Court extends detention of Afrasheem murder suspects, MDP raises concerns of ‘politically motivated’ arrests

Additional reporting by Ahmed Nazeer.

The Criminal Court has opted to extend the detention period of four suspects accused of involvement in the murder of Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Dr Afrasheem Ali, as parliament’s ’241′ Security Services Committee today meets to discuss politician safety.

Authorities today confirmed that the four suspects, which the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has alleged include two “front-line activists”, would be kept in custody for an extra 15 days as the investigation into the murder of the MP continued.

The high profile murder has been met with growing speculation from politicians over potential political or religious motives, yet police have so far provided no details on the nature of the murder, despite allegations and counter claims appearing in the media.

The MDP yesterday  expressed concern that the “brutal murder of a respected and elected member of the Parliament” was potentially being used to frame political opponents. The party has therefore called for “calm and restraint”, while also slamming the President’s Office for issuing statement claimed to connect the attack to former President Mohamed Nasheed.  Along with condemning the murder, Nasheed this week praised Dr Afrasheem for his moderate views on the country’s Islamic identity.

According to a BBC report earlier this week, the President Office’s Media Secretary “sent out a text describing  MP Afrasheem as the ‘strongest critic’ of Nasheed.”

Rules and regulations

Despite the allegations, Director of the Department of Judicial Administration Ahmed Maajid told Minivan News today that the extension of the suspects’ detention period was in accordance with rules linked to ongoing police investigations.

“Under this regulation, the police must produce anyone arrested on suspicion of criminal activity before a judge within 24 hours. The judge may order for the detention to be extended for a period of up to 15 days if the police can convince the court that a suspect needs to be detained for investigation,” he said. “In reviewing this order, the judge would consider such factors as the nature of the crime and the possibility of the suspect tampering with evidence if released for example.”

At the time of press, Maajid was unable to confirm the identity of the judge who had granted the detention extension, adding that such details could not be granted without receiving a written notice from the media. He added that the judge’s ruling had been consistent with similar investigations.

Police Spokesperson Sun-Inspector Hassan Haneef meanwhile confirmed there had been no further developments within its investigation, beyond the detention of four suspects for questioning in the case.

The Maldives police service have not so far given the identities of the suspects being detained as part of ongoing investigations.

However, the MDP yesterday released a statement claiming lawyers representing party activists Mariyam Naaifa and Ali Hashim had confirmed they had been detained as part of an investigation into the murder.

“The MDP has strongly condemned the gruesome murder of the member of parliament and scholar Dr Afrasheem Ali in the early hours of October 2, 2012,” the party claimed. “While the country is going through a difficult time following the murder of Dr. Afrasheem Ali, the MDP is deeply shocked and disturbed by the manner in which Maldives Police Services (MPS) is conducting their investigation into the incident.”

Aside from the detention of two party activists, the party added that its protest camp at the contested ‘Usfasgandu’ protest area in male’ had been searched by police officers using metal detectors yesterday.  The party has alleged that officers on the scene had confirmed the search was related to the murder of MP Afrasheem.

Speaking to Minivan News today, MDP Spokesperson and MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor alleged that public faith in the police’s ability to conduct impartial investigations was low.

“People have lived with it their whole lives. They have been indoctrinated into silence,” he claimed.

Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party MP (DRP) Ali Azim told Minivan News that the ’241′ Security Services Committee was today summoning Commissioner of Police Abdulla Riyaz to get an update on the progress of the ongoing investigation into MP Afrasheem’s murder.

Azim, a member of the security committee, claimed ahead of today’s meeting that it would be used to try and establish whether there was evidence to suggest the attack was politically or religiously motivated.

Aside from the ongoing murder investigation, media regulator the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) was also being summoned today over concerns about the media’s role in spreading “hatred” about MPs in the country.

While accepting that the constitution called for the allowance of freedom of speech within the media, Azim claimed that there were limits, alleging that the national press were not being held sufficiently accountable for their work.

“The media has been accusing MPs of wasting taxpayers’ money; of suggesting not enough work is being done and saying that no laws are being passed,” he said. “I don’t think these accusations should be there. A few TV, radio and online media services has been accusing MPs of these things.”

Azim said he accepted that media had a role to hold MPs accountable for their work, but questioned the accountability in turn being required of the country’s journalists.

The MP stressed that the outcome of today’s meeting, which was still ongoing at the time of press, remained confidential and that he would be unable to elaborate further on its outcome.

“Free speech”

Speaking to Minivan News today, Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) President Ahmed ‘Hiriga’ Zahir said that he had not been given any information surrounding the MBC being summoned before the security committee.

Hiriga said that the MJA would await the outcome of the MBC’s meeting before making any official comment on the matter, but added that local media should continue to be able to practice free speech as long as it was accurate.

“I think there are a number of issues that we need to address in the Maldives media right now regarding ethics,” he said. “But our stand has always been that we stand against efforts to undermine the work of journalists and the right to a free media here in the Maldives.”

Hiriga added that while the media had “no right to lie” to members of the pubic, it was nonetheless vital to ensure freedom of the speech was being upheld in the Maldives.

“If some media for instance want to support the government or a certain political side, we have no issue with that, but the information provided must be accurate.”


Police crack down on ‘harassment’ of politicians

Police are taking stronger measures against people who harass politicians and such incidents are falling, according to President’s Office Abbas Adil Riza.

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has meanwhile alleged that freedom of speech is being unfairly restricted by the crackdown.

Commenting on the arrest of an MDP activist known as Okay Zahir – who allegedly called the Islamic Affairs Minister a ‘baaghee’, or ‘traitor’ – Abbas said that Zahir stood accused of harassment.

Local media reported yesterday that Zahir’s period in detention had been extended by a further 10 days after his original arrest on August 7. Zahir is a former director of the Thilafushi Corporation (TCL).

Abbas alleged that the accused “verbally abused the Islamic Minister”, engaging in “indecent behaviour” towards Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Seed whom he claimed was in the company of his nine year-old son at the time of the incident.

Neither Sheikh Shaheem nor Police Spokesman Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef were responding to calls at time of press.

A source who had seen the arrest warrant claimed that Zahir was accused of approaching Shaheem’s son on a number of different occasions, inquiring as to the whereabouts of “baaghee Shaheem”.

The source stated that police obtained the warrant due to their belief that this alleged offence would be repeated.

MDP spokesman Hamed Abdul Ghafoor stated that the charges against Zahir seemed “very bizarre”, and expressed his concern that “the scope of freedom of speech is being severely constrained.”

“One could argue it is unconstitutional,” continued Ghafoor. “I don’t see how giving your opinion of the truth equals harassment”.

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Lawyer Hisaan Hussain used social networks to express her belief that calling someone a ‘baaghee’ is not a criminal offense.

Meaningful dialogue

Since his accession to the Presidency, Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s public appearances have often been accompanied by heckling crowds disputing the legitimacy of his government.

As well as calling for early presidential elections, the anti-government demonstrations have attempted to mock and ridicule leading government figures as part of a well-choreographed non-violent strategy.

The harassment of politicians has recently been central to the government’s negotiations with the opposition MDP.

During the last round of the UN-mediated roadmap talks in June, pro-government parties presented the MDP’s representatives with a list of 30 suggestions for resolving political tensions in the country which included calls to stop the harassment of political figures.

However, the list also included calls for the MDP to stop the use of “black magic” and “erotic tools”, leading the MDP to interpret a lack of sincerity on the part of the pro-government group.

More recently, President Waheed said that he would not engage in the all-party talks until the harassment of his officials stopped.

The MDP announced last week that it intended to suspend its program of anti-government demonstrations in order to “facilitate meaningful dialogue”.

This move was initially welcomed by the government, before protesters targeted Vice President Waheed Deen as he attended a ceremony in Hulhumale, causing Abbas to tell local media that the government’s participation in talks may have to be reconsidered.

Freedom within limits

During a speech given in June, President Waheed stated his belief that freedom of expression ought not to be permitted to the extent that it impinged on the rights of others.

“People misuse the right to freedom of expression and yell whatever words that come to mind at other people. You have seen and heard this, not just on TV or radio, but on the streets, in front of houses and schools. This is not how it should be,” Dr Waheed was reported as saying.

As well as being enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the right to freedom of expression is listed in the 2008 Maldivian Constitution as one of the fundamental rights and freedoms of its citizens.

The right to freedom of speech, however, has long been met with caveats and provisos which in effect limit the ability of individuals to unrestricted expression.

Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights espoused the right to freedom of expression whilst delineating restrictions it describes as “necessary in a democratic society”.

The list of exceptions includes constraints “for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others”.

Similarly, the right to freedom of speech is guaranteed by the first amendment to the US constitution but has been restricted by subsequent Supreme Court rulings which have included issues concerning incitement, false statements of fact, and obscenity.

During the speech, Waheed expressed his hope that the People’s Majlis would move to curb the actions of those who, he felt, were abusing this fundamental freedom.


HRCM condemns attacks against demonstrators as Male’ gears up for “huge” rally

The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) has condemned police for carrying out acts of violence against civilians participating in a demonstration organised by Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) on February 8. HRCM has also condemned acts carried out against police property in the southern islands of Addu City Gan, Fuvahmulah, Raa atoll Dhuvaafaru, and Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll Thinadhoo, among others.

“We highlight the fact that a lot of civilians and police officers have inflicted injuries of varying degrees during the demonstrations organised by the MDP, which became a confrontation between police and protesters,” a statement read. “With regard to the demonstration, this commission is in the process of investigating the matters under its mandate.”

Regarding the destruction in the Maldives’ south, the commission has requested the public “not to repeat such actions in the future.” The commission’s statement did not address allegations that residents on those islands have been beaten and arrested without charges following the events of February 8.

Addressing police forces and the public, the commission requested both parties to safely support the rights beholden in Article 32 of the constitution, which provides for the freedom of assembly.

“We also advise the police to maintain their actions to standards that would not lose the public trust on the police service and we call the public to support and assist the police in executing their duties,” reads the statement.

The European Union Heads of Mission (HoMs) to the Maldives, based in Colombo, have further warned that provocation of or use of excessive force by law enforcement agencies in the Maldives during the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) rally scheduled for Friday, February 17 “would be completely unacceptable at this point.”

Former president Mohamed Nasheed resigned on February 7 under conditions his government has called a “coup d’état.” Video footage of events that day indicate that he left office under military pressure while a rogue faction of the police service turned against the military and MDP supporters in the streets of capital Male’.

In the days following the change of power, security officials have allegedly beaten and detained MDP members and supporters in various parts of the archipelago.

“There must be an end to violence and no political retribution,” the HoMs stated today.

In January the MDP’s National Committee selected February 17 for a political rally to address judicial reform. Previously, rumors maintained that islanders would be coming to Male’ for the event. Rather than deter the public, last week’s dramatic change of power appears to have further motivated the Maldivian population.

“It’s going to be huge, the biggest ever on Male’,” said MDP MP Imthiyaz Fahmy. “People are in fear to some extent because of the police, but they are still willing to come out,” he added.

Addu resident Mohamed Yooshau pointed out that half of the Maldives 350,000 citizens do not live on Male’. “We elected [Nasheed], and when we woke up the next day it was like Male’ had brought down our president,” he said, adding that “the concept of a democracy is having a say.”

Although the political situation has changed, Fahmy said Friday’s rally “will stay on track” with its calls for judicial reform.

Squeezed by growing public and international pressure, and adjusting to the new leadership of commissioner Abdulla Riyaz who has been criticised for his lack of experience, the police are attempting to maintain a strict order.

“Police will take necessary actions, responding according to intelligence and our understanding of the motives behind public actions,” said police media official Ahmed Shiyam.

He did not specify if security forces are taking unique measures to secure Male’ during the upcoming demonstrations.

The face of public security has however been tainted by recent aggressive behavior towards members of the public.

One individual who requested anonymity reports being verbally harassed by police officers while walking on the street the day after Nasheed’s resignation.

“One of my friends was wearing a yellow tee shirt [MDP party color] by chance, not for any political reason, and these cops say, ‘Miaathun nah eves kameh nuvaane,’ or ‘these people can’t do anything’, but in a rude way,” said the source.

Within an hour of that incident, police attacked a non-violent MDP demonstration outside of the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA), sending over 50 individuals to the hospital and MDP party chairperson and MP ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik to Sri Lanka for medical treatment.

This week, demonstrators have begun mocking police as the paid servants of Maamigili MP and Jumhoree Party (JP) leader Gasim Ibrahim, who also owns the Villa Hotels chain. Prior to the official re-opening of MDP’s camp (haruge) yesterday, gathering party members taunted two police officers driving by at separate times with cries of “Villa police! Lari lari lari!” A lari is a fraction of the Maldivian currency rufiya, akin to a US cent.

While some police officers have told Minivan News on condition of anonymity that they regret the negative impact the actions of a reported few has had on their image, police Media Official Ahmed Shiyam today stated that “police are well-trained for anything that comes along and will act professionally.”

When asked whether the public should be more mindful, Shiyam said, “there’s no need for that. We know who is doing this, and it’s not all of the MDP nor is it always MDP who are harassing the police.”

Meanwhile, Friday’s rally will be preceded by a Silent White Movement on Thursday afternoon, calling for peace during protests and for justice for those security officials who have committed violations in the line of duty.

“Our concern is the current injustice that we are facing today as Maldivians, for not having the right to gather in peace and to raise our voice for freedom of speech,” reads the movement’s statement on its Facebook page.

“We demand the government to do a thorough investigation with the help of the international community, and seek the root cause of violence created among the civilians of this country. We believe this is a civil movement that supports justice and non- violation of human rights in the norms of international standards.”

Participants are requested to wear white or change their Facebook profile pictures to white color blocks in support. Approximately 2,000 people have confirmed their attendance.

A spokesperson from the movement emphasised that all members of the public of any party or organisation are welcome to join the event.

A separate demonstration calling for prompt elections has teamed up with the movement. To avoid any confrontation with the Gaumee Itthihaad party, which is today protesting against violent acts carried out by MDP members last week, the elections group is coordinating its efforts with the Silent White Movement’s event tomorrow.

The party of President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik, Gaumee Itthihaad currently has approximately 2,600 members- 400 short of the 3,000 members required for registration and only 0.007 percent of the Maldives population.

Silent White Movement observed that demonstrations in the Maldives have a rocky track record, due in part to still-young democracy. Noting that protesting first began after prison guards killed Evan Naseem in 2003, the source said “it began as violent but after the new government came to power in 2008 protest became peaceful. But around 2010 protests became violent again with the opposition, probably because they had a political motive.”


DQP “pamphlet of hatred” filled with “extremist, bigoted and hate-filled rhetoric”: Zuhair

The President’s Office has issued a response to a 30-page pamphlet published by minority opposition Dhivehi Quamee Party (DQP), which accuses the government of participating in an anti-Islamic conspiracy.

According to translations of the pamphlet released by the President’s Office, “[President Mohamed] Nasheed’s big plan is to undermine Maldivians’ religion, introduce other religions into the country and encourage vice.”

According to the President’s Office Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair, however, the pamphlet “contains a litany of extremist, bigoted and hate-filled rhetoric aimed primarily at President Nasheed and his administration.”

“There isn’t a sentence in this pamphlet that isn’t a slanderous lie against the government,” Zuhair was quoted as saying. “This is an official DQP pamphlet, colour printed and branded with their logo and contact details.

It has clearly been sanctioned, and probably written, by senior party officials including leader Dr Hassan Saeed”, he said, adding that Saeed and DQP members “should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.”

A former Attorney General and 2008 presidential candidate, Dr Hassan Saeed made similar claims under the previous government in 2007, prompting then President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s government to contract UK security and private investigation firm Sion Resources for a surveillance operation dubbed ‘Operation Druid’. After a series of inquiries, it was clear that nothing untoward or anti-Islamic had taken place.

Saeed today said he would not speak to Minivan News. When asked whether other DQP members would be available for comment he retorted, “you can try your luck”.

DQP members Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed and ‘Sandhaanu’ Ahmed Ibrahim Didi were summoned for questioning at 8pm on Thursday, January 12.

Saeed accompanied the pair as their lead lawyer. Since that time, Jameel has been detained twice and Didi has been detained once, although they have both been summoned for questioning every night since except for Friday. Didi was not summoned on Monday.

One of DQP’s vice presidents Abdullah Matheen was also briefly detained.

At 2312 members, DQP is the sixth smallest of the nation’s 15 political parties. No other DQP members had responded to phone calls at time of press.

Meanwhile, opposition supporters have protested the police action against DQP leaders on a nightly basis on the grounds that the government is impounding the people’s freedom of expression, granted under Article 27 of the Constitution.

Portraying the government as sympathetic to the Jewish people, the pamphlet contends that the President aims to undermine national unity by attacking the national religion of Islam.

“When the Nasheed administration established diplomatic relations with the biggest enemy of Islam [Israel], the government agreed to change the school curriculum and teach our small children about the goodness of Jews,” reads page seven of the pamphlet.

Deputy Minister of Education Dr Abdulla Nazeer believed the accusations were “baseless lies”.

“We haven’t had any such discussions at any stage during the reform of the curriculum,” he said.

Nazeer pointed out that as the school curriculum had not been revised since 1984 at the time that the current government took office, the Ministry had issued 7,000 surveys and held 200 public meetings to get the public’s input on the matter.

He added that information discussed at a curriculum symposium is publicly available on the ministry’s website. While the ministry has added a group of elective subjects, Nazeer noted that Islamic and Dhivehi studies were mandated according to the public’s request.

The only subject that comes close to teaching about the “goodness of Jews” would be the broad, non-religious discipline of Social Studies.

“The O-level pass rate has improved from 27 percent to 35 percent over the pass three years, and this year we are hoping for 40 percent. Parents, schools boards and teachers are working very hard to improve the school system.

“Unfortunately, some social and oppositional elements are not happy with these efforts and are looking for ways to ridicule the government,” Nazeer concluded.

The DQP pamphlet also criticises the government’s foreign policy as evidence of its penchant for the Jewish people.

“The government accepted the responsibility of monitoring and reporting on the human rights situation in Iran. This task was assigned to Nasheed’s former Foreign Minister Dr Shaheed. There is no doubt that this was a reward for the Nasheed administration’s efforts to strengthen ties with the Jews and please the Jews,” the pamphlet reads on page 20.

“The Jew’s plan and way of thinking is to divide Islamic countries,” it adds, further claiming that Maldivian government officials hold secret identities as “Christian priests”.

Directing accusations at neighboring SAARC countries, DQP claims that the cultural monuments gifted at the 2011 SAARC summit hosted in Addu City are really “religious statues, depicting other Gods for praying [towards].”

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa is also implicated for unveiling his country’s statue of the national lion – a “statue for praying”, DQP claims.

According to DQP, the monuments prove President Nasheed’s involvement in an international conspiracy to introduce other religions into the Maldives.

Following repeated acts of vandalism and theft, the monuments were recently removed to a secure location by Addu City Council. Officials have claimed that the acts against the monuments were not religious but political, and noted that the stolen Nepalese monument was a simple block that read “Nepal”. Other accusations target people who dance and women who wear skirts as “disrespectful towards Islam”, reads the President’s Office translation.

Dancing is frowned upon by conservative interpretations of Islam. However, the popular Maldivian dance and drumming tradition of bodu beru engages men in dancing activities.

According to Press Secretary Zuhair, DQP’s statements have “[undermined] the religious harmony of the country” by using the constitutionally-granted right to freedom of expression as an excuse to engage in hate speech.

“With rights come responsibilities. Freedom of speech does not entitle you to maliciously shout ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre,” he said. “Similarly, you cannot spread malevolent lies about the government, whip up hatred against people and undermine the religious harmony of the country and claim it is your right to do so under freedom of expression.”

Meanwhile, the President has requested Minister of Islamic Affairs Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari to investigate DQP’s allegations and advise on the proper response–whether to form an independent commission to investigate the matter, or request Dr Bari to seek the counsel of his colleagues.


Maldives must “better assist those who live under repressive regimes”: Ambassador to the EU tells ‘Freedom Online’ conference

Maldives Ambassador to Belgium and the European Union, Ali Hussain Didi, has attended the Freedom Online Conference at The Hague, Netherlands.

Representatives from Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic, France, Estonia, Ghana, Indonesia, the Republic of Ireland, Kenya, Mexico, Mongolia, the United Kingdom, the United States, Sweden, the European Commission, UNDP, NGO’s, cyber activists and internet companies attended the event.

US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton delivered a keynote speech at the opening session of the conference, hosted by Google and Free Press Unlimited.

“This is an urgent task. It is most urgent, of course, for those around the world whose words are now censored, who are imprisoned because of what they or others have written online, who are blocked from accessing entire categories of internet content, or who are being tracked by governments seeking to keep them from connecting with one another,” Clinton said.

Ambassador Didi spoke on behalf of Maldives Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ahmed Naseem, stating that “it is up to us as representatives of the international community to step up our efforts to remind all governments of their responsibilities, under international law, to protect human rights on-line.”

At the same time, the Communications Authority of the Maldives (CAM) last month blocked the website of controversial Maldivian blogger Ismail ‘Hilath’ Rasheed on the order of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs. The Ministry made the request on the grounds that the site contained anti-Islamic material.

CAM Director Abdulla Nafeeg Pasha told Minivan News in November that the Islamic Ministry had the power to regulate website content in the Maldives.

“If the ministry tells us to shut it down, that’s what we do. We do not make the decision,” Pasha said.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) subsequently issued a statement urging the government “not to give in to the fanatical minority” and to do “all it can to ensure the media are free to tackle any subjects they choose.”

“The increase in acts of religious intolerance is a threat to the Maldives’ young democracy”, RSF said, requesting the “immediate reopening of [Hilath’s] blog.”

RSF noted that there were harsh penalties for blasphemy under Maldivian law following new regulations enforcing the 1994 Religious Unity Act, which bans the media from circulating any material that “humiliates Allah, his prophets, the Koran, the Sunnah or the Islamic faith”.

Incidents involving media workers were rare in the Maldives, RSF observed, “but that is only because most of them prefer to censor themselves and stay away from subjects relating to Islam, unlike Ismail Khilath Rasheed.”

Speaking at the Freedom Online Conference, Ambassador Didi stated that “it is also beholden on us to better assist those who live under repressive regimes and who are trying to use the internet to spread the word about their plight, to mobilise support and to engender change.”

Rasheed was hospitalised with head injuries on Saturday after a ‘silent protest’ against religious intolerance was attacked by a group on men armed with stones.


Social network free speech-potential praised by UN expert

Social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter have been praised as key tools in helping facilitating the recent political uprisings across some Middle East and North African nations, according to Frank La Rue, the UN special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression.

La Rue’s comments, which were issued ahead of World Press Freedom Day today, aim to raise awareness of the role he believed social networking had played in allowing individuals all other the world to share information instantaneously, particularly during protests seen in countries such as Tunisia, Egypt, Syria and Saud Arabia.

“As one activist tweeted during the protests in Egypt, ‘we use Facebook to schedule the protests, Twitter to coordinate, and YouTube to tell the world’,” he noted in a statement printed by the Agence France Presse (AFP) news agency. “I believe that we are currently in a historic moment. Never in the history of humankind have individuals been so interconnected across the globe.”

La Rue stressed that despite this potential, the internet was still being censored by some governments along with the use of “age-old tactics” like intimidation, arrests, torture, disappearances and killings to try and suppress freedom of speech.

“The power of the Internet to awaken individuals to question and challenge the status quo and to expose corruption and wrongdoing has generated fear among the powerful,” said the UN expert. “The events in the Middle East and North Africa have shown that it is never a viable long-term option to suppress the voices of the people,” he added, calling on “all governments to choose reform over repression”.


Human rights NGOs criticise spread of “perverse thinking and ignorant practices”

A coalition of human rights NGOs have issued a statement noting “with concern and regret” that certain preachers “have recently begun to portray Islam as a religion that demeans women and children.”

“Religious sermons that portray and speak of women as people who exist simply to gratify the sexual desires of men, on earth and in paradise, fail to take into consideration the respect and honour granted to women in Islam,” the NGOs claimed.

“We believe that the message perpetuated through sermons that the purpose of achieving paradise is to engage in sexual acts forbidden on earth, and to enjoy pleasures forbidden on earth, is the work of some people to impress upon the public that Islam is a backward religion.”

The NGOs’ statement, signed by the Maldivian Detainee Network, Transparency Maldives, Rights for All, Maldives Aid, Madulu, Democracy House and Strength of Society, claimed that “all Abrahamic religions uphold the dignity and respect of all human beings, and Islam in particular provided protection and safety for women and children who were being abused in Arab societies, [that were] entrenched in the ignorance of dark ages.

“Hence, to render commonplace the perverse thinking and ignorant practices of those days in the name of Islam would be to facilitate similar ignorance and malice.”

The NGOs criticised the Ministry of Islamic Affairs “for not working in their full capacity to regulate or halt the views and acts propagated by those who endorse extreme views,” and requested that government play its “important role” in countering these types of views “propagated in the name of Islam.”

The statement comes after President Mohamed Nasheed was heavily criticised by the religiously conservative Adhaalath Party for “trying to convey irreligious views to the beloved Muslim citizens of the Maldives” during his weekly radio address.

In his address, the President noted that “a large number of young women and young men are requesting that the government obstruct and stop these things from happening.”

“We have freedom of expression; if you are unhappy with views expressed by one group, in my mind the intelligent thing to do is for another group to express the contrary view, a second opinion, or alternative views,” he said. “People can then choose the path they believe.”

However a statement from the Adhaalath party said that the president’s remarks about giving public space to views opposed to the tenets and commandments of Islam were tantamount “to a call for allowing them.”

“In this 100 per cent Islamic country, for the president to call for views opposed to Islam is something that the Adhaalath party is extremely concerned about,” the party said.

“People should only talk about Islam with full religious knowledge. Talking about religious tenets and judgments without proper knowledge is prohibited in Islam.”

The Adhaalath party called on the president to “not be swayed by those who believe irreligious philosophies or the anti-Islamic rhetoric of those opposed to Islam, and not to give opportunity for any religion other than Islam in this country.”

In his opening address to the Maldives Donor Conference 2010, President Nasheed revealed he had “often been criticised by liberal Maldivians because I refuse to censor religious groups.”

“My point is this: the ends do not justify the means,” he told the donors. “People with broader viewpoints must become more active, to create a tolerant society.”

The president revealed that a group of 32 concerned young people had recently visited him, “furious about the rise in extremism.”

“To my mind, these are just the sort of people who need to reclaim civil society, if they want to foster a more open-minded society,” Nasheed said. “Liberally-minded Maldivians must organise and reclaim civil society if they want to win this battle of ideas.”

Sheikh Abdulla Jameel told Minivan News today that when giving a sermon, “we have to tell it as it is.”

”Whether people like it or not, we can’t add or remove anything,” he said. “Nobody can change something stated in the Qur’an, and in the Qur’an it says that no one can [challenge] the orders of God or the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH).”

The Ministry of Islamic Affairs declined to comment in the absence of Minister Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari, who is currently visiting Saudi Arabia, and State Minister Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed, who is in the United States.

Local Islamic NGO Jamiyathul Salaf also did not respond to Minivan News’ enquiries at time of press.

Politics and religion

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) issued a statement yesterday in support of the President, condemning the Adhaalath party for “using religion as a [political] weapon”.

“For the Adhaalath party to falsely accuse the president after remaining silent when the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) obstructed and stopped a religious sermon organised by MDP last Thursday night, 25 March 2010, causing a disturbance and spilling the blood of many Maldivian citizens, casts doubt on their intentions,” the party said.

The MDP acknowledged that Article 1 of the Religious Unity Act, stating that Maldivian citizens are followers of Islam, belonging to the same sect and sharing one nationality, was “essential for protecting Maldivian independence and sovereignty and ensuring peace and security”, and that promoting religious unity among Maldivians “is obligatory upon both the government and the people.”

Regarding the President’s comments in his radio address and speech at the donor conference, “the party believes that [the president’s] intention was to share some people’s opinions with the public and give an opportunity for religious scholars to clarify the issue.”

Instead of addressing the opinions expressed by the young people who visited the President, the MDP said, “the Adhaalath party falsely accused the President of expressing views contrary to Islam and made political rivalry their main concern.”

The statement concluded by advising the Adhaalath party “to stop casting aspersions” on the president and “cease using religion as a tool to achieve political ends.”