Human rights NGO calls for international observers in Male’ over fears of CNI-related violence

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) NGO has today called for the international community to send observers to Male’ in time for the release of the findings of the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI).

With the CNI expected to publicly release its findings on Thursday (August 30), FIDH said that it was “extremely concerned” about the potential for violence in the build up and aftermath of the report’s release.

“The CNI was established in May to determine the nature of the transition of power in February, which led to the so-called resignation of President Mohamed Nasheed,” the NGO stated.

“These events were followed by continuous unrest in the streets of Male’ and severe repression of demonstrations by state security forces. FIDH calls on the international community to immediately send observers to Male’ to prevent further deterioration of the human rights situation in the country.”

The NGO’s statement comes a day after the Maldives Police Service (MPS) launched an operation to introduce increased scrutiny of the Male’s streets and surrounding waters in order to try and control fears of a potential outbreak of unrest ahead of release of the CNI findings.

Maldives Police Service Assistant Commissioner Hussain Waheed today told reporters that authorities had decided to strengthen security across the capital and other islands, in order to “not give any opportunity to create unrest”.

However, Waheed claimed police would provide full support and security services to demonstrations held “peacefully and within the contours of laws”.

Media Freedom

Discussing the current political situation in the Maldives, FIDH president Souhayr Belhassen claimed the NGO was concerned with a number of cases of violence and a “deterioration” in media freedom since February’s controversial transfer of power.

“Since last February, we have witnessed fast-increasing political violence in the Maldives, as well as the multiplication of arbitrary arrests, sexual harassment of female protesters and legal and physical harassment of opposition leaders, including murder attempts,” she claimed. “In such a context, the wait-and-see approach adopted by the international community has become unsustainable and irresponsible.”

During a visit to Male’ by the NGO earlier this month, FIDH claimed it had witnessed an ongoing “deterioration” in press freedoms since February.

“The influence of the Ministry of Religious Affairs and the extreme polarisation of the media have been a cause of concern throughout the [constutitional] reform process, and since last February, the authorities have been accused of harassing pro-opposition media,” the NGO said in its statement.

FIDH President Belhassen noted particular concern with the violent attack earlier this year of local blogger Hilath Rasheed, who was left in a critical condition after being stabbed in the neck near his home in Male’ last month.

FIDH alleged that the attack was conducted by religious extremists based on interviews conducted with Hilath after he had to fled the Maldives after partly recovering from his injuries. The government has denied there was proof of any religious motivation behind the attack, claiming it had been carried out by rival gang members.

“FIDH found that the general public has little trust in public institutions, and that these institutions are seen as ineffective in breaking impunity of perpetrators of human rights violations. Authorities also have failed to investigate police violence impartially,” Belhassen stated. “Moreover, despite all the evidence available, the investigation of the attempted murder of human rights defender Hilath Rasheed has not progressed.”


Slashed journalist claims attack was targeted assassination by Islamic radicals

Ismail ‘Hilath’ Rasheed got out his mobile phone and called for a taxi, but no sound came from his throat.

Instead the Maldivian blogger, journalist and former Amnesty prisoner of conscience, infamous for his willingness to tackle taboo subjects, particularly religious tolerance – felt air escaping from his neck.

“A very bad kind of panic came at that moment. I knew my trachea was cut. I knew it was a deep cut, and not just on the surface of the skin,” the journalist told Minivan News, prior to fleeing his own country in fear of his life.

Moments before, on the evening of June 4, Rasheed had turned into the dark alleyway leading to the door of his apartment block to find a man in a yellow shirt waiting for him.

“Then I heard someone call me by name from behind, and two more entered the alley. As I was turning the guy in a yellow T-shirt came up beside me, grabbed me from behind, put a mid-size box cutter to my neck and started slashing.

“I put my hand up to try and stop him, but he kept slashing.”

Rasheed holds up his hand – besides the jagged slash mark across his neck that almost claimed his life, the blogger lost a digit of his index finger trying to protect himself from the knife.

“That was why they missed a vital artery. I tried to prevent it – they cut the finger to the bone.”

Job done, the three men walked “very calmly” out of the alley in separate directions, leaving Rasheed to bleed to death in the alley.

“I got a look at their faces, but it was too dark to identify them,” he says. “They all had beards, and they were very young – I would say between 18 and 24. When the man in the yellow shirt was slashing my throat I smelled his breath – it smelled of alcohol.”

Acting on instinct, Rasheed held his neck and did not let go.

“I didn’t know how bad it was – because it was a box cutter, it was a very clean cut – it wasn’t painful,” he says.

“I thought about going upstairs to inform my parents, but I thought I better go straight to hospital rather than go up all the stairs.”

Leaving the alleyway, holding his head down to prevent blood loss, Rasheed tried to flag down a passing motorcycle. In the distance, he saw two of his attackers ride away on a motorcycle, while the walked round the corner.

“I knew it was pointless to go after them as I needed to get to the hospital,” he recalls.

Three motorcycles passed without stopping to help him, even though the front of his shirt and trousers were by now drenched in blood. That was when he tried to call the taxi, only to realise the extent of his injury.

“Even at that moment, a thought came into my mind. All the people who brought change to the world, most of them died for that cause – they didn’t live to see the fruits of their effort.

“When this thought came into my mind, survival instinct took over and I felt a rage: ‘I am going to survive, I want to live to see the fruits of my work – the fight for human rights,’” he tells Minivan News.

A young couple walking down the street noticed him – and the girl began screaming. A young man on a motorcycle motorcyclist heard the sound as he came around the corner, and stopped so Rasheed could get on behind him.

“I was still holding my neck, and not talking, and pointed in the direction of the hospital. With my right hand I held onto his shoulder – I was afraid I might faint because of the blood loss and fall off. There was so much blood – there was a pool forming in front of me.”

Fighting off unconsciousness, Rasheed stumbled into the lobby of ADK hospital, the young man behind him.

“I was very appreciative but I couldn’t talk to thank him,” Rasheed says. “Because I couldn’t say thank you I just gave him a thumbs up and walked into the hospital. A doctor later said the guy promptly fainted in the doorway.”

Still holding his neck, Rasheed walked into the the emergency room: “The people waiting in the lobby started screaming as I went passed – I think they were shocked,” he says.

A Maldivian girl and a couple of foreign nurses took Rasheed to a bed – “I saw a lot of ADK officials and police officers coming in. The Maldivian girl asked me to show them the injury. I knew I had to show them the extent of the damage so they knew what kind of treatment was needed,” he says.

“I lifted my head all the way back. And quickly back down. A doctor later told me that a nurse and a police officer fainted.”

The foreign nurses quickly inserted a tube into his neck so he could breathe, and pressed bandages to his neck to try and stem the blood loss.

The staff put him on a bed and rushed him to the operating theatre.

“They gave me anaesthetic. It took a while for it to work, but I didn’t feel any pain. I could see them opening my neck, putting their hand inside. I knew they were trying to assess the damage and from what they were saying, that my trachea was severed.”

The hospital kept Rasheed under anesthetic for 48 hours – “they didn’t want to wake me up,” he says.

“My father later told me that I happened to go into the hospital when the new shift was coming in All the old shift doctors stayed on – there were 6-8 of them. My father said at that moment they told him that I had a less than one percent chance of survival, but that they would try everything they could.”

Rasheed was later told by friends who had gathered outside the operating theatre that while he was undergoing emergency surgery, one of the men who had attacked and hospitalised him during a protest for religious tolerance on December 10 – Human Rights Day – came and waited outside the emergency room.

“A relative spotted him and asked him what he was doing there – he said he was there for scans – so the relative asked him why he was waiting in front of emergency. He was the guy who attacked me with a stone on December 10 and fractured my skull, and his excuse was that he was there for a scan,” Rasheed says.

That was the first of several unsettling incidents to happen while Rasheed was in hospital. Conscious of security concerns, ADK staff forbade access to Rasheed for all apart from his parents.

“While I was under anesthetic, I was told by a friend of a friend – a gang member – that someone had been sent into the hospital to kill me – to pull the plug. Nobody would have noticed,” Rasheed says.

“This bearded guy came into the Intensive Care Unit posing as my father. While he was near me a doctor who knew my father just happened to come into the ICU. The doctor was suspicious, and asked him who he was – he said he was my father. The doctor said ‘I know Hilath’s father, you are not his father,’ and called security to have him thrown out. He’s on the hospital’s CCTV footage.”

Four days later, Rasheed woke up on a ventilator, astounding doctors at his miraculous recovery.

“They said they had never seen anyone recover so fast from such an injury,” he says.

Rasheed has no doubt in his mind as to the motivation behind his attack – the third in just a few months. The attack was unusual in that most of the wave of recent gang stabbings in the Maldives have involved multiple stab wounds to different parts of the body – targeted throat slashing is new.

In July 2009, Rasheed broke news of a story on his blog concerning an under-age girl allegedly being kept by a family as a ‘jaariya’ – a concubine. Concerns were initially raised when the girl was taken to Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) and was found to be pregnant.

“Ever since I reported the story on my blog I have received death threats. Things like: ‘If we see you on street we will slash your throat’, ‘we will behead you’, ‘don’t walk in a dark alley,’ things like that,” says Rasheed.

One of only several Maldivian bloggers to write under his own name, Rasheed courted controversy by continuing to tackle taboo subjects in the Maldives – particularly religious intolerance, and the constitutional provision that all Maldivians were required to be ‘100 percent Sunni Muslim’. This was at odds, Rasheed argued, with the country’s Sufi history and new-found commitment to freedom of expression – which had ironically, he argued, also given a voice to more extreme interpretations of the religion.

The attitude of many to Rasheed’s work was summarised in comments made by spokesperson for former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and newly-appointed Minister for Human Resources, Mohamed ‘Mundhu’ Shareef, who told AFP following the attempt on the blogger’s life that while the government condemned the attack, “Hilath must have known that he had become a target of a few extremists.”

“We are not a secular country. When you talk about religion there will always be a few people who do not agree,” Shareef said.

Both the administrations of Nasheed and Waheed showed little interest in prosecuting those who threatened and attacked Rasheed – regardless of the number of photos and witnesses.

“I reported the threats to police. In fact an intelligence officer met me after the concubine story. Nothing came of it. The man who attacked me with the stone on December 10 – there were photos of him, I gave his identity and everything. Police never arrested him, and as far as I know he’s still roaming free around Male.”

Police are investigating the latest attack on Rasheed, but despite claiming to have access to CCTV footage of the area, no arrests had been made at time of press. Police Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef told Minivan News that while the investigation was proceeding, the case was “sensitive”.

The reason for that, Rasheed says, “is very obvious.”

“This coup government is collaborating with Islamic extremists. The extremists together with the Adhaalath party are now in power. I don’t think they will arrest my three attackers, even this time, and I don’t think I will get justice as long as Waheed’s coup government is in power,” the blogger says.

Days before the attempt on his life, Rasheed and a friend were passing the Furqan mosque in Male’ on their way to the swimming tracks. Six members of the same gang who attacked him on December 10 – who were inside setting up a sermon – came out and began punching him in the face.

“They cornered me, and pushed me into the wall. And started punching my face. As they were punching me I told them I had repented and was a Muslim. One of them said: ‘We don’t know that. You have to make a public announcement that you are a Muslim. Otherwise we will kill you.’”

The sight of a passing police jeep caused the group to cease their attack and scatter – “apart from one. He was one of those who threw stones on December 10,” Rasheed says. “Right in front of the police, he punched me in the face.”

The police saw the incident, came out of the jeep and arrested his attacker, says Rasheed.

“They asked me and my friend to come to the police station. We filed a case. That night they took him to court and extended his detention by five days.”

However while Rasheed was at home one of the gang members “called me, and told me to withdraw the case, and that in return I would never be attacked by Maldivian Wahabis again.”

The following morning Rasheed went to the police station and withdrew the case. He rang the gang member, “who said he was very happy.”

“A few days later this happened,” says Rasheed, pointing to his scarred throat. “I guess they are not good at keeping their word,” he laughs bitterly.

While Rasheed cannot identify his attackers in the June 4 attack, he claims that besides calling out his name, the assailants told him the attack was “compliments” of three senior political and religious figures in the country.

“I was told by a friend of these gang members that [two of these figures] met this gang and told them to murder me, and that it would not be a sin, and that in fact they would go to heaven because I had blogged about freedom of religion and gay rights,” Rasheed says.

“The friend also told me via the gang member that the extremists have drawn up a list of MDP members and supporters who are advocating secularism on Facebook and Twitter. I haven’t seen this list, but I’m told it exists. I have advised all my friends to be extra careful about their personal safety.”

Both sides of the political spectrum in the Maldives have on occasion accused the other of employing gangs for political purposes, such as attending and disrupting political rallies, in exchange for money and alcohol. However, Rasheed’s allegation that radicalisation is now being used as a control technique is new.

“These gangs are very easy to radicalise,” Rasheed explains. “They have committed all kinds of evil acts and sins, and it is very easy to brainwash them. These Sheikhs go and tell them that because they have done all these activities, the only way for them to get salvation is to subordinate themselves to Allah and undertake jihad against secularists and unbelievers. It is very easy.

“I think because the Islamists are now in power these people feel powerful and immune, and protected by this new culture of impunity. They are doing what they want to do, and what they are told to do. As long as this coup government is in power, this country will be lawless with gangs and Islamic extremists dictating our lives and murdering their opponents who disagree with them.”

Some of the more conservative Sheikhs have even privately expressed concern about the growing radicalisation of gang members, Rasheed says.

“One of them told a relative of mine that it was a disgrace – that these were gang members, taking heroin, abusing alcohol, that they were just criminals posing as Salafis,” says Rasheed.

“He said he was really concerned about groups taking over mosques because it was giving a bad name to Salaf and all the other Wahabis.”

International response

The attack on Rasheed has been widely condemned by international human rights NGOs, as the first apparently targeted murder attempt of a journalist in the Maldives.

Several human rights NGOs raised the attack during a recent debate at the UN Human Rights Council with UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, Frank La Rue.

During the debate, NGOs led by the Centre for Inquiry and the International Humanist and Ethical Union criticised the growing “climate of intolerance and impunity for such crimes” in the Maldives.

“The government of the Maldives has made no effort to arrest Rasheed’s attackers despite credible photographic evidence of the attack,” the NGOs contended, expressing alarm at the growing influence of extremists in the Maldives.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemned the blocking of Rasheed’s blog – – in 2011 by Communications Authority of the Maldives (CAM) on the order of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs. The Ministry had made the request on the grounds that the site contained anti-Islamic material.

Rasheed at the time described the crack-down as “just the beginning”, claiming there was no material on it that contradicted his Sufi interpretation of Islam.

“If Sunni Muslims are the conservatives, then the Sufi Muslims are the liberals,” he told Minivan News. “I think this is a conservative attack on the site. They think if you’re not a Sunni, you’re an unbeliever.”

After his attack, RSF issued a statement noting that it had “all the hallmarks of a targeted murder attempt.”

“Rasheed has made many enemies through his outspoken blogging. The authorities in charge of the investigation should not rule out the possibility that this was linked to his journalistic activity. He is a well-known journalist who has repeatedly been censored, arrested and threatened.

“The police must, as a matter of urgency, put a stop to the harassment of Rasheed and take the issue of his safety seriously. Any lack of response on their part will constitute a criminal failure to assist a person in danger,” RSF stated.

Amnesty International also issued a statement, noting that “religious groups opposed to Ismail Rasheed’s long campaign for religious freedom are suspected of being behind the attack.”

“People linked to these groups hit him with stones in December 2011, fracturing his skull, because he had arranged a rally to call for religious tolerance. Although that attack took place in front of onlookers and there is photographic evidence that can be used to identify the attackers, no one has yet been brought to justice for that attack,” Amnesty said.

For his part, Rasheed is no longer in the Maldives and has said he has no specific plans to return.

“In my opinion, I can never return to the Maldives. Right now, with the coup government hand-in-hand with Maldivian extremists, I believe the Maldives is a terrorist state. We need elections as soon as possible to bring back democracy,” he said.

The apparently newfound willingness of some politicians to use radicalised groups for political gain was “a devil’s pact”, Rasheed warned.

“Expect more political murders in the near future. It is not just me they want to get rid of – there are a lot of people. I forsee a lot of bloodshed.”


Prominent blogger Hilath Rasheed in critical condition after stabbing

Prominent Maldivian blogger and journalist Ismail ‘Hilath’ Rasheed is in a critical condition after he was stabbed in the neck near his house in Male’ on Monday evening.

Police Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef confirmed that Rasheed was stabbed around 8:15pm and was undergoing emergency treatment in ADK hospital.

No arrests have been made, “however there is CCTV in the area and we are trying to get something on it,” Haneef stated.

Police had cordoned off the area around the blood-stained pavement at time of press. There was on Monday evening no indication as to the motivation of the attack.

An informed source at ADK hospital said Rasheed was bleeding but conscious when he was brought to the hospital, and that he was expected to remain in surgery until 2:30am.

“They slit his throat clean through the trachea, and missed a vital artery by millimetres,” the source said, around 11:30pm, giving Rasheed a “five percent chance …  It doesn’t look good.”

Early on Tuesday morning the source reported that Rasheed’s condition had stabilised: “He’ll be in intensive care for a couple of days. He’s breathing through a tube now.”

Sub-Inspector Haneef said a second individual was stabbed in the back at 11:00pm near Male’s garbage dump and had been taken to Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) in a critical condition. Local media reported that the victim was believed to be a Bangladeshi national.

Second attack

Rasheed, a once outspoken blogger against extremism and former editor of newspaper Haveeru, was previously attacked by a group of men on December 10, 2011 – Human Rights Day – while attending a protest calling for religious tolerance.

A group of men attacked the protesters with stones, and Rasheed was taken to IGMH with a fractured skull.

He was subsequently arrested by police for questioning over his involvement in the protest gathering, and jailed for over three weeks.

Amnesty International declared him a ‘prisoner of conscience’, and said it was “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 Foreign Ministry subsequently called for an investigation “by relevant authorities” into the attack on the protest.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) also condemned both the December 10 attack on Rasheed and his arrest, noting that he was not only one of the country’s leading free speech advocates, but one of the few Maldivians bloggers to write under his own name.

“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,” RSF stated at the time.

Censored blogger

Rasheed’s popular and controversial blog,, was blocked in November 2011 by the Communications Authority of the Maldives (CAM) 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 confirmed at the time.

Hilath claimed he was being censored for expressing his version of Islam, and called for more freedom of interpretation within the faith.

“I call upon all concerned to amend the clause in the constitution which requires all Maldivians to be Sunni Muslims only,” his statement read. “‘Unto you your religion and unto me my religion,’ and ‘There is no compulsion in religion’,” he said, quoting Qur’an 109:6 and 2:256.

Hilath claimed at the time that the blocking of his website had a political edge: “If Sunni Muslims are the conservatives, then the Sufi Muslims are the liberals,” he told Minivan News. “I think this is a conservative attack on the site. They think if you’re not a Sunni, you’re an unbeliever.”

Following the blocking of his blog and his attack in December, Rasheed became less outspoken on the subject of religion and withdrew from the public spotlight.

On May 12 he tweeted his intention to stop blogging altogether, and stated that he had “repented and am now a Muslim. But a very tolerant one at that.”


Comment: Sun, sand and intolerance

Saturday’s attack on a group of people silently protesting against religious intolerance is just the latest in a series of orchestrated, well-choreographed acts of violence, hatred and intolerance sweeping across the nation in recent months.

Independent journalist and blogger, Ismail ‘Hilath’ Rasheed, whose personal blog was censored by the Maldivian government last month, was among those attacked, sustaining serious injuries to the head. Others who attempted to intervene also suffered minor injuries.

Ahmed Hassan, one of the protesters, said, “We planned a silent sit down protest in order to make a statement over the lack of religious freedom for minorities, especially those who aren’t Sunni Muslims.”

“We are entering the fourth year of democracy but unfortunately, many basic freedoms and rights have yet to be achieved for all Maldivians. It is unacceptable in this day and age that non-Muslim Maldivians are discriminated against in their own country,” he said. “This is their country as much as ours.”

He further added “I would like to say to those that attacked us today that violence is not a part of Islam. Islam is a religion of love, peace and shura (consultation). The unprovoked attack is clearly an act of intimidation. We realize that as our movement grows, we could face many more such attacks, but we will not be backing out. We will not be intimidated into silence.”

Local writer and blogger, Aminath Sulthona, who was also among the protesters said, “These are not people worthy of being termed ‘religious’, but they are misguided thugs spreading terror and violence in the name of religion.”

Sulthona complained that the police at the scene failed to carry out their duties. “I was being openly threatened and verbally abused in the presence of a police officer who paid no heed to the man… I managed to take pictures of the attackers, but as soon as I got home I started receiving calls saying I would be attacked on the streets if the pictures were leaked.”

The injured protester, Hilath, has also previously faced death-threats over his vocal criticism of Islamic radicalism on his personal blog.

Million-Man March of bigotry

As the rest of the world celebrates the International Human Rights day to commemorate the adoption of the UDHR, a network of NGOs in the Maldives and seven political parties are preparing to conduct a large protest on December 23 – with organisers vowing to assemble a rather ambitious 100,000 protesters, including mothers and their newborns, in order to ‘protect Islam’.

The protests were announced in the aftermath of a speech delivered in parliament by Navi Pillay, the visiting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, after she sought the removal of discriminatory clauses in the Constitution towards non-Muslims, as well as an open debate on the subject of degrading punishments like public flogging that are still practised in the Maldives.

Pillay argued that flogging as a form of punishment was “cruel and demeaning to women”, while pointing out that apart from just one other Islamic country, the practise wasn’t condoned even among Muslim nations.

Available statistics appear to support the claim that women are disproportionately affected by punishments such as flogging. Mariyam Omidi, then Editor of Minivan News, reported in a 2009 article that according to government statistics, out of 184 people sentenced to flogging for ‘fornication’, 146 were women.

However, the report was met with outrage from conservative sections of the public who gathered with placards at the same venue where the protesters were attacked yesterday, and demanded that the journalist be deported.

There was simply no room for intelligent discussion on the subject and the offending statistic mysteriously disappeared from government websites not long afterwards.

Similarly, the response to the UN Human Rights Commissioner’s recommendations has been a brutish all-out war on the very idea of having a debate on the subject.

One gimmick to rule them all

One might wonder how in a country where Islam is safeguarded by the Constitution, and where there is overwhelming support among both leaders and the general public for mandating Islam’s role in state affairs, and where educating the public on other religions is not only taboo, but also illegal by law – could there still exist such insecurity among citizens that they need to rally in order to ‘protect Islam’.

The explanation is simple.

For 30 years, former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom carefully consolidated the state’s authority over personal beliefs by successfully selling the idea of a ‘100 percent Sunni Muslim’ nation, and making the Dhivehi Identity virtually synonymous with Sunni Islam, which needed to be fiercely protected at all times from ever-present, invisible threats.

One of Gayoom’s most damaging legacies is that a paranoid Maldives found itself among the top ten countries in the world noted for religious intolerance, according to a study by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life published in 2009.

Employing religion to keep his citizens in check was a master stroke that ensured him a long reign, but Gayoom’s chickens came home to roost in the dying days of his regime when the democratic uprising threw up a medley of ultra-conservative mullahs who would take over the religious mantle from Gayoom.

Following the first democratic Presidential elections, the ultra-conservative Adhaalath Party assumed control of the newly created Ministry of Islamic Affairs, and took upon themselves the onerous responsibility of deciding who were the ‘true Muslims’ and what constituted ‘true Islam’.

It didn’t help matters that despite the freedom of speech granted by the constitution, the mainstream Maldivian media continues to exercise strict self-censorship when it comes to issues of religion and human rights.

The subject remains taboo among other public institutions and agencies as well, as evidenced by the statement released by the Maldivian Human Rights Commission yesterday on the occasion of Human Rights day, which glaringly omits any mention of minority rights or non-Muslim Dhivehin.

Speaking at a National Awards ceremony last month, President Nasheed gently rebuked his citizens for reacting ‘in a jihadi manner’ over the Navi Pillay controversy.

Instead, he exhorted the citizens to “have the courage to be able to listen to and digest what people tell us, what we hear and what we see”

President Nasheed would have done well to foster this spirit in his own government which, in the first few months after coming to power, shut down several websites that were allegedly critical of his then coalition partner, the Adhaalath Party.

Less than two weeks before he implored his citizens to have the courage to digest others’ opinions, President Nasheed’s government banned the blog of independent journalist Hilath who had been critical of Islamists in the government.

Even more startling was the reaction of his foreign Minister, Ahmed Naseem, to the controversy over Navi Pillay’s recommendations for doing away with degrading punishments.

“You cannot argue with God”, he said, in what was a clear surrender to the politics of bigotry.

The President would also do well to convey his ideas to his erudite Islamic Minister, Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Baree whose response to the call for open discussion on the subject was merely, “No Muslim has the right to advocate against flogging for fornication.”

The Islamic Minister had also previously condemned the presence of commemorative monuments presented by participating nations in the recently concluded 17th SAARC summit in Addu.

Burning Bridges

The destructive outcome of emotive politics of hatred, strife and fear was clearly demonstrated by the hyper-paranoid religious vandals who burnt, damaged and stole multiple SAARC monuments because they allegedly depicted ‘idols of worship’.

One police officer on duty guarding the monument recollected being approached by hostile members of the general public asking why they were guarding “temples”.

The opposition parties, seeing political expediency even in the most unfortunate acts of xenophobic vandalism, quickly hailed the vandals as “national heroes”.

In a related incident, some MPs of the Progressive Party, including MP Ahmed Mahloof apparently hijacked a ferry in a valiant effort to save Islam from a banner hung at the International Airport, before they were intercepted by the Police and diverted to another island.

The offending banner at the airport depicted an image of Jesus Christ, a Buddhist chakra, and other religious motifs symbolising the religious diversity of South Asia, which the design consultants who came up with the concept said was in keeping with this year’s SAARC summit’s theme of ‘Building bridges’.

Notably, none of these MPs had anything to say on the young non-Muslim Maldivian man who hung himself from a tower at that very airport in July 2010, following immense pressure from family and state religious authorities after he, in his own words, “foolishly admitted (his) non-religious stance” to friends and colleagues.

If the 17th SAARC Summit proved anything, it is that building bridges is impossible when there are greedy political trolls ready to pounce on anyone willing to cross it.

Uphill struggle

It also appears that the Mullah and the MPs seem to be firm in their understanding that Islam has no room for thinking, no room for debate, no room for tolerance and no room for intelligence.

The seemingly endless series of ugly incidents and violence carried out in the Maldives in the name of Islam only reinforces the reputation of Islam as an intolerant, backward religion fit for narrow minded thugs who are incapable of dealing with 21st century realities or co-existing peacefully with the international community.

According to a March 2011 Universal Periodic Review Report for the Maldives, the Maldivian government had pledged to raise awareness and public debate around the issue of freedom of religion and religious tolerance.

The report states that “The Maldives commits to begin domestic awareness-raising and an open public debate on religious issues. Moreover… the Maldives requests international support to host, in 2012, a major international conference on modern Sharia jurisprudence and human rights.”

However, this may be a difficult task given the sense of over-entitlement prevalent among sections of the Maldivian public that, though it demands – nay depends – on foreign aid, income and expertise to keep their families clothed and fed, nevertheless scoffs at the very thought of having to fulfil any obligations to the international community at large.

When confronted by the UN Committee on the the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in August 2011 on the constitutional clause depriving non-Muslims of citizenship, the Maldivian delegation reportedly had this to say:

“It was not true that under the new Constitution existing citizens could be arbitrarily deprived of their nationality if they were to stop practicing Islam… The Muslim-only clause under the citizenship article of the Constitution only applied to non-Maldivians wishing to become naturalised.”

However, just one month later, the government published new Regulations under the Religious Unity Act of 1994, making it illegal to propagate any other religion than Islam, or to be in possession of any material or literature that contradicts Islam. Any violations of the regulations would carry a 2 to 5 year prison sentence.

In other words, as the silent protesters attacked in broad daylight yesterday learned, the struggle to achieve universal human rights in the Maldives is a seemingly impossible and uphill task that only keeps getting harder, thanks to the cesspool of paranoia, hatred and violence generated by a band of short-sighted politicians who are happy to abuse religion and opportunistic religious clerics who dabble in politics.

As with last year, where a motorcade of fundamentalists rode around the capital yelling loud anti-Semitic slogans about visiting Israelis, this year too the Human Rights Day has been marred by gloomy incidents of intolerance that only remind us of how the idea of mutual respect and civility still eludes us as a nation.

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