Government schedules talks over reforming sexual abuse laws

The Maldivian government has said it remains committed to legislative reforms regarding the treatment of minors and other victims of sexual offences in the country.

President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad told Minivan News the government had scheduled meetings next week with the both the environment and Islamic ministries to amend local laws that he contended, in certain cases, punished sexual abuse victims as if they were criminals.

The government last week announced it was looking to review legislation in the country in line with relevant authorities amidst international media coverage of a decision by the Prosecutor General (PG’s) Office to press charges against 15 year-old girl for having “consensual sexual relations”.

In a case unrelated to these charges, the girl’s stepfather was also facing criminal charges for alleged sexual abuse of the minor after authorities last year discovered a new born baby buried in the outdoor shower area of a home on the island of Feydhoo.

Judicial authorities told Minivan News earlier this month that the charges against the 15 year-old were yet to be filed with the Juvenile Court at the time.

Director of the Department of Judicial Administration Ahmed Maajid was not responding to calls today.


After pledging last week to review laws on the back of a number of similar cases where young women had been victimised and punished by authorities – Masood claimed that discussions would be held next week on the treatment of minors and adults who had been sexually abused.

“If needs be we will come out with legislation were victims [of sexual abuse] are treated as victims,” he said. “It’s incredible that sometimes these victims are actually being seen as perpetrators [of crime] under the law.”

Masood added that the government would be making further announcements on its future plans to address these concerns once it had held talks scheduled for next week with ministerial and legislative authorities.

Acting Minister of Gender, Family and Human rights Dr Mariyam Shakeela, Minister of Islamic Affairs Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed and Attorney General Azima Shukoor were not responding to calls at time of press.

NGO criticism

The filing of criminal charges of “consensual sexual relations” against the 15 year-old girl were slammed this month as an “absolute outrage” by NGO Amnesty International.

The NGO’s Maldives Researcher Abbas Faiz stressed that suspected victims of rape and sexual abuse required counselling and support rather than facing prosecution.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) Vice President Ahmed Tholal told Minivan News at the time Amnesty’s statement was released that he was hugely concerned about the number of reports of sexual abuse against minors in the country.

Fornication offence

Back in September 2012, a 16 year-old girl was sentenced to house arrest and 100 lashes for fornication with a 29 year-old man.

Permanent Magistrate of Hulhudhuhfaaru in Raa Atoll, Magistrate Abdul Samad Abdulla, sentenced the girl to eight months house arrest, and public flogging once she reaches the age of 18.

Ali Rashid, an official of the Hulhudhuhfaaru Magistrate Court,referred Minivan News to Article 25 of the act detailing special actions to be taken in cases of sexual offences against children (Act number: 12/2009).

Article 25 says: “Unless proven otherwise, it cannot be considered that a child between ages 13-18 had given consent to committing a sexual act. And unless proven otherwise, it will be considered that the sexual act was committed without the child’s consent.”

In November 2011, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, speaking in parliament, raised concerns about the issue of flogging in the Maldives.

Pillay said at the time: “This practice constitutes one of the most inhumane and degrading forms of violence against women, and should have no place in the legal framework of a democratic country.”

Her statements and calls for discussion on the issue were met with outrage from then political opposition and religious conservative Adhaalath party, giving rise to protests and demonstrations. The Foreign Ministry, under the former government of Mohamed Nasheed, dismissed the calls for discussion on the issue, stating: “There is nothing to debate about in a matter clearly stated in the religion of Islam. No one can argue with God.”


DQP requests action against President, Tourism Minister as Maldives image shifts from glam to grit

Minority opposition Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) has requested Maldives Police Service to take immediate action against President Mohamed Nasheed and Minister of Tourism Mariyam Zulfa for ordering all resorts to close down health spas.

In a letter, DQP alleged that the government officials were conspiring to damage the Maldives’ image as a popular holiday destination.

The party’s statement added that the government’s “irresponsible” action is making headlines in the international media.

Police confirmed that they had received the letter, and would deliberate the matter.

DQP officials had not responded to inquiries at time of press. DQP Leader Hassan Saeed told local media this week that the government’s actions were causing “irreparable damage” to the tourism industry, from which “it would not be easy to come out of even after 25 years.”

An official at the President’s Office however argued that the opposition should bear responsibility for the fallout from December’s mass protest to ‘Defend Islam.’

“The opposition has been whipping up, and in some cases financing, extremism for months and spreading lies saying the government wants to introduce other religions. They can’t now complain about the economic damage they are ultimately responsible for.”

While resort reviews and booking services still make the first page of a Google search on the Maldives, headlines noting spa and resort closures amidst religious extremism and political turbulence have lately joined the mix.

Today’s Google searches for “Maldives”,”Maldives spa” and “Maldives resort” pulled a news feed exclusively addressing the political-religious whirlwind of the last week in which the government announced it was closing resort spas and considering a ban of pork and alcohol in response to popular demands favoring Islamic policies.

Over 229 articles are listed from leading outlets including UK’s The Guardian, India’s The Hindu, global Agence France Presse (AFP), and the BBC.

In keeping with the Maldives’ fame as a tourist destination, the headlines are eye-catching.

Global feed Associated Press (AP) ran the headline “Maldives closes hundreds of luxury resort spas,” while Sydney Morning Herald vigorously announced that “Sex claims force luxury resorts to close spas”.

Zimbabwe Metro simply stated “Maldives bans all spas after religious protests”, and Argophilia Travel News sardonically wrote, “Maldives spa ban: ulterior motives perhaps?”

Clicking beyond the headline, readers worldwide find content ranging from skeptical to sensationalist.

In their reports, America’s CNN today reported that “honeymooners and international hotel owners” were caught in “an acrimonious showdown over religious between the government and opposition parties”, while Mail & Guardian Online pointed out that the Maldives “reputation as a paradise holiday destination has come under pressure from a minority of religious fundamentalists who are growing in influence.”

Rather than ignoring the demands of the ‘Defend Islam’ demonstration on December 23, CNN observed that “the government raised the stakes” by issuing an order to close all massage parlors and spas.

Tourism accounts for approximately 70 percent of the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP) indirectly; a significant portion of resort profits are earned from spa services.

Although the stories do not always present an accurate picture of the situation, they are ubiquitous.

Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI) Secretary General Sim Ibrahim Mohamed said the industry “has serious problems with people not understanding what is going on.”

Sim said that the situation was generally “murky, with one thing leading to another and another”, and added that “most of our communication is in Dhivehi–press conferences, press releases, notifications, debates. It’s very difficult for the international community to report accurately because they don’t understand our language.”

Stepping back from the details, Sim explained that tourists trying to book a relaxing holiday are not soothed by a media storm at the destination, particularly when it involves certain hot-button words.

“Fundamentalism, radicalism, extremism–since 9/11 these have been very sensitive words. And they don’t go very well with tourism.” Sim added that the industry has suffered “many booking cancellations” in the past several weeks.

The media flurry is also being addressed by those inside resorts. The blog Maldives Resort Workers, which allows resort employees to express their opinions on a carefully-manicured industry, noted in the post “The media circus continues” that Maldives’ formerly polished profile is gradually becoming dark and contorted as the issue drags on.

“What is not so funny in these political manuevering is: the negative publicity this generated across the media despite the high value tourism we have. The administration clearly needs to dismiss their spin doctors who didn’t warn them about this media storm,” wrote one commentator.

Religious Adhaalath Party, one of the parties which had organised the mass protest against the alleged anti-Islamic agenda of the current administration, has also expressed concern that the media coverage is “damaging” the Maldivian people.

“I don’t want international media to treat Maldives poorly, I want them to do their job carefully and justly. You can’t see any country like Maldives in Islamic world, so why would we want to damage these people? These are Muslim people and they like moderate views,” said chief spokesperson Sheik Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed.

Shaheem yesterday told CNN, “We respect tourists…we are very happy with the tourism industry in the Maldives.”

Adhaalath Party previously released a statement inviting tourists to visit the Maldives and promising protection, after the UK released a travel advisory.


Foreign Ministry criticises opposition media “manipulation”

The Maldives Foreign Ministry has accused some opposition parties of acting irresponsibly by “misleading” international media over details of protests held this week in Male’, which it alleges have begun to impact interest in the country’s lucrative tourism industry.

Facing members of the local media today, Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem rejected Minivan News’ use of the term “unrest” to describe demonstrations that have taken place over five nights this week in Male’ concerning the cost of living in the country, claiming that the government was “open to negotiation” on the issue and welcomed alternative political solutions from opposition.

Naseem’s claims were rejected by Ahmed Thasmeen Ali, head of the country’s largest political opposition party, who claimed to have not been consulted by the government on resolving the issues of living costs, as well as adding that it would be difficult to control the output of international news media.

The protesters, who are expected to take part in a sixth consecutive demonstration tonight, have demanded the government lower the cost of living and called on President Mohamed Nasheed to resign, claiming people were increasingly unable to afford basic commodities following the government’s effective devaluation of the rufiya.

Parliamentarians including some members of the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) and the Zaeem-DRP (Z-DRP), an off-shoot of the main opposition party and its coalition partner the People’s Alliance (PA) party activists have been involved in the protests, yet have insisted that the street portests were instigated as part of a non-partisan “youth movement”.

As the protests have been covered by international news media, leading to concerns about the potential impact on the country’s tourism industry, Naseem said he did not believe terms such as “unrest” were appropriate to describe events he believed had been orchestrated by opposition politicians in the DRP and Z-DRP to offset their own internal struggles.

“With regards to what is happening in Male’ I think these are orchestrated events. I have a strong feeling the DRP is trying to find out who their leader is and that is the reason for the actions seen in Male’. We do these things [appointing leaders] through elections and by-elections. They [the DRP] do it through street walks and demonstrations and whatever else you can call it. You said unrest? I don’t think there is unrest,” he said.

The foreign minister added that he believed that there was a small number of people organising the protests looking to create deep unrest in the country and that they should be held responsible for their actions.

“People who organise such events [the protests] should take full responsibility for the images and disruption and damage to property caused,” he said. “I think everyone whose property has been damaged should file cases against the people who are organising these events.”

Reacting to the comments, DRP leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali said he was “utterly surprised” that a member of the current government, which has vocally supported freedom of speech and democratic reforms, would find protests “unreasonable” on the basis of protecting tourism.

“We have seen them try to stifle protest through using excessive police force,” he claimed. “We are peaceful protestors and are not impacting tourism in Male’.”

Thasmeen added that he believed the government had not made attempts to initiate a dialogue on the issue of living costs, although the opposition said they were willing to negotiate on the matter even though they did not agree to the current devaluation strategy being pursued.

“Obviously there are a lot of protesters here, but the government does not want to listen,” he said. “Lots of people are suffering.”

Thasmeen said that accusations that the country’s political opposition had been “misleading” international media was an “oversimplification” of the issues behind the protests.

“The international media are professionals, many of who will already know the facts of the protests, I don’t see it will be possible to manipulate them,” he said.

Thasmeen claimed that reports of excessive force against protesters had been accurate, adding that MDP supporters led by their parliamentary leadership had been “violently charging” protest crowds while police were attempting to disperse peaceful protesters.

In light of the factional divides occurring within the DRP between Thasmeen and the Z-DRP faction linked to former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the current party head said that apparent collaboration between the two groups was not related to the internal situation of the party.

“It is the duty of responsible politicians to try and find solutions to this problem [living costs],” he said. “There are a number of opposition I believe who have become involved with these protests.”

Thasmeen added that it was inevitable that although the protests has been initiated by a “youth movement” they had become politicised with involvement of figures such as former DRP Deputy Leader Umar Naseer and MP Ahmed Mahlouf.