The Maldives Police Service have confirmed they are investigating staff at Vilu Reef Resort and Spa at the request of both the Ministry of Tourism and the resort’s operator Sun Travel and Tours, after a video of a controversial ‘renewal of vows’ ceremony was leaked to YouTube.
In the video, a Vilu Reef staff member, acting as the ‘celebrant’, unleashes a tirade of insults against the couple in Dhivehi in the solemn tone of a religious preacher, sparking both local and international outrage.
The couple, identified by the AFP as Swiss, appear oblivious to the humiliation as 10-15 resort staff look on and make disparaging comments about the couple’s appearance, and urge the celebrant to “make them suck mouth” – a Maldivian phrase to denigrate the act of kissing.
Non-Muslims are unable to be married in the Islamic country, however many resorts offer ‘traditional Maldivian’ renewal of vows ceremonies and the country is a popular destination for honeymooners.
Sun Travels and Tours issued a statement yesterday afternoon saying the corporate management of the resort was “deeply saddened by this humiliating event and expresses its serious concerns over the incident, including the content shown in the video and the unforgivable conduct displayed by the staff involved in the incident.”
“The management is in the process of contacting the two tourists who were victimised in this incident to extend sincerest apologies for this unacceptable incident. The management would offer compensation for the abuse they have suffered,” the company said.
“We sincerely apologise for the damage and serious repercussions this incident could cause to the tourism industry of the Maldives, the image of the country, the Maldivian people and their government.”
Speaking to Minivan News today, CEO of Sun Travels Ahmed Shakir confirmed that police had taken up the investigation “and the people directly responsible have been removed from the property.”
“Two employees have been removed to Male’, others have been suspended from duty and forbidden from leaving the staff area of the resort,” Shakir said. “[Staff] on the resort are being individually questioned as to how informed they were [about the incident].”
Vilu Reef Manager Mohamed Rasheed told Minivan News on October 26 that the that the staff member who uploaded the video, Ali Shareef, did so as “a joke”, without “realising the seriousness of the potential consequences”, and complied with management’s request to remove the video from YouTube.
Rasheed also said that he had become aware of the nature of the ceremony conducted by Food and Beverage Assistant Hussain Didi, and had banned Didi from performing any more ceremonies.
Shakir said today that the company was waiting on the advice of its lawyers as to whether it had grounds to take action against Shareef, and had established a proceedure for conducting the weddings and “eliminate the reading of anything in Dhivehi during the ceremony.”
Minivan News understands the company is attempting to contact the couple and explain the situation, and offer undisclosed compensation.
Shakir would not divulge the identity or nationality of the couple, “as we believe that at this stage it would do more harm than good.”
He would not comment on whether the humiliating ceremony was an isolated case or whether the behaviour had occurred before, but said the resort was “investigating”.
Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam said the resort was cooperating fully with the police investigation.
“We are discussing with the Prosectutor General’s office as to whether there is any way those involved can be charged,’ Shiyam said.
Disparaging of guests in Dhivehi by resort staff was not uncommon, claimed Vice President of the Tourism Employment Association of the Maldives, Mahrouf Zakir.
“Sadly this is very common, and not only in Vilu Reef but even in very upmarket luxury resorts,” said Zakir. “I’ve seen it happening, and not just for wedding ceremonies but birthday songs as well. It’s a stupid thing to do, I think it’s crazy.”
“I don’t think this is new – if you look at the Vilu Reef video there are 15 people standing around for the ceremony, and a lot more people in the background. The management must have been aware of it.”
Many upmarket resorts actually prohibited Maldivian staff from speaking Dhivehi in front of guests, he noted.
“I know it’s difficult to believe, but the workers don’t do this out of disrespect for the guest. They don’t think that far. I know it probably doesn’t make sense, but they just do it for fun as they know guests don’t understand the language.
“We have to raise awareness among resort workers that this is unacceptable, as well as talk to the Ministry [of Tourism]. Many resort staff come from local islands, and simply do whatever they want for a laugh.”
Deputy Minister of Tourism Ismail Yasir said the Ministry was “very concerned” about the impact the incident would have on the Maldives’ reputation, and was also investigating to determine whether the practice was common.
Despite the religious insults in the video, Yasir said he did not believe the video was evidence of rising extremism.
“I don’t think this is extremism,” he said, “just irresponsibility on behalf of the management of the resort. It has had a huge impact on our reputation, and I would like to assure people that the government is doing everything in its power to make sure this does not happen again.”