Criminal Court delays religious scholar Sheikh Fareed’s trial

The Criminal Court has decided to delay the trial of controversial religious scholar Sheikh Ibrahim Fareed after the state lawyers told the court they wanted to withdraw the case.

According to local media, state lawyers told the Prosecutor Genral’s (PG) Office  had decided to withdraw the case because too much time has passed since Fareed had committed the offense.

Sheikh Fareed was charged for conducting religious sermons in some islands of Haa Dhaalu Atoll after the government cancelled his permission to preach in 2007. The last hearing in to the case was held on 30 January 2011.

Lawyers told the Criminal Court that the PG Office had sent letters to the court informing of the decision to withdraw charges, but the court had refused to accept the letters. Instead, the letters were handed to the judge during today’s hearing.

The judge told the state prosecutor there were many charges the PG Office should withdraw if charges against Fareed are to be dismissed, and said the PG Office should treat everyone equally when dealing with such matters.

The judge also said that the PG Office cannot decide to withdraw cases filed at the court with the ongoing leadership vacuum at the PG office.

The Criminal Court will only accept the withdrawal if the new PG wished to withdraw charges, the judge said. A next hearing will be held after a new PG is appointed by the new parliament, he added.

When charges were first filed against Sheikh Fareed, the President of Islamic Foundation of Maldives (IFM) Ibrahim Fauzy told Minivan News that Fareed was arrested alongside many MDP delegates while he was aboard a boat traveling from Thinadhoo in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll in the year 2007.

”The former Religious Unity Act is contradictory to the new constitution, it is not acceptable to charge Sheikh Fareed over this issue,” said Fauzy. ”It is all related to politics. The former government confiscated his permission to preach, and later he only spoke at political rallies when he was in the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).”

Sheikh Fareed was arrested several times during the former regime for his participation in anti-governmental protests. According to the local media, he was also once charged with terrorism but acquitted.

In 2007 he was the vice president of MDP religious council but resigned after alleging that the party was against Islam.


Four additional cases sent to state prosecutors over Afrasheem murder

Police have forwarded cases of four additional individuals to the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) for their alleged involvement in the murder of MP Dr Afrasheem Ali last year – taking the total number of suspects facing charges over the attack to seven.

Police today confirmed that cases had been filed with the PGO on September 23 against Azleef Rauf, Shaahin Mohamed, Adam Salaah and Abdulla ‘Jaa’ Javid – son-in-law of opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Chair ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik.

Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Dr Afrasheem Ali was stabbed to death on the night of October 1, 2012, on the staircase of his home.

State prosecutors have previously accused Hussain Humam of going to the residence of Dr Afrasheem and murdering him with a machete and a bayonet knife.

Along with Humam, Ali Shan faces the same charges. A minor identified as ‘Nangi’ meanwhile stands accused of aiding and abetting the murder, after police claimed he had accompanied Humam and Shan to the residence of Dr Afrasheem before the attack.

Previous hearings

In August this year, two police officers testified at the Criminal Court against key suspect Hussein Humam, claiming they had discovered incriminating text messages on his phone during a random search on the night of the murder. The message was said by the police witnesses to discuss a failure to receive a payment the suspect he had been promised.

The police officer did not identify the recipient of the text message during the hearing, alleging that Humam – who they had stopped many times previously – was under the influence of an illegal substance and acting out of character.

Humam had initially denied charges against him in court.  He later confessed to the crime at a hearing held in May, according to a statement read out by prosecutors in the court/ State prosecutors read out the statement in court, which was said to have been given by Humam at one of the initial hearings.

The statement claimed that son-in-law of ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik, Abdulla ‘Jaa’ Javid, had offered to pay him MVR 4 million for the murder of MP Afrasheem. However at a subsequent hearing in June, Humam retracted his confession claiming that he had been coerced by police.

Humam’s father has also written to the Criminal Court and the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives accusing police of conducting psychological abuse against the suspect, and exerting coercion to make him confess to a crime he did not commit.

Political calls

To mark one year since the attack that killed the MP yesterday (October 1), the PPM called on the country’s courts to expedite trials of all those involved in the case in order to “enforce due justice” on the attackers, according to local media.

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) last month meanwhile condemned alleged insinuations by religious NGO Jamiyyathul Salaf preacher Sheikh Adam Shameem Ibrahim suggesting that the party was behind Dr Afrasheem’s murder.

Following the first round of voting in which the MDP took 45.45 percent of the popular vote and secured its place as front runner in a run-off vote that remains indefinitely suspended by the country’s Supreme Court, the party slammed what it alleged was an “incitement of hatred” by the NGO.

Police investigation

The Maldives Police Services (MPS) announced in October 2012 that the FBI were extending assistance in the investigation of the MPs murder.

Commissioner of Police Abdulla Riyaz later stated during a press conference held in December 2012 that the murder of Afrasheem had been carried out with a political motive, and that the culprits were to be paid MVR 4 million (US$ 260,000).

Riyaz had at the time dismissed claims that the murder was linked to religious fundamentalists, stating “no evidence has been gathered which suggests this murder had a religious motive.”

Soon after the murder police arrested two MDP activists – Mariyam Naifa and Ali Hashim ‘Smith’ – in connection with the attack. Both suspects were later released without charge.

The MDP later accused the government of attempting to frame the party with “politically-motivated arrests” of its members. In November 2012, former President Mohamed Nasheed accused the government of negligence in its efforts to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Last appearance

On the night of his murder, Dr Afrasheem had made his last public appearance on a live talk show on state broadcaster Television Maldives (TVM) titled “Islamee Dhiriulhun” (Islamic Living).

In the program, Dr Afrasheem said he was deeply saddened and asked for forgiveness from citizens if he had created a misconception in their minds due to his inability to express himself in the right manner.

Minister of Islamic Affairs Sheikh Shaheem Ali Saeed was meanwhile quoted in local media as saying that the Islamic Ministry had not forced Dr Afrasheem to offer a public apology for anything in his last television appearance.

Dr Afrasheem’s moderate positions on subjects such as listening to music had drawn stringent criticism from more conservative religious elements, who dubbed him “Dr Ibilees” (“Dr Satan”).

In 2008, the scholar was kicked and chased outside a mosque after Friday prayers, while more recently in May 2012, the religious Adhaalath Party released a statement condemning Afrasheem for allegedly “mocking the Sunnah”.

In a three-page press release (Dhivehi) released on July 10, 2008, NGO Salaf listed Dr Afrasheem’s alleged transgressions and advised the moderate religious scholar to “fear Allah, stop talking any way you please of things you do not know of in the name of religion and [stop] twisting [Islamic] judgements to suit your personal wishes”.


Police send names of two suspects in Afrasheem murder case to PG’s Office

The Maldives Police Service has this week sent the case of two suspects arrested over the murder of Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP and Religious Scholar Dr Afrasheem Ali to the Prosecutor General’s (PG’s) Office.

According to Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz’s twitter feed, files on the two suspects were sent to the PG’s Office yesterday.

The two suspects were later identified by the police as Hussain Humam Ahmed of Henveiru Lobby and Ali Shan of Henveiru Hicost.

Just last week, a Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) officer was also reported to have been arrested in connection with the Afrasheem investigation.  However, the police and MNDF have yet to officially confirm the reports.

The Maldives Police Service has said that current policy when providing information regarding the investigation of Dr Afrasheem was to withhold all details from media until  official press conferences on the case were held.

At the last conference held on December 4, Commissioner Riyaz said that the murder of  Dr Afrasheem was well-planned, insisting the attack was politically motivated and funded.

Riyaz alleged that assassins were thought to have been offered MVR 4 million (US$260,000) for the attack.

In a presentation at the time, the police commissioner claimed that 11 suspects had been arrested in connection to the case so far – although three were later released.

He said that 200 items had been collected by police for use as forensic and digital evidence.

“Over 500 hours of CCTV footage have been analysed, more than 100 people have been interviewed and about 13,000 phone call recordings have been analysed out of which 12,000 were from one single tower,” Riyaz claimed at the time.

Afrasheem was killed on October 1. His wife discovered his body lying on the staircase of their home.

Dr Afrasheem was elected to parliament in 2009 as a member of the then-opposition Dhivehi Rayithunge Party (DRP). Following a split within the former opposition party, Afrasheem sided with the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM), which was established by former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Widely considered in the country an Islamic moderate, Dr Afrasheem took outspoken and controversial positions on issues such as the permissibility of playing music, and praying next to the deceased.


New religious unity regulations crack down on extremist preaching in Maldives

New religious unity regulations have been published in the government’s gazette cracking down on extremist and unlicensed preaching of Islam in the Maldives.

The regulations reflect the enforcement of the Religious Unity Act and were originally put forward by the Islamic Ministry, but have undergone numerous drafts and revisions over the past year. The penalty for violating the regulations under the Act is 2-5 years imprisonment, banishment or house arrest.

Under the regulations – the government’s interpretation of the Act – scholars foreign or local must be licensed to preach in the Maldives by the Islamic Ministry, and have received at least a first degree at one of 36 listed universities.

None of these are Maldivian institutions, although the regulations stipulate that new institutions would be evaluated on a case by case basis, and the list reviewed every three months.

The regulations contain general principles for the delivery of religious sermons. These include an emphasis on specifically referencing the Quran when statements are made, and clarifying the authenticity of Hadith.

Preachers are instructed not to express anything “against general agreement” reached among Islamic scholars, or provide any information “ about issues disputed among Islamic scholars that serves to create disunity among the people and result in internal conflicts.”

The regulations also require preachers to refrain “from passing off as Islam one’s personal stand – that may result in obstruction of human progress and development and hinder modern findings and intellectual advancements.”

Controversially, preachers are also asked not to preach in a manner that flaunts human dignity, that may be interpreted as racial and gender discrimination, prevent people from education or health services in the name of Islam, or demeans the character or creates hatred towards people of any other religion.

Foreign scholars preaching in the Maldives “should not talk against Maldives’ social norms, nor should they criticise Maldives’ domestic policies and laws,” the regulations state.

It remains illegal to propagate any other religion other than Islam, and to carry or display in public books on religions other than Islam, “and the translation into Dhivehi language such books and writings on other religions.” Proselytising by foreigners remains punishable by deportation.

Articles involving comparisons between Islam and other religions, “and description of sayings and expressions about Islam by people of other religions, and dissemination of Muslim expressions on other religions”, are exempt, according to the regulations.

Media is banned from producing or publicising programs, talking about or disseminating audio “that humiliates Allah or his prophets or the holy Quran or the Sunnah of the Prophet (Mohamed) or the Islamic faith.”

“This also includes the broadcasting of material (on other religions) produced by others and recording of such programs by the local broadcaster, and broadcasting such material by the unilateral decision of the local broadcaster,” the regulations stipulate.


At a press conference today, the Islamic Foundation of Maldives (IFM) contended that the regulations conflicted with both the Maldivian constitution and the Quran.

In February this year, the IFM filed a case at the High Court requesting that outdated provisions in the Protection of Religious Unity Act of 1994 be abolished.

Article 2(b) of the Act states that permission to preach or offer instruction in religious matters must be sought in writing with the President.

Islamic Foundation Lawyer Shaheem Ahmed argued today that the Act conflicted with article 27 of the constitution, which states that, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought and the freedom to communicate opinions and expressions in a manner that is not contrary to any tenet of Islam.”

“Sadly however no hearings have been conducted in this case so far. We don’t know why this is so,” he said.

In addition, Shaheem argued, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs did not have the legal authority to enact regulations that restricts or limits fundamental rights and freedoms enumerated in chapter two of the constitution.

Article 16 states that the rights and freedoms contained in the chapter could be restricted “only to such reasonable limits prescribed by a law enacted by the People’s Majlis”.

“After this regulation was approved, from this day onward no one without a degree could teach Islam in any school in the country,” he said, adding that imparting knowledge of Islam by a person without a degree would also be illegal.

As provision 5(l) of the regulations prohibits speech that could “incite hatred among the public, demean or undermine the human dignity of followers of another religion,” Shaheem noted that the Quran described Jews as “evil people and liars” and cautioned against “taking Jews as your friends.”

“Would expressing something like this from the Quran incite hatred or love towards us from Jews?” he asked. “The people who formulated this regulation should consider that the basis of Islam is the Quran.”

Quran 2:120 states that, “Never will the Jews or Christians be pleased with you till you follow their religion” while 5:51 reads, “Take not the Jews and the Christians as Auliya’ (friends, protectors, helpers, etc.), they are but Auliya’ to one another. And if any amongst you takes them as Auliya’, then surely he is one of them. Verily, Allah guides not those people who are the Zalimun (polytheists and wrong-doers and unjust).”

Sheikh Ibrahim Fareed Ahmed meanwhile called on Islamic Minister Dr Abdul Majeed Bari to “repent” for approving a regulation that conflicted with the Quran.

“[The regulations] obstruct the freedom granted by Almighty God to spread Islam. It is therefore completely void,” he claimed.

Fareed called on the government to review the regulations and reconsider enforcing the new rules, urging Islamic Minister Bari to consult religious scholars who were not Adhaalath party members and “not make such decisions on your own.”

“We urge very respectfully and with affection, to reconsider this and change [the regulations] so that it does not conflict with the Quran,” he said. “And don’t try to narrow Islamic matters in the country.”

IFM President Ibrahim Fauzee meanwhile revealed that the foundation was preparing to mount a legal challenge to the regulations at the Supreme Court.

Adhaalath Party condemns regulations

The Adhaalath Party, which controls the Islamic Ministry, issued a press statement today criticising the removal of “very important principles” from the original draft, and distanced the party’s religious scholars from the regulations.

The statement notes that the regulations were drafted by a legal team from police and 11 prominent religious scholars and approved by three Attorney Generals.

“We would like to inform the beloved Maldivian people that the party condemns [the changes] in the harshest terms and the party’s religious scholars and members renounces the gazetted regulations,” it reads.

“We note that provisions from English law have been added that were not in the regulations before and are not suited to a 100 percent Islamic community. We also note that other dangerous changes have been made to the regulations,” reads the statement signed by Sheikh Ilyas Hussein, vice-president of Adhaalath party’s council of religious scholars.

“While the Minister of Islamic Affairs [Dr Bari, president of the religious scholars council] was requested to not agree to publishing the regulations in the gazette without consultation with the party’s
scholars, we want to reveal that the regulations were brought out in the form it is in the gazette without any discussion at all with Adhaalath party’s council of religious scholars.”

Among the clauses that were removed were provisions outlining criteria for issuing preaching licenses, and prohibitions on broadcasting “un-Islamic” material.

These included provisions that preachers must be Sunni, and according to the Adhaalath Party, a provision requiring that religious fatwas (edicts or rulings) must be issued in accordance with the Sunni sect
was also removed, and so-called ‘blasphemy’ laws appeared to be toned down.

Laws forbidding independent prayer congregations were also scrapped.

The amendment regulations published in the government gazette yesterday was made up of 12 provisions, whereas previous drafts contained 40 provisions and a number of sub-clauses.

A more ‘academic’ approach

Former member of the Special Majlis and the new Constitution’s drafting committee, Ibrahim ‘Ibra’ Ismail, who was involved in redrafting the regulations, told Minivan News that they set out a more “academic” approach to preaching Islam in the Maldives, and were targeted at curbing the spread of extremism.

“[The regulations] do not impinge on freedom of expression, compared to the first draft, and I believe we have taken out those elements,” Ibra said.

“We have observed in this country and elsewhere that there are people who misquote the Quran and twist it around to propagate their agenda. These provisions curb that,” he explained.

“What in effect we are ensuring is that preachers should not say whatever comes to their mind. We say that if those preaching religion must refer to sources – the Quran and the Prophet’s sayings – so someone can independently verify if they wish.

“Where scholars deliver sources on areas and issues that are in dispute, these regulations require that they should state that,” he said.

“We put in a provision that prohibits hate speech, such as no one should propagate xenophobia or negative sentiments towards other religious.”

The criminalisation of those who violated the Act was not stipulated by the regulations, but in law, he explained.

“Currently the parliament is reviewing the relevant legislation (the Religous Unity Act), what we are doing is simply setting out how this can be enforced,” Ibra said, confirming that 2-5 years sentences was “more or less” what was in the Act.

Enforcement would ultimately be a court decision, he explained, with the Islamic Ministry only having the right to temporarily suspend preaching license pending the outcome of the court decision.

Ibra suggested that religious groups active in the Maldives – such as the Islamic Foundation of the Maldives and Jamiyyath-al-Salaf – should welcome the regulations, “as until now there has been a move by some people to silence them. These regulations do not silence them, but ask them to engage and follow procedures in their work. There are no ramifications for any particular group – again this different to what was originally proposed.”

He disputed that outlawing extremist preaching would drive the practice underground, and lead to a repeat of the 2007 Himandhoo incident, in which islanders donned red motorcycle helmets and armed themselves with batons and knives to defend the Dhar al Khuir mosque from a police crackdown.

In the ensuing skirmish, a policeman was taken captive and another’s hand was severed. Shortly afterwards a video discovered on an Al Qaeda forum was found to contain footage taken inside the Dhar-al-khuir mosque moments before it was raided by police.

“Himandhoo  was not based on religion – those where highly politicised times,” Ibra said. “What I believe is that this will allow liberal-minded thinkers to convince people of the middle ground. Initially there may be some reactions, but I’m optimistic.”

Download an unofficial translation of the new regulations (English)


Zakir Naik venue “only for football”, says Youth Ministry

The Youth Ministry has denied the Islamic Ministry use of the Maafaanu football ground for the sermons of visiting Islamic scholar Zakir Naik.

Minister for Youth Hassan Latheef said that the ground was a football stadium which was used by many young people every day, ”so it is very difficult to give that land.”

Latheef said that if the ground was given for the sermon then “others” will also start requesting use of the venue.

”That land cannot be given to do anything other than football,” Latheef said. ”If you take a look, you can see people playing everywhere, in the middle, sides and outside also.”

Latheef said that the Youth Ministry was now speaking with the Islamic Ministry to see if they would like to have the ‘Alimas’ Carnival Stage instead.

”We spoke with the Municipality council and they said the carnival stage was possible,” Latheef said, ”but the Islamic ministry said that land was not large enough.”

He said the Islamic Minister Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari had telephoned him while he was out of the country, ” and told me the Islamic Ministry was hosting a sermon by Zakir Naik and asked if the football ground was possible,” Latheef said. ”I said yes, let’s see whether it is possible.”

He said the Ministry has now received another request from a religious group requesting the Galolhu national stadium for a religious event.

State minister for Islamic Affairs Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed said that the Youth Ministry had recently told him that the football ground was available, but now denied it.

”Later they said it was a land only for entertainment purposes,” Shaheem said.

He said the Islamic Ministry was now searching for another venue to host the event and would announce it very soon, but he noted that the carnival stage was not big enough for the expected turnout. The Islamic Ministry has previously claimed that Naik’s visit will be the biggest event ever hosted in the Maldives.

”There are many challenges that we face,” Shaheem said, ”from many people and in many ways. I want to tell everyone that by God’s will we will host the event – everyone be patient and don’t commit any violence,” he said.

The Adhaalath party meanwhile expressed anger over the issue on their English language website, noting that the Islamic Ministry “has spent a large amount of money to print posters mentioning the stadium grounds as the venue.”

“The decision of the Youth Ministry not to give the stadium grounds for holding the lecture event will only add to the piles of questions about this government’s loyalty to the religion of this nation,” the party said, in a recent post.

“The pretext given was that they cannot do without the ball for one whole week. The youth who play there may not like it. What about the thousands of Maldivians who want the event to be held in the most spacious and suitable ground available? Don’t their feelings count?”

“The irony is that the majority of the people who will be attending Dr Zakir’s lecture will be youth,” the party said.

“Such blatant acts of obstruction to Islamic activities will only help in further plummeting the popularity of this government. It would appear that this is a ‘tit for tat’ by the secular minded people in the establishment because the Islamic Ministry and many citizens of this country criticised the Akon concert.

“What these people do not realize is that the people of Maldives are watching. Everyday their actions are exposing them for what they are: men who don’t care about the wishes of the vast majority of Maldivians. They continually forget that this is a Muslim country. They have very little, if any, loyalty to Islam and the nation.”

President of Adhaalath Party Sheikh Hussain Rasheed told Minivan News that the land “should be given equally to everyone.”

”The Youth Ministry just don’t like it because it is religious event,” Sheikh Rasheed claimed.

Sheikh Rasheed said that there would also be youths attending the event.

”I just want to thank the youth ministry for raising this as an issue and campaigning like this,” he said. ”Before we were expecting 10,000 people for the event, but now we are expecting 20,000.”

Speaking in a press conference on decentralisation today, President Mohamed Nasheed said the government would endeavour to provide a venue for the event, “and there is no doubt about that.”

“There is freedom of expression in this country and people should be able to express their viewpoints within the basic boundries of our law, so we have to find a venue for them,” he said.