage and video clips received from the public and we are summoning them,” he is quoted as saying in Haveeru.

Meanwhile, Rasheed’s detention has also attracted concern from Amnesty International.

Following RSF’s statement, Amnesty International declared Rasheed a prisoner of conscience and called for his “immediate and unconditional” release.

Calling the attack on Rasheed and his subsequent detention a “clear example of the erosion of freedom of expression in the Maldives,” Amnesty stated that,

“The continued detention of Ismail ‘Khilath’ Rasheed is in breach of international treaties on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the Maldives is a state party.

“Amnesty International is dismayed that instead of defending Ismail ‘Khilath’ Rasheed, who has peacefully exercised his right to freedom of the expression, the government of Maldives has detained him. Moreover, the government has taken no action to bring to justice those who attacked the ‘silent’ demonstrators, even though there is credible photographic evidence of the attack.”

The debate over religious tolerance has been gathering steam for several months.

Under new regulations published by the government in September, interpreting the 1995 Religious Unity Act passed by parliament, media is “banned from producing or publicising programs, talking about or disseminating audio that humiliates Allah or his prophets or the holy Quran or the Sunnah of the Prophet (Mohamed) or the Islamic faith.”

Violation of the Act carries a prison sentence of between 2-5 years.

United Nation’s Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay spoke against flogging as a punishment for extra-marital sex in November, prompting protests and demands that she be “flayed”.

On December 23, the protests to defend Islam had members of various opposition parties and religious NGOs calling for full Shari’ah, while the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) stood for the national tradition of moderate Islam. The protests were executed peacefully, however the tense build-up prompted the United Kingdom to issue a travel advisory for the Maldives.

The Islamic Ministry today announced that it will hold a conference this Saturday and Sunday to discuss the religious controversies currently afoot in the Maldives. The ministry’s Assistant Director Admedullah Jameel has told Haveeru that 64 scholars will be in attendance.


Islamic Minister Dr Bari resigns

Islamic Minister Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari has resigned from the position after pressure from the Adhaalath Party.

He confirmed to Minivan News today he that he had submitted the resignation letter to the President’s Office.

”I resigned out of respect for the decision made by the Adhaalath Party to break its coalition agreement with the government,” Dr Bari said. ”I sent the letter today and they have not responded yet.”

Dr Bari said that although he had resigned from the position as well as the Chairmanship of Adhaalath Party’s Religious Council, he would “remain active in politics.”

Recently, Dr Bari and State Islamic Minister Sheikh Hussain Rasheed Ahmed were asked by the Adhaalath Party to resign, however Sheikh Rasheed issued a statement explaining his refusal to do so.

Dr Bari had earlier resigned from the Chairmanship of Adhaalath Party’s Religious Council.

Today he told the media that he had resigned from the council’s chairmanship after the council issued a statement against his view on Imams, reciting Bismi aloud and permanently reciting Qunoot in Fajr prayers.

The President’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair confirmed to Minivan News that Dr Bari had submitted his letter of resignation, but said President Nasheed had not had a chance to read it yet as he had been out this afternoon observing the implementation of the goods and services tax (GST).

Zuhair said he was “surprised” by Bari’s decision as he had “worked patiently and in accordance with the government’s policy” prior to his resignation.

“Even with the religious unity regulations, he worked patiently with the government in a non-partisan way, and he had the last word before it was published,” Zuhair said, noting that Bari had chosen the government’s side in 2009 over its previous alliance with the Jumhooree Party (JP).

Zuhair added that the President valued Dr Bari’s contribution and “patient and academic efforts” as Islamic Minister.

It was too early to speculate on a replacement, he said. However speculation today was that Sheikh Rasheed was among the most likely candidates.

Sheikh Rasheed did not respond to Minivan News at time of press.