Democracy suffers in Maldives in the face of rising fundamentalism: Asia Sentinel

The Indian Ocean paradise Maldives, until recently a moderate Muslim state, is the latest Asian country to witness a troubling rise in ultraconservative Wahhabi Islam imported from the Middle East, writes Annapoorna Karthika for the Asia Sentinel.

On June 2, Ismail Rasheed, popularly known as ‘Hilath,’ was attacked outside his home when his throat was slit through his trachea, missing a vital artery by millimetres. Rasheed, an outspoken blogger advocating freedom of religion and a fierce critic of the growing religious extremism in the archipelago country, is expected to survive the near-fatal attempt on his life, the second.

The gruesome assault on Rasheed cannot be treated as an isolated episode. It is an upshot of the rising religious radicalization in Maldives, whose constitution does not allow any national to practice a religion other than Islam.

Maldives, like many other countries in the world, fits a description of democracy in which popular attention to real democracy remains constrained, with the government paying only lip service to its forms but not its core values. According to the scholar Amitai Etzioni, the world today conflates its understanding of democracy with liberalism. The casting of votes by the people of a territory toward electing a government is indispensable for a flourishing democracy irrespective of the commitment of the elected government toward liberal principles such as individual’s freedom of speech and expression, indispensable civil liberties and rights of individuals.

In Maldives, the parliament’s decision to create a multiparty system in 2005 was upheld as significant progress in welcoming democracy to the country. In this regard, the emergence of the conservative Adhaalath party is criticized to have contributed toward the precarious swelling of religious intolerance, which threatens the realization of substantive democracy in Maldives. Although many scholars believe in the compatibility between Islam and liberal democracy, the Wahhabi movement in Maldives has been able to radicalize the religion by encouraging the use of violence to suppress voices of dissent.

Yet Maldives continues to be called a democracy. The forthcoming days are critical to see if they affirm the fundamentalist belief that democracy is a scourge to the freedom and individual rights of Maldivians.

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Government nominates, shuffles ambassadors

The President’s Defence Advisor, Amin Faisal, has been nominated for the post of Maldives Ambassador to India, Haveeru reports. Faisal was nominated to replace current Ambassador to India Abdul Aziz Yousuf.

Bangladeshi Ambassador Ahmed Sareer was also nominated as the Maldives’ Ambassador to the US, while the Ambassador to Singapore, Mohamed Haleel, was nominated for the Maldives’ ambassador post in Bangladesh.

Deputy Ambassador to Singapore Ibrahim ‘Mody’ Didi has been promoted to the ambassador post in Singapore. Ahmed Rasheed of Karankaage/Shaviyani atoll Maaugoodhoo was nominated as the Maldives Ambassador to United Arab Emirates (UAE).

A complete list of nominations was sent to the parliamentary National Security Committee today, Haveeru News reports.


Government to shut down temporary jail at Gan

The government will shut down the temporary jail at the Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) base on Gan in Addu atoll.

The Gan jail was set up to accommodate prisoners after inmates at Maafushi jail started a fire and damaged several buildings last year. The arrangement came under criticism following complaints that prisoners were being kept in ‘cages’ and denied human rights, including contact with their families and basic necessities such as soap and clothes. In addition, the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) expressed concern that the jail was using military personnel to handle the civilian prisoners.

Press secretary for the president’s office Mohamed Zuhair said all inmates will be transferred from Gan to jails in Male’ atoll ”within the week”.

He said that some of the inmates would be getting parole while others would get to participate in rehabilitation programs.

”We have decided to shut down the jail for many reasons,” Zuhair said. ”As the government said, it was only a temporary jail.”

However Director General of the Department of Penitentiary and Rehabilitation Service (DPRS) Mohamed Rasheed said the department ”has not formally announced the closing of Gan jail” and that it was still operating.

”There are some inmates who have been transferred to Male’ for house arrest,” he said. ”They are people who have reasons, such as medical treatment.”

He refused to divulge further information, stating that “we cannot give full details about the jail and inmates.”

State Minister for Home Affairs Ahmed Adil said the home ministry could not add anything to what the DPRS had said, but noted only 39 inmates were left at the Gan jail.

HRCM spokesman Mohamed Rilwan said the commission had not officially received any information about the jail’s closure, and was not sure of the reasons as to why the government had decided to close it.

The organisation has previously visited the jail and expressed concern that inmates may have been treated “like prisoners of war” rather than civilian prisoners by the jail’s military staff.

“We have no problem with the MNDF guarding the perimeter [of the prison], but direct contact with the inmates should be by civil authorities. MNDF personnel will treat the inmates like prisoners-of-war, not criminals,” said HRCM President Ahmed Saleem at the time.

Saleem added that the prisoners were at the temporary prison because some inmates set fire to the Maafushi jail, and “there wasn’t enough space there. We don’t want to release them, but they need to be treated humanely.”

Brigadier General Ibrahim Mohamed Didi, in charge of the Gan MNDF base, responded to criticism of the jail by acknowledging that “this is a military training base, not a proper jail. We can’t provide facilities to the inmates for things such as family visits. As for matters such as toilets, we are doing the best we can, but they have to remember this is a military base and we can’t give them five star service.”

He noted that “the reason they are here is because they burnt the jail [at Maafushi], and a place was needed to keep them temporarily. This place was chosen,” he said.

A follow-up report on the jail is due to be published by HRCM soon.