The police are investigating online anti-Islamic social media activity, officials have confirmed.
A police media official confirmed that the investigation was initiated by the police, but that they have since received similar complaints from the public.
Minivan News has learned that the police investigation is particularly focused on a Facebook page titled ‘Dhivehi Atheists/Maldivian Atheists’, though police have said that the investigation is not focused on a particular page but all such unlawful activity will be investigated.
Religious conservative Adhaalath party has condemned the page for insulting the Prophet and God by drawing offensive cartoons. Adhaalath called to block the page and take action against everyone behind the page.
The page, which appears to be run by Maldivians, posts content critical of and insulting Muslims, Islamists, Islam, God, and the Prophet Muhammad. Liked by just 300 users, the majority of the posts are in local Dhivehi language.
According to the page administrators, the purpose of creating it was encouraging Maldivians to leave Islam and “choose the path of science and reason”.
Reacting to the page, a number of people are posting comments with apologetic content and advising those behind the group to repent and accept Islam. Some users are calling to behead the anonymous administrators of the page and praying for God’s wrath upon them.
Several posts made by visitors accused various people of being behind the page and threatened to kill them. Many visitors have stated that the administrator has been identified to be a woman.
The 2008 constitution of Maldives declares that all citizens of the Maldives should be Muslims, while article 32 of the Religious Unity Regulation declares “Insulting or committing any action that may offend Islamic slogans” as prohibited.
This includes anything which “insults Allah, His Prophets and Messengers, the Companions of Prophet Mohamed (PBUH)”. Insulting the Quran, Islamic Mosques and Other Islamic slogans are also prohibited.
The punishments for these offenses are given in the Religious Unity Act of 1994, which allows 2-5 years imprisonment or house arrest, and an additional year for every time such an offense is repeated. Under Islamic Shariah law as interpreted in the Maldives, apostasy is punishable by death.
While discussion of controversial religious issues are restricted by law, much discussions happens online with moderate Muslims, secularists, Islamists, and atheists discussing and debating on religious issues through social media.
Hate speech and threats against contributors are regularly posted by radicals on both sides of the debates.
While many locals identify themselves as non-Muslims online, only a few cases of Maldivians who publicly declared their disbelief in God have been reported in the media.
Among them was 25 year old Ismail Mohamed Didi, who was found hanged from an air traffic control tower in 2010. Didi had been seeking asylum after his colleagues started harassing him for his atheism.
In the same year, Mohamed Nazim announced his disbelief on live television during a public question-and-answer session with Islamic speaker Dr Zakir Naik. Nazim was escorted from the venue by police for his own protection, before announcing his return to the faith after religious counselling received while in detention.
In 2011 a silent protest calling for religious tolerance was attacked by Islamist extremists, the main victim in the attack – local blogger Ismail ‘Hilath’ Rasheed – also faced a life threatening attack the next year before seeking refuge abroad.