Senior MDP figures call on party to reconsider protesting on Friday

Senior figures of the uling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) together with a number of supporters have started signing a petition calling on MDP’s National Council to reconsider an earlier decision to protest on Friday.

Secretary General of MDP Ahmed Shah today confirmed to Minivan News that some “hardcore figures” in the party has started signing the petition.

‘’I do not know who is in charge of this petition or who is taking the lead, but I have had reports that it is going on,’’ said Shah.

Asked about his opinion on the decision to hold a protest in support of moderate Islam at the same time as the opposition and religious NGO-organised ‘Defend Islam’ protest, he said that he and all MDP members were obliged to follow any decision made by the National Council.

He said the petition was expected to reach the National Council sometime this afternoon.

Press Secretary for the President Mohamed Zuhair today told Minivan News that a media report about a meeting supposedly held by the President this afternoon to meet with MDP National Council members was correct.

‘’The President has assured that he will go out with the MDP supporters to express support for moderate Islam and oppose extremism,’’ Zuhair said.

On Friday opposition political parties and a coalition of local NGOs have planned to conduct a protest to ‘’protect Islam.’’

Following the announcement of this protest, MDP’s National Council had a meeting and decided to hold a ‘moderate Islam’ protest at the same time as the opposition-NGO coalition protest.


Religious NGOs to hold “protest to protect Islam” on December 23

A coalition of religious NGOs have claimed that 100,000 people will join a protest in December “to protect Islam”, and called on “all Maldivians to take part”.

Speaking to the press at the Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation (MNBC) studio, President of the NGO Coalition Mohamed Didi said that more than 127 local NGOs, music clubs, political parties and Island Councils would take part in the protest on December 23.

According to MNBC, Didi said the protest was not a movement against the government but a movement “against all un-Islamic ideas.”

Opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Deputy Leader Ibrahim ‘Mavota’ Shareef warned that “our faith will not be shaken by something someone says, but because of these things it might turn the non-muslims living in neighboring countries against us.’’

MNBC reported that the People’s Alliance Party (PA) had called on parents to bring children to the gathering.

Local newspaper Sun quoted Didi as saying that the government had been conducting many activities with the motive of erasing Islam from the country, and claimed that the NGO coalition was “left with no other choice but to protest to protect Islam.”

Senior officials from the Adhaalath Party, Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) and Jumhoree Party (JP) were present at today’s meeting.

Claims that national monuments placed in Addu for the SAARC Summit were idolatrous and hostility towards a call by UN Human Rights Ambassador Navi Pillay for a national debate on flogging sparked protests in Male’ recently.

“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,” Pillay said, referring to the practice of flogging a punishment for fornication.

Press Secretary for the President Mohamed Zuhair did not respond to Minivan News at time of press.


Islamic Minister, MPs, PPM and religious groups condemn UN Human Rights Commissioner

Statements by visiting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay calling for a moratorium on flogging as a punishment for fornication and criticising the Muslim-only clause for citizenship in the Maldivian constitution have been widely condemned by religious NGOs, public officials and political parties.

In an address delivered in parliament last Thursday, Pillay said the practice of flogging women found guilty of extra-marital sex “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.”

The UN human rights chief called for a public debate “on this issue of major concern.” In a press conference later in the day, Pillay called on the judiciary and the executive to issue a moratorium on flogging.

On article 9(d) of the constitution, which states “a non-Muslim may not become a citizen of the Maldives,” Pillay said the provision was “discriminatory and does not comply with international standards.”

Local media widely misreported Pillay as stating during Thursday evening’s press conference that she did not believe the Maldives had a Constitution, which prompted a great deal of public outrage. Her comment, however, was in response to a challenge from Miadhu Editor Gabbe Latheef, who asked “if you believe we have a Constitution, why are you speaking against our Constitution?”

“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,” Pillay said on Minivan News’s recording of the press conference, however her phrasing was widely misinterpreted by the media.

Shortly after Pillay’s speech in parliament, Islamic Minister Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari told local media that “a tenet of Islam cannot be changed” and flogging was a hudud punishment prescribed in the Quran (24:2) and “revealed down to us from seven heavens.”

Bari noted that article 10 of the constitution established Islam as “the basis of all the laws of the Maldives” and prohibited the enactment of any law “contrary to any tenet of Islam,” adding that the Maldives has acceded to international conventions with reservations on religious matters such as marriage equality.

In his Friday prayer sermon the following day, Bari asserted that “no international institution or foreign nation” had the right to challenge the practice of Islam and adherence to its tenets in the Maldives.

Meanwhile, the religious conservative Adhaalath Party issued a statement on Thursday contending that tenets of Islam and the principles of Shariah were not subject to modification or change through public debate or democratic processes.

Adhaalath Party suggested that senior government officials invited a foreign dignitary to make statements that they supported but were “hesitant to say in public.”

The party called on President Mohamed Nasheed to condemn Pillay’s statements “at least to show to the people that there is no irreligious agenda of President Nasheed and senior government officials behind this.”

The Adhaalath statement also criticised Speaker Abdulla Shahid and MPs in attendance on Thursday for neither informing Pillay that she “could not make such statements” nor making any attempt to stop her or object to the remarks.

The party insisted that Pillay’s statements and the SAARC monuments in Addu City were “not isolated incidents” but part of a “broad scheme” by the government to “pulverize Islam in the Maldives and introduce false religions”.

Later that night, the Civil Society Coalition – a network of NGOs that campaigned successfully against regulations to allow sale of alcohol in city hotels to non-Muslims last year – announced a nation-wide mass protest on December 23 against the government’s alleged efforts to securalise the country.

Spokesperson Mohamed Didi claimed the current administration was pursuing an agenda to “wipe out the Islamic faith of the Maldivian people” through indoctrination and “plots” to legalize apostasy and allow freedom of religion.

He suggested that “the few people who cannot digest the religion of the people should immediately leave the country.”

The NGO coalition said it expected “over a 100,000 people” to participate in the planned protest.

Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) announced today that it would join the protest. PPM interim council member and religious scholar MP Dr Afrashim Ali told newspaper Haveeru that Pillay “can’t say that to us” and condemned the statements on behalf of the party.

Afrashim called on the executive, parliament and judiciary to enact a law prohibiting any statements that “opposes the principles of Islam.”

In a statement today, religious NGO Islamic Foundation of Maldives (IFM) strongly condemned Pillay’s remarks and criticised MPs for not objecting at Thursday’s event.

Pillay’s statements in parliament amounted to calling on MPs “to legalize fornication and gay marriage,” IFM contended.

“Therefore, anyone who agrees to this surely becomes an apostate,” the statement reads. “And if this [fornication and homosexuality] is spread anywhere, Almighty God has warned that fire will be rained upon them from the seven heavens.”

Meanwhile, a Facebook group was formed yesterday with members calling for her to be “slain and driven out of the country.”  The group currently has 207 members.

One member posted a banner to open a public debate on whether citizens should rise up and either “kill or lynch” those who “deny the Quran, not tolerate Islam and undermine the constitution.”
The opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) also issued a statement calling on the government not to accept Pillay’s suggestion for a public debate on flogging.
Although DRP Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali was the first to shake Pillay’s hand after her address, the party’s statement argued that “neither a Maldivian nor a foreigner has the right to consider the enforcement of a punishment specified in Islam a violation of human rights.”

Independent MP Mohamed ‘Kutti’ Nasheed meanwhile told newspaper Haveeru that Speaker Abdulla Shahid had to “bear full responsibility” for allowing Pillay to “talk about changing penalties of Islam in front of Muslims,” adding that Dhivehi translations of her address were distributed to MPs in advance.

“This is a very serious problem. You can’t say flogging is a form of violence against women,” he said.

Nasheed explained that Pillay’s remarks were tantamount to proclaiming in the Indian parliament that “worshiping cows is so uncivilised.”

Echoing Nasheed’s sentiments, MP Abdulla Abdul Raheem of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) said allowing Pillay to make her statements was “a mockery of parliament”, arguing that the Speaker’s decision to allow her “to openly speak against the constitution” violated parliamentary rules of procedure.

Local daily Haveeru also published an op-ed by editor Moosa Latheef censuring Speaker Abdulla Shahid and the MPs in attendance for not objecting to Pillay as her call for a public debate on flogging “made it very clear that she was working to shake the main pillar of Maldivians.”

Speaking at a UNDP event yesterday, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Ahmed Faiz noted that the constitution placed limits on free speech and the right to free expression “cannot be used under any circumstances outside of Islamic principles or in violation of a tenet of Islam.”

Protests led by religious groups that began outside the UN building yesterday are set to continue tonight near the tsunami memorial.


NGO coalition sets up table in front of Arabiyya to hear parent’s complaints

The same NGO coalition that once worked against the banning of alcohol in inhabited islands has now launched a campaign against the education sector of the Maldives, today setting up a table in front of Arabiyya school to collect complaints from parents.

‘’We have received several complaints from parents from different eight schools in Male,’’ said Ibrahim Mohamed, an official of the coalition’s analysing committee. “Parents are co-operating with us and raising their voices, many of them have concerning issues.’’

Ibrahim said the parents were demanding the education sector uphold the religion and article number 36[c] of the constitution.

Article 36 [c] reads ‘’Education shall strive to inculcate obedience to Islam, instil love for Islam, foster respect for human rights, and promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all people.’’

“The education sector of the Maldives is now operated not only against the constitution of the Maldives also against the manifesto of ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP),’’ Ibrahim claimed.

“The fact that President is not taking any action against this proves that he also has an agenda in this.’’

Ibrahim referred to article 67[g] of the constitution and said that making Dhivehi and Islam optional [at A-level] violated the article.

Article 67 (g) demands the preservation and protection of the state religion of Islam, culture, language and heritage of the country.

“It is against democracy to dismiss the voice of the citizens,’’ he said. “We regret that our president is dismissing our voice and refusing to meet us.’’

Yesterday the NGO coalition and some parents gathered near the President’s official residence and demanded to meet the president, before a riot police squad arrived and dispersed the crowd.

The series of gatherings triggered when the education ministry expressed an idea of making all government schools co-educational. Currently all but four are co-educational.

The NGO coalition, religious NGO Salaf, Adhaalath Party and the minority opposition People’s Alliance (PA) strongly condemned the idea.

Deputy Minister of Education Dr Abdulla Nazeer recently told Minivan News the ministry had not decided to mix female and male students in the secondary grades.

“But we have decided to establish primary grades in all the schools,’’ Nazeer said. ‘’So Majeediyya School, Dharumavantha, Ameeniyya and Hiriya will no longer be solely for secondary education.’’

Secondary education will be provided in all the primary schools as well, he added.

The Education Minister Mustafa Luthfy has come under pressure from religious NGOs and other concerned people, following the ministry steering committee’s proposal to make Dhivehi and Islam as optional subjects for A level students.


NGOs and parents protest against education sector outside president’s residence

A coalition of NGOs have begun a series of protests outside the President’s residence to express disapproval of the education sector of the Maldives.

A spokesperson for the NGO coalition, Ibrahim Moahmed, told Minivan News that the protesters waited peacefully outside the presidential residence over the weekend to express their disapproval of the education minister and his policy.

“There were parents, NGOs and other concerned people of the nation regarding numerous issues concerning the education sector,” said Ibrahim. “A person came from inside and told us we would get an appointment with the President tomorrow, and we all dispersed.”

Ibrahim said the NGO coalition consisted “of 127 NGOs.”

“50-60 people joined the protest,” he said.

The Education Ministry’s move towards co-education across all schools in the Maldives – currently only four are single sex – has drawn considerable consternation from many religious conservatives. Education Minister Dr Mustafa Luthfy is again in the spotlight after protests were held outside his house earlier this year following a proposal from the Ministry’s steering committee suggesting that Islam and Dhivehi be made optional at A-level.

Currently only 2000 of the 10,000 students who sit O-levels each year pass enough subjects to continue to A-level studies. This troubling statistic, identified by Luthfy as one of the country’s key social problems, results in approximately 8000 disaffected 15-16 year-olds released onto the streets annually, with little hope of finding a job until they turn 18.

More recently a debate has been sparked over the merits and demerits of co-education.

Referencing “a World Health Organisation (WHO) report”, Ibrahim claimed that a rising number of sexual relationship “is more concerning for the Maldives than the issue of illegal narcotics.”

He noted that the NGO coalition had sought to file the issue of co-education with parliament’s national security committee today.

The NGO coalition says they have highlighted 22 issues concerning the education sector.

On 4 October, the Adhaalath Party said the government’s new co-education policy was “a failed Western concept inconsistent with the teachings of Islam.”

On the next day, religious NGO Jamiyyathulsalaf called for the resignation of Education Minister Dr Musthafa Luthfy, and claimed that Arabiyya was the only Maldivian school with an adequate education policy.

In the same strain, the minority opposition party People’s Alliance (PA), led by the former president’s brother MP Abdulla Yameen, strongly condemned the idea of introducing co-education.

Press Secretary for the President Mohamed Zuhair did not respond to Minivan News at time of press.