Islamic Ministry condemns MPs for allowing UN Human Rights Commissioner to address parliament

The Ministry of Islamic Affairs has issued a statement proclaiming that nobody is allowed to talk against Islam in the Maldives, “even in parliament”, as Islam is “the source of all laws made in the Maldives.”

The Ministry’s statement follows a call from UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay in parliament last week that the Maldives put a moratorium on the practice of flogging as punishment for extra-marital sex,  while it holds a debate on the matter.

Pillay told parliament that flogging was a form of punishment “that is cruel and demeaning to women, and should have no place in the legal framework of a democratic country.”

The Islamic Ministry condemned the parliament’s decision to let Pillay speak, noting that MPs were handed a Dhivehi translation of her speech and should have been aware of what she was about to say.

‘’No Muslim has the right to advocate against flogging for fornication,” the Islamic Ministry stated.

“According to the Quran 100 lashes should be given for the woman and man involved in fornication,’’ the Ministry said, citing 33:36 of Quran which reads: ‘’It is not fitting for a Believer, man or woman, when a matter has been decided by Allah and His Messenger to have any option about their decision: if any one disobeys Allah and His Messenger, he is indeed on a clearly wrong Path.’’

The Ministry said that no international organisation, foreign country or individual had the “right to obstruct Maldivians from upholding Islamic principles.”

‘’To preserve this nation’s sovereignty, all Maldivian citizens are obliged to respect the articles in the constitution and uphold the constitution,’’ the statement read. ‘’No law against any tenet of Islam can be enacted in the Maldives, according to the constitution.’’

The Islamic Ministry said any calls or action against this would be condemned by the ministry “in strongest possible terms.”

Religious NGO Jamiyyathul Salaf has yesterday sent a letter to the UN Resident Coordinator in the Maldives, alleging that a call from UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay for a moratorium on flogging was “inhumane and disrespectful.”

In a press conference last week, Pillay also described the 100 percent Muslim provision in the Maldivian constitution as “discriminatory, and does not comply with international standards” which led to protests outside the UN head office in Male’.


Salaf sends letter to UN, calls for action against Pillay

Religious NGO Jamiyyathul Salaf has sent a letter to the UN Resident Coordinator in the Maldives, alleging that a call from UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay for a moratorium on flogging was “inhumane and disrespectful.”

In the open letter written in Dhivehi, sent to media today, Salaf claimed that Pillay had challenged the constitution and Islamic Sharia.

Salaf claimed the UN Resident Coordinator was obliged to write an incident report to the concerned person at the UN, “to take action against Pillay and seek a binding agreement that nothing like this will repeated by the UN in the future.”

‘’As the UN is a protected organisation in this muslim nation, it is something you should do to be sincere to the official religion of this nation and to respect the Muslims that serve in the UN,’’ Salaf said in the letter. ‘’If not, Maldivians will be forced to believe that the UN is conducting activities in this country with a hidden agenda to disrupt the peace, disrupt the religion of Islam and to influence civil unrest.’’

Salaf said Pillay’s comments “might change citizens’ perspective of the UN and its services to the Maldives”. The Maldives had a right to inform other Muslim nations of how ‘’dangerous’’ and ‘’scary’’ Pillay is, Salaf said.

‘’Let it be known, be it UN or an international organisation or a powerful country, if anyone acted as Pillay acted and criticised the religion of Islam, we cannot wait without denying it,’’ Salaf’s letter said.

Salaf further accused Pillay of denying the existence of the Maldivian constitution, although a recording of her relevant comment in Thursday’s press conference indicates that this was widely misreported in the Maldivian media. Pillay was responding to the phrasing of a question by Miadhu Editor Gabbe Latheef, and said “I don’t believe you have a constitution, you have a constitution”.

In parliament, Pillay called for a moratorium and debate on flogging as a punishment for fornication, describing it as a form of punishment “that is cruel and demeaning to women, and should have no place in the legal framework of a democratic country.”

She also described the 100 percent Muslim provision in the Maldivian constitution as “discriminatory, and does not comply with international standards.”

In its letter, Salaf claimed that if Pillay was allowed to get away with her statements, this would be “torture of Maldivians”, and warned that the NGO “would be watching” the UN.


Foreign Ministry opposes UN Human Rights Commissioner’s call for debate on flogging

The Foreign Ministry does not support open debates on issues raised by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, namely the provision for flogging as a punishment for extra-marital intercourse and the requirement that all Maldivians be Muslims.

“What’s there to discuss about flogging?” Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmed Naseem was reported as saying in newspaper Haveeru. “There is nothing to debate about in a matter clearly stated in the religion of Islam. No one can argue with God.”

Speaking to Minivan News, Naseem confirmed his statement but did not wish to comment further.

Pillay said flogging was “a form of punishment that is cruel and demeaning to women” and observed that in her travels in Islamic countries “apart from the Maldives and one other country that practices stoning, flogging is not a practice that is condoned.”

She further claimed that the Maldives is signatory to international treaties that are legally-binding obligations, “and such a practice conflicts with these obligations undertaken by the Maldives.” She said human rights conforms with Islam.

Naseem today advised Minivan News that the Maldives had submitted certain reservations to said conventions, including articles on gender equality and freedom of religion, and on these points the country could not be held legally accountable by an international body.

Pillay also called for amendments to the constitutional provision mandating subscription to Islam.

Since her press conference on Thursday, November 24, protestors bearing slogans “Ban UN,” “Flog Pillay” and “Defend Islam” have demanded apologies from Pillay and Parliament, and called for Pillay to be prosecuted in the Maldives for her comments about the national constitution.

Islamic Minister Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari opposed Pillay’s critiques. Haveeru reports he also backed political parties including the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) and Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), and several MPs and religious groups who also  condemned the UN human rights chief’s comments.

In discussions with President Mohamed Nasheed, ministers and the judiciary, Pillay advised “permanent changes in the law [to] engineer a practical moratorium on flogging.”

NGO network Civil Society Coalition later announced a nation-wide mass protest on December 23 against the government’s alleged efforts to securalise the country.

Speaking with Minivan News today, President’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair said he believed Pillay’s message focused more on the degrading implications of flogging women than on its portrayal of Islam. “Pillay called for a debate on punishment and how it is administered – these are two separate debates,” he said, distinguishing between Islam and the State.

Zuhair also suggested that the court procedure used to sentence individuals accused of extra-marital fornication to flogging was incomplete.

In response to Pillay’s urging for a debate “to open up the benefits of the constitution to all and to remove that discriminatory provision [requiring every citizen be a Muslim],” Zuhair said “The government’s religious policy is based upon the insights of religious scholars. The government has not made available the means for anyone to defy or ridicule our religion, and it will not do so.”

According to Zuhair, the involvement of religious scholars in the nation’s religious policies is a distinguishing feature of ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

“These are the free times for religious scholars to speak their minds and not be subscribed into one state-sponsored brand of Islam,” he said.

When asked to relate his statement to the Islamic Ministry’s recent censorship of Ismail Hilath Rasheed’s blog, Zuhair said the matter belonged to the Majlis.

“The government cannot be held accountable for the contents of a constitution drawn up by the peoples’ Majlis. Any issues with the constitution will be addressed there.”

Zuhair emphasised that the government supports freedom of expression and assembly to the widest extent provided by the constitution, but he reiterated that the government would adhere to policies advocated by religious scholars as necessary.

Local media in the Maldives widely took Pillay’s remarks on the constitution out of context by reporting only half her sentence.

Miadhu Editor Gabbe Latheef had asked Pillay during Thursday’s press conference, “If you believe we have a Constitution, why are you speaking against our Constitution?” Her reply, “I don’t believe you have a Constitution, you have a constitution. The constitution conforms in many respects to universally respected human rights. Let me assure you that these human rights conform with Islam,” was partially reported by local media as, “I don’t believe you have a Constitution.”

When asked about the impact of the flawed reports on the protests, Zuhair said it suggested the mistake was intentional and demonstrated “a strong political bias”.

“Most media is tied to the opposition parties which were defeated in first round of the election. They are tied by a common rope in that they all include leaders of the formerly-ruling Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP). MDP doesn’t have a supportive media outlet, even in the state media. Any establishment or institution here with 50 or more staff will have some defeated and bitter people who don’t believe in the government,” he surmised.


UN Human Rights Commissioner to visit Maldives

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay arrives in the Maldives today for the start of a week-long visit to Asia.

Pillay will spend several days in the Maldives during which time she will meet President Mohamed Nasheed, senior ministers, political party leaders, the judiciary, National Human Rights Comission and civil society organisations. A key item on the agenda is likely to be Nasheed’s interest in establishing a human rights mechanism in SAARC.

The visit is the first such visit to the Maldives by a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.