RSF urges government to deploy all necessary resources to find missing journalist

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has called on the Maldives government to deploy all necessary resources to find missing Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla.

Minivan News strongly believes Rilwan was abducted in the early hours of August 8. The paper has received multiple eyewitness statements claiming they saw a man being forced into a car at knifepoint around 2 am on August 8 in front of Rilwan’s building.

“We are extremely worried by Rilwan’s disappearance and urge the authorities to step up their efforts to find him as quickly as possible,” said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire.

“There is every reason to be concerned about Rilwan, especially as gangs and religious extremists are very often responsible for threats to journalists. Ismail Hilath Rasheed, a freelance journalist known for his support for religious tolerance, only narrowly survived a murder attempt in June 2012.”

The press freedom advocacy group said they are “very concerned” about Rilwan’s disappearance and has urged “the Maldives authorities to deploy whatever resources are necessary to find him.”

The Maldives Police Services at a press conference on Sunday night said Rilwan’s case was of “high priority,” but declined to reveal details of the investigation.


CCTV footage from the Hulhumalé ferry terminal in Malé, obtained by Minivan News, shows Rilwan entering the waiting area at 12:44am wearing a black shirt.

A tweet from Rilwan’s account @moyameeha at 1:02am implies he was on the one oclock ferry, suggesting he would have reached his apartment building between 1:30am and 2am on August 8. Another man who claimed to have sat next to Rilwan on the ferry has also been identified entering the ferry terminal at 12:45am on CCTV footage.

Neighbors claimed they heard screaming and rushed out on to their balcony. They saw a man being forced into a vehicle, from just 20 feet away.

The abductor described as a tall thin man dropped something on the ground as he got into the car after the captive. The car sped off, its door still open, eyewitnesses said.

A third neighbor went down to the street and found a knife on the ground. He subsequently notified the police, who took statements and confiscated the weapon.

Minivan News understands no other person has been reported missing from Hulhumalé.

Security experts with experience in counter terrorism have alleged an “unholy alliance” between gangs and religious radicals following a number of abductions in June, and told Minivan News Rilwan has been considered a target for his outspoken views.

Rilwan regularly reports on religious issues, politics and the environment.

The RSF has ranked Maldives 108th of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, marking a decline in press freedom for the third consecutive year.

The downgrading came after Raajje TV journalist Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed was nearly beaten to death in February 2013 and the station’s offices and equipment were destroyed in an arson attack in October.

A staggering 84 percent of journalists in the Maldives in May reported receiving threats, from political parties, gangs and religious extremists.


Death threats lead to self-censorship, says Reporters Without Borders

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has called on the Maldives to guarantee the safety of journalists after 15 journalists received threatening text messages regarding coverage of gangs in Malé.

“Death threats lead to self–censorship,” said Benjamin Ismail, head of RSF’s Asia- Pacific Desk.

“The authorities have a duty to guarantee the safety of journalists. This includes arresting those responsible for these threats. The authorities must end the culture of intimidation and impunity by ceasing to turn a blind eye to abuses by the rival gangs.”

Journalists with Haveeru, Raajje TV, Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), Villa TV (VTV), Sun Online, and Vaguthu received an anonymous text on Wednesday saying, “[We] will kill you if you keep writing inappropriate articles about gangs in the media.”

The threats came in the wake of extensive coverage of a spate of violence in Malé which saw one dead and nine hospitalised with serious injuries.

The press freedom advocacy group cited a Maldives Broadcasting Commission report published in May, in which journalists said political parties were the main source of threats against journalists, followed by gangs and religious extremists.

“The threats encourage self–censorship, with 30 percent of journalists saying they are afraid of covering gang activity and 43 percent saying they do not report threats to the authorities,” the RSF said.

The organisation noted that although death threats are frequent in the Maldives, they are rarely carried out. However, the near fatal- beating of Raajje TV journalist Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed sets a “disturbing precedent.”

“As Malé is a small town, journalists have nowhere to hide when they are threatened,” noted RSF.

Speaking to Minivan News today, Asward condemned his 18 month long wait for justice. After a second witness failed to identify suspects with absolute certainty at the Criminal Court today, Asward said delays affect memory and allow attackers to tamper with evidence.

“Each day of delay is one more day without justice,” he said.

He called on the courts to expedite the trial and said he had no confidence the courts may deliver justice.

“It’s quite possible that the case will conclude saying that I beat myself up,” he said.

The Maldives Police Services have said the near fatal attack was not politically motivated, but connected to gang activity. Asward has denied this claim.

Gangs often seek media coverage of their actions, but turn against the media when the coverage is not to their liking or when media covers activities of rival gangs, note RSF today.

Gangs enjoy “complete impunity,” as politicians use them to threaten and pressure journalists or people they regard as opponents the organisation said.

The organisation also noted slow progress on prosecuting those responsible for the attack on Asward and the arson attack which destroyed Raajje TV office in October.

“Although the authorities have promised to defend media freedom, they have made little progress.”

Maldives is ranked 108th out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index.

Six opposition parliamentarians have also reported receiving death threats on Sunday.


Minivan News journalist among RSF’s 100 information heroes

Minivan News journalist Mariyath Mohamed has been named an “Information Hero” by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day (May 3).

The 100 information heroes “are a source of inspiration to all men and women who aspire to freedom. Without their determination and the determination of all those like them, it would be simply impossible to extend the domain of freedom,” said RSF’s Secretary General Christophe Deloire.

The RSF commends Mariyath’s coverage of the growing influence of radical Islamist groups in the Maldives in the aftermath of the controversial transfer of power in February 2012.

“I feel both honoured and humbled to receive recognition of this scale. My intention has always been to bring controversial issues to the notice of the world, and prompt discussions on the issues both locally and globally. Due to the nature of the topics, there is often as much opposition, and threats, as support. I believe we cannot make a difference unless more of us take up the challenge and speak out,” Mariyath said.

During the first five months of 2013, she was constantly followed, threatened and attacked – on one occasion by men with a steel bar.

“Your sister has hanged herself and we can help you to do the same,” an anonymous letter slipped under her door in early 2013 read.

Mariyath’s coverage of a 15- year old rape victim who was sentenced to 100 lashes shocked the international community led to the sentence being rescinded.

The list of 100 information heroes comprises women and men of all ages (25 to 75) and 65 nations.

“This initiative aims to show that the fight for freedom of information requires not only active support for the victims of abuses but also the promotion of those who can serve as models,” the RSF said.

The list includes varied figures such as Anabel Hernandez, the author of a bestseller on the collusion between Mexican politicians and organized crime, Ismail Saymaz, a Turkish journalist who has been prosecuted a number of times for his reporting, and Gerard Ryle, the head of International Consortium of Investigative Journalists for contribution to the emergence of global investigative journalism.

Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, US citizens who were responsible for revealing the mass electronic surveillance methods used by the US and British intelligence agencies are also named.

In recent years, Maldivian journalists have come under growing threat with two journalists surviving murder attempts in 2013 and 2012.

In February 2013, opposition aligned broadcaster Raajje TV reporter Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed was nearly beaten to death, whilst the station’s offices and equipment were destroyed in an arson attack in October.

In June 2012, two men slashed freelance journalist and blogger Ismail ‘Hilath’ Rasheed’s throat with a box cutter. Hilath is currently seeking political asylum abroad.

The RSF has ranked Maldives 108 on its World Press Freedom Index in 2014, marking a decline in press freedom for the third consecutive year. Fiji, at 107, experienced a coup in 2006, and the Central African Republic, at 109, is in the midst of a civil war following a coup in 2013.


RSF “deplore attitude of police” in Raajje TV attack

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has condemned an arson attack that destroyed the headquarters of private broadcaster Raajje TV and has criticized the Maldives Police Services’ failure to defend the station despite repeated requests for police protection.

“This criminal act is a direct blow to freedom of information and we deplore the attitude of the police, who failed to do what was necessary to prevent the attack although the head of TV station requested protection a few hours before it took place,” RSF said in a statement on Monday.

CCTV footage of the attack shows six masked men armed with machetes and iron bars breaking into and entering the station’s headquarters and dousing its offices in gasoline before setting it alight.

Speaking to the press on Monday, Chief Superintendent of Police Abdulla Nawaz said the police had been unable to station officers at Raajje TV as many were being utilised at the Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) protests following a Supreme Court order to suspend presidential elections.

“Our human resources are too limited to have police stationed there. So we get the police to check the area when they are out on patrol,” he said. Nawaz also said the owners of Raajje TV were negligent in protecting their property given that they had heard of an impending attack.

“What I am saying is we are utilizing a lot of police officers in the current situation in Malé [the protests], this is not to say that we are not overseeing security on the streets of Malé. We would not do that. What I am saying is when something like this happens, Maldives Police Services gives the best service we can to everyone,” Nawaz said.

The police have received CCTV footage of the attack, but have not made any arrests yet. Nawaz appealed to the public to forward any information

“It is not just those people who carried out the act who are responsible and involved in this. We believe others are involved in this,” Nawaz added.

RSF have called on the police to launch an investigation immediately and urged the government to provide Raajje TV with proper equipment to help the station resume broadcast.

Broadcasting resumed

CCTV footage shows six masked men breaking the lock on a reinforced steel grill and the main wooden door, before dousing the station’s control room with gasoline and setting it alight. Further footage shows a fireball blowing the door of the station off its hinges as a massive explosion engulfed the control room.

The building’s security guard was held hostage during the attack and was later stabbed. He is currently receiving treatment for two stab wounds to his back. A woman who was trapped on the terrace of the building was rescued by the Maldivian National Defense Forces (MNDF).

“The police must immediately launch an investigation so that those who started this fire are arrested and brought to justice. We also call on the Maldivian authorities and the international community to help Raajje TV to resume providing news and information as soon as possible,” the RSF has said.

Reporters Without Borders added: “The national authorities have a duty to provide Raajje TV with proper equipment so that it can function in the same way as it did before the fire.”

Despite the fire destroying all of the station’s equipment, it started broadcasting a few hours after the attack – 12:40pm on Monday – with donated equipment.

The attack is the second raid on the station’s building by masked assailants. In the first attack, in August 2012, the attackers sabotaged equipment in the station and cut critical cabling.

Several Raajje TV journalists have also reported arbitrary arrests and assaults. In February 2013, men wielding iron rods on motorbikes assaulted Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed leaving him with near near-fatal head injuries.

According to Raajje TV the station had an audience of at least 95,000 people, one of the largest shares of Maldivian media.


Reporters Without Borders labels Maldives’ extremist groups “predators of press freedom”

International press freedom NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has included ‘extremist religious groups’ in the Maldives in its ‘Predators of Freedom of Information’ report for 2013.

The report, released to mark World Press Freedom Day on May 3, identifies ‘predators of press freedom’ around the world, including “presidents, politicians, religious leaders, militias and criminal organizations that censor, imprison, kidnap, torture and kill journalists and other news providers. Powerful, dangerous and violent, these predators consider themselves above the law.”

The 2013 report “accuses leaders and members of fanatical groups in the Maldives” of “intimidating media organisations and bloggers and threatening them with physical harm in order to force them to exercise self-censorship.”

The report also accuses extremist groups in the Maldives of “promoting of repressive legislation”, “debasement of political debate”, contributing to the “censorship of publications and the blocking of access to websites”, and “resorting to violence, and even murder, to silence dissident opinions.”

“Ever since the army mutiny that overthrew President Mohamed Nasheed in the Maldives in 2012, extremist religious groups have tried to use their nuisance power to extend their influence. They have become more aggressive as the [September 2013] presidential election approaches, intimidating news media and bloggers and using freedom of expression to impose a religious agenda while denying this freedom to others,” the report states.

The report identifies the general characteristics of media repression around the world, most notably the impunity those responsible enjoyed.

“Physical attacks on journalists and murders of journalists usually go completely unpunished. This encourages the predators to continue their violations of human rights and freedom of information,” the report stated.

“The 34 predators who were already on the 2012 list continue to trample on freedom of information with complete disdain and to general indifference. The leaders of dictatorships and closed countries enjoy a peaceful existence while media and news providers are silenced or eliminated.”

The report emphasises that failure to confront and prosecute those responsible for violations of press freedom was not due to a lack of laws, but rather selective or non-existent enforcement.

“The persistently high level of impunity is not due to a legal void. There are laws and instruments that protect journalists in connection with their work. Above all, it is up to individual states to protect journalists and other media personnel. This was stressed in Resolution 1738 on the safety of journalists, which the United Nations security council adopted in 2006,” the report stated.

“Nonetheless, states often fail to do what they are supposed to do, either because they lack the political will to punish abuses of this kind, or because their judicial system is weak or non-existent, or because it is the authorities themselves who are responsible for the abuses.”

Attacks on journalists

The Maldives plummeted to 103rd in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Press Freedom Index for 2013, a fall of 30 places and a return to pre-2008 levels.

“The events that led to the resignation of President Mohamed Nasheed in February led to violence and threats against journalists in state television and private media outlets regarded as pro-Nasheed by the coup leaders,” RSF observed, in its annual ranking of 179 countries.

“Attacks on press freedom have increased since then. Many journalists have been arrested, assaulted and threatened during anti-government protests. On June 5 2012, the freelance journalist and blogger Ismail “Hilath” Rasheed narrowly survived the first attempted murder of a journalist in the archipelago,” RSF noted in its report.

Rasheed, who subsequently fled the country, alleged the attacked was a targeted assassination attempt by Islamic radicals in retaliation for his public calls for religious tolerance. Police have yet to arrest anybody in connection with the murder attempt.

Subsequent to the the release of the press freedom index, Raajje TV journalist Ibrahim Waheed ‘Aswad’ suffered serious head injuries and was left in a critical condition after he was attacked on the street with an iron bar.

Waheed was attacked while he was on his way to see two Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) journalists, who were admitted to hospital after being attacked during opposition-led protests.

Following the attack, Aswad was airlifted to Sri Lanka for emergency surgery. He later recovered and returned to the Maldives.

Police have since forwarded cases against suspects Ahmed Vishan, 22, M. Carinlight Northside, and Hassan Raihan, 19, G. Fehima, for prosecution.

Press freedom day in the Maldives

Meanwhile, the Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) has launched a campaign calling for laws protecting journalists, “such as salaries, work hours and insurance for journalists,” according to MJA President and Editor of Sun Online, Ahmed ‘Hiriga’ Zahir.

The MJA showed a T-shirt promoting the ‘Working Journalists Act’, released as part of the campaign during a ceremony in the DhiTV studio.

According to Sun Online, MJA Secretary General Mundoo Adam Haleem “said that while the government has established an organisation to work for the benefit of media operators, people should ascertain for themselves who actually works for the benefit of media operators.”

Local media also reported on an acknowledgement of World Press Freedom Day during Friday’s sermon delivered all over the Maldives, encouraging people to draw a distinction between “press freedom” and “press fairness”.

An event organised by the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) to mark the signing of a five point pledge to uphold media freedom was meanwhile cancelled due to inclement weather.


Maldives plummets to 103rd in Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index

The Maldives has plummeted to 103rd in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Press Freedom Index, a fall of 30 places and a return to pre-2008 levels.

“The events that led to the resignation of President Mohamed Nasheed in February led to violence and threats against journalists in state television and private media outlets regarded as pro-Nasheed by the coup leaders,” RSF observed, in its annual ranking of 179 countries.

“Attacks on press freedom have increased since then. Many journalists have been arrested, assaulted and threatened during anti-government protests. On June 5, the freelance journalist and blogger Ismail “Hilath” Rasheed narrowly survived the first attempted murder of a journalist in the archipelago,” RSF noted in its report.

The index ranks countries according to levels of press and media freedoms. Countries with the best levels of press freedom rank highest, with northern European and Scandinavian countries filling the top three positions: Finland, Netherlands and Norway respectively. Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea took the bottom three places.

The Maldives’ ranking places it alongside Mali (99th), which experienced a military coup last year, and Fiji (107th), which experienced a coup in 2006.

Prior to the country’s first multi-party democratic election in 2008, the Maldives was ranked 104th – an improvement on its 2007 ranking of 129th, and 2006 – 144th. The country’s ranking in 2009-2010 reflected dramatic improvements in press freedom, rising to 51st and 52nd respectively. The ranking slipped to 73rd in 2011.

Despite its plunge in 2012, regionally the Maldives still ranked higher than India (140th), Sri Lanka (162nd), Pakistan (158th), and Bangladesh (144th).

“Only three Asian countries are in the top 25 percent of the table, while 15 countries are among the bottom 45 places,” observed RSF.

“Unsurprisingly, one-party authoritarian governments figure more than ever among the predators of press freedom and languish at the bottom end of the table.”

“Press freedom has crashed”: former President

“Press freedom in the Maldives has crashed since Dr Waheed’s coup,” read a statement today from former President Mohamed Nasheed.

“Security forces have beaten up journalists, and the regime has targeted and threatened independent media outlets,” Nasheed wrote.

“One of the defining images of the coup was Dr Waheed’s own brother leading a gang of mutinying police and storming the Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation (MNBC), pulling the station off air and locking the journalists in a room. Suppression of the media has been the hallmark of Waheed’s rule.”

President’s Office Spokesperson Masood Imad was not responding at time of press.

The release of the RSF Press Freedom Index closely follows the release of the annual Freedom House survey of political rights and civil liberties, in which the Maldives was dropped from the list of electoral democracies alongside Mali.

The country’s political rights rating shifted from three to five (higher is ‘less free’) during 2012, “due to the forcible removal of democratically elected president Mohamed Nasheed, violence perpetrated against him and his party, the suspension of the parliament’s summer session, and the role of the military in facilitating these events,” Freedom House stated.

Police and military join demonstrators in storming the state broadcaster on February 7:


Reporters Without Borders condemns Raajje TV sabotage, “growing media polarisation”

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has condemned the sabotage of opposition-aligned broadcaster Raajje TV that terminated the station’s broadcast, after critical cables in the control room were cut.

“This targeted and well-prepared operation was the foreseeable culmination of the new government’s escalating verbal attacks on Raajje TV,” said RSF in a statement. “How the authorities respond will be seen as a test of their commitment to media pluralism.”

The press freedom organisation noted that the “growing media polarisation between ’pro-Nasheed’ and ’pro-Hassan’ camps has reached a toxic level and the right to receive and impart news and information is the first victim.”

“Many journalists have been arrested, attacked or threatened in recent months during demonstrations organized by Nasheed’s supporters to press their call for early elections. While appealing to all sides to calm down and reflect on the role they should play in a democratic debate, Reporters Without Borders condemns these repeated attacks on journalists by the authorities,” RSF stated.

“The government and police have played a leading role in the deterioration of the situation. Instead of trying to create a healthy environment that would assist the development of a free and pluralistic press, they have exacerbated the rivalry and used the media for political ends.”

RSF called on authorities “to moderate their criticism of Raajje TV, to ensure that the sabotage of the station is fully and impartially investigated, and to make sure that journalists are not subjected to further attacks. At the same time, we urge Raajje TV’s journalists to make a clear distinction between their political involvement and their professional work.”

Cables in Raajje TV’s control room were cut early on the morning of August 7, after intruders shut down electricity to the building causing the station’s electronic locking system to fail.

“We suspect that either the culprit knows this place very well, or that this was done with the cooperation from a person who knew the place very well,” said the station’s Deputy CEO, Abdulla Yamin.

Following the incident, Commissioner of Police Abdulla Riyaz on twitter “[Condemned] the attack on Raajje TV. All resources will be used to investigate to find the perpetrator(s).”

Meanwhile, police also told local media that they would reconsider a decision not to cooperate with the station’s reporters, including denying them access to secure areas during protests, after urging from the Maldives Broadcasting Commission.

The Maldives is ranked 73rd out of 179 countries in the 2011-2012 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, which was released before February’s events.

“The media situation has deteriorated dramatically since then,” the organisation observed.


Government must guarantee safety and rights of journalists: Reporters Without Borders

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has expressed strong concerns for media freedom in the Maldives’ following the release of strong evidence that police forces used firearm prohibited to their role to force open the station of Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation (MNBC) on February 7, 2012.

The station was overrun by security forces as violent clashes broke out across Male’, culminating in the resignation of then president Mohamed Nasheed “at gunpoint”, he has said. By early afternoon MNBC was re-branded as Television Maldives (TVM), its title under former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

MNBC’s former director general Adam Shareef described the situation to RSF.

Shareef said he had noticed that the situation on Male’ had become “serious”, and around 4:00am requested the Defense Minister to send more security to the station.

MNBC headquarters and some journalists were previously attacked during the opposition-led protests which began on January 16, 2012, when Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed was arrested by the military after attempting to block his own police summons. The government at the time backed their decision by citing the judge’s record of professional misconduct and blocking police operations, as well as holding suspects without evidence and releasing suspects with strong evidence against them, most notably an accused murderer who killed another person soon after his release.

Shareef said he was shocked when the Defense Minister “refused to send any security forces to MNBC. At that time I knew there as something wrong with the police and defense forces. We were in shock at the refusal, and we were waiting from the early morning until 7:30am. At 7:30 the security members had left their shift, so there was no security at MNBC.

“I was alone with my staff, and I ordered them to stay calm and cooperate with MNDF [Maldives National Defense Force],” he said.

Shareef explained that individuals aligned with the opposition came to the station in the late morning and requested that the station be signed over to their control. When he refused, Shareef was informed that Nasheed had stepped down and Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik had assumed control of the country.

“I said I hadn’t heard the news,” Shareef told RSF, pointing out that the confrontation took place before Nasheed had formally resigned at 1:00pm that day.

Shareef goes on to describe the violent take-over of the station, which left many of his staff in fear.

A video released yesterday corroborates Shareef’s account of the take-over. A police officer uses a gun to open the locked gates of the state broadcasting station, allowing dozens of police and military forces as well as civilians to rush the building where staff can be heard crying and shouting in fear.

Police in the Maldives are not issued firearms.

Noting that the Maldives ranks 73rd out of 179 countries in the 2011-2012 RSF press freedom index, “Reporters Without Borders hopes that the Commonwealth ministerial mission, which is to investigate the circumstances of last week’s change of government, will also shed light on the takeover of MNBC, the use of threats and violence against certain journalists and media, and the threats to which several journalists continue to be exposed.”

Members of Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) have today signed a petition requesting parliament to acknowledge last Tuesday’s events as a coup; to bring those involved to justice; and to hold elections as soon as possible.

Since the station takeover TVM has filled its airtime with Disney movies and cooking shows, streaming pre-recorded programs even during the police force’s violent crackdown on a peaceful MDP march on February 8.

In a February 13 statement, RSF warned that Maldives media is in a precarious position amidst the political turbulence.

“The international community must take full account of the danger to the media and to freedom of information in the Maldives,” reads the statement. “For the moment, media coverage of the incidents taking place in this Indian Ocean archipelago is limiting the violence against journalists.”

Foreign media groups including Al Jazeera, BBC, Reuters, AFP, India Express, the New York Times and Japan’s leading paper The Yomiuri Shimbun converged on Male’ on February 8, bringing the murky politics of the perceived island paradise into global focus.

“But, once the international community’s attention moves on, we fear that media personnel, especially those who are branded as ‘pro-Nasheed,’ could be exposed to reprisals by supporters of the new government or by the security forces, which may not be fully under the new government’s control,” RSF cautions.

It didn’t take long for Maldivians to wonder if they may be subject to similar rules of social behavior.

Following the crackdown in Male’, local media Raajje TV inaccurately reported that two MDP supporters had been killed. Islanders in six southern atolls responded with a firey attack on police stations, court houses and prosecutor general’s offices, leaving public facilities and legal records in ashes.

The next day, Male’-based media received reports opposition party supporters were leading police and military forces to the homes of MDP supporters, who were consequently beaten and arrested without charges.

In a previous article Minivan News investigated the claims. While the reported aggression appear to have calmed some citizens of Addu, Maldives’ southernmost atoll which reported the most severe damage, expressed concern that the quiet was temporary.

“We are not safe because we don’t know when again it will start,” said one man speaking to Minivan News outside Feydhoo’s smoldering court house.

Alif Fahumy Ahmed, whose brother-in-law was still detained in Gan’s burnt police station on February 11, was similarly watchful. “Things in Addu have calmed at the moment, but they may continue once HRCM and the reporters leave,” he said.


Calls for religious tolerance “shocked the nation”: Chief Justice Faiz

The December 10 silent protest for religious tolerance is a “warning” of the Maldives’ weakening Islamic faith, Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz Hussein has said.

Faiz’s claim that the demonstration “shocked the nation” was made yesterday at the opening of the Islamic Scholars Symposium, reports local media.

“It was a warning that showed us the increased role religious scholars are required to play and the work they need to do,” he said.

Recommending that the scholars focus on strengthening the Islamic faith rather than debate contentious issues, Faiz said students and lawmakers required further education about the Shariah penal code.

The December 10 demonstration was originally planned for International Human Rights Day as a peaceful, silent protest. However, the 30 participants were attacked with stones, and blogger Ismail ‘Khilath’ Rasheed was taken to the hospital with head injuries.

Rasheed was subsequently arrested without charges following requests from religious NGOs and ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik that police investigate the demonstration.

Rasheed’s detention was extended a second time last week, after Reporters Without Borders (RSF) criticised the claim that the gathering had violated national laws, and Amnesty International declared Rasheed a prisoner of conscience.

Meanwhile, Islamic Minister Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari has requested the parliamentary National Security Committee to include appropriate punishments for those who call for religious freedom in the nation’s penal code. In discussions, he said the punishments available under Penal Code Article 88(a), (b) and (c) were “soft.”

Bari previously ordered the Communications Authority of Maldives (CAM) to shut down Rasheed’s blog on the grounds that it contained anti-Islamic content.

This weekend’s Scholars Symposium is attended by 60 scholars who are debating seven key points of contention, reports Haveeru.

Points include the method for handling controversial religious issues; the formation of prayer rows between mosque pillars; alms payment; the Qunooth prayer; and the traditions of the Prophet Mohamed.

According to local media, the conference is the biggest of its kind to be held in the Maldives. Originally scheduled for January it was allegedly postponed for reasons unspecified.

The conference comes one week after a coalition of religious NGOs and opposition parties rallied thousands across the country to “defend Islam”, setting off a game of chicken with the government which has lately put the tourism industry on the chopping block.

President Mohamed Nasheed attended yesterday’s opening ceremony.

Religious conservative Adhaalath Party President Sheikh Imran Abdulla and several other scholars from the party are participating in the conference.

Members of Adhaalath Party and Minister Bari were unavailable for comment at time of press.