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.