Police arrest ‘celebrant’ as President expresses disgust over false wedding ceremony

The Maldives Police Service have arrested two men involved in the infamous ‘wedding’ ceremony at Vilu Reef Resort and Spa, in which the ‘celebrant’ and up to 15 complicit members of staff degrade and humiliate a Swiss couple in Dhivehi.

One of the men arrested was identified as Hussein Didi, a food and beverage assistant at the resort who acted as celebrant and who was filmed unleashing a torrent of hateful abuse at the oblivious couple.

Under Maldivian law non-Muslims are not permitted to marry in the Maldives, but many resorts offer ‘renewal of vows’ ceremonies.

“The court decided yesterday that [the men] should be kept in police custody during the investigation,” said Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam.

The men have not yet been formally charged, “but this is a very serious issue related to our economy,” Shiyam said. “Once we complete the investigation the Prosecutor General’s Office will decide the charges.”

President of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed has meanwhile announced that the government will introduce strict guidelines for the conduct of tourist wedding ceremonies.

Speaking during his weekly radio address, President Nasheed said he was “disgusted” by the incident and described the behaviour of those involved as “absolutely disgraceful”.

He called on staff working in tourist resorts – indirectly responsible for 80 percent of the country’s economy – to be “vigilantly professional”, as such behaviour could cause “enormous damage to the country´s tourism industry.”

The government would leave “no stone unturned to ensure that an incident like this never happens again,” Nasheed said.

Meanwhile Maldives Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed issued a state apology to the couple, who have not been identified but are believed to be from Switzerland.

“The Maldives is a world-class tourist destination famed for its warm welcome and excellent customer service. Episodes such as that captured on video have no place in our tourism industry or in our society more broadly; and are alien to our cultural and religious values,” Dr Shaheed said.

The Maldives is grateful that the couple in question chose to renew their vows in one of our resorts and we cannot escape the fact that, on this occasion, because of the disrespectful and unacceptable actions of a few individuals, we have let them down.”

The Maldives Diplomatic Service had been instructed to contact the couple “and issue a face-to-face apology,” Dr Shaheed said.

“We will also be compensating them for any distress caused by this unfortunate incident. The Foreign Ministry will also be writing to our counterparts in Switzerland to offer our intense regret and to indicate the steps that the Government is taking to deal with the situation.”

Furthermore the government was seeking to hold talks with the Maldives tourism industry “in order to have assurances that this was an isolated incident,” the Foreign Minister added.

“If we do not receive such reassurance, we reserve the right to take all remedial steps necessary, legislative or otherwise, to ensure that episodes such that which occurred in Vilu Reef Resort never happen again, and do not tarnish the positive image of the country built up over so many years.”

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Sun Travels to compensate couple while police investigate ‘wedding ceremony’ video

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.

Not uncommon

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.”

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Foreign couple mocked as “infidels” and “swine” throughout resort’s ‘wedding ceremony’

“You are swine” and “the children that you bear from this marriage will all be bastard swine,” a tourist couple renewing their marriage vows in the Maldives were told in a ‘traditional Maldivian’ ceremony conducted in Dhivehi at Vilu Reef Beach and Spa Resort.

“Your marriage is not a valid one. You are not the kind of people who can have a valid marriage. One of you is an infidel. The other, too, is an infidel – and we have reason to believe –an atheist, who does not even believe in an infidel religion,” the ‘celebrant’ tells the couple, who appear completely unaware of the humiliation they are being subjected to.

A 15-minute video of the ceremony was uploaded on YouTube on October 24 2010 by a member of staff. Vilu Reef Manager Mohamed Rasheed told Minivan News that the staff member who uploaded the video did it as “a joke”, without “realising the seriousness of the potential consequences”.

Vilu Reef Beach and Spa Resort advertises itself as a place where couples can renew their wedding vows “hand in hand against a golden sunset backdrop” and where their “everlasting love” can be sealed by a “kaleidoscope of romantic hues” that covers the sky during the sunset.

In the video the ‘celebrant’ briefs the couple in English, prior to the ceremony, that it will be conducted according to “not only Maldivian” but also “Arabic and Islamic” norms.

Two wedding rings inside an open coconut, which appears to be lined with mother of pearl, are in front of the couple along with two fresh coconuts. The couple seem dressed for the ceremony, the woman in white as favoured by Western brides.

“Don’t look at her chest”, a man – possibly the videographer – is heard saying as the woman leans over to take a sip from the coconut. She adjusts her neckline.

Men, about ten or more, surround the area both outside and inside the palm fronds, which appears to be a make-shift wedding venue.

The celebrant twirls his thumbs over a piece of paper that he appears to be studying with deep concentration. A male voice asks him if the document is “something new”. He replies that it is “the seventh Article of the Penal Code”.

The document, of which there is a brief close-up in the video, has absolutely no relation to marriage laws in the Maldives. Words that are legible on the document refer to “staff employment”, suggesting that it is a document relating to employment regulations.

Asking the couple and other ‘officials’ to raise their hands as is customary for Muslim prayers, the ‘celebrant’ begins his marriage vows.

“Fornication has been legalised according to Article six, 1.11 of the Penal Code”, he chants in a tone favoured by religious scholars. “That is, frequent fornication by homosexuals. Most fornication is by males,” he continues.

“Research has shown that men have a higher sex drive than women,” he says. “According to Article 8 to 6 of the Penal Code, converting to Islam, or circumcision, is not desirable under any circumstances.

“Germs of anger and hatred will breed and drip from the tips of your penises,” he says.

The ‘celebrant’ then switches from his improvised “Islamic and Maldivian marriage laws” to reading aloud from the document in front of him in the same ‘religious’ tone. This time, what he chants to the couple is to do with terms of employment.

When he returns to the ‘marriage vows’, he refers to certain Articles of the Constitution and combines ‘Section e” and “Section f” to create the word “balhu”, which in Dhivehi means “swine”. ‘E’ in Dhivehi is the letter ‘baa’ and ‘F’ the letter ‘lhaviyani’.

The ‘celebrant’ mixes the two letters to make the word ‘balhu’, the full version of which, as used by the ‘celebrant’, is ‘nagoo balhu’. The literal translation of the term is ‘crooked tail’, believed to refer to a pig’s tail, and is considered to be one of the worst insults in the Dhivehi language.

“You are swine according to the Constitution,” he declares, solemnly.

He then asks the couple to stand up and hold hands. The ‘officials’, too, stand up and place their hands on the couples’. They form a séance-like circle and the ‘celebrant’ begins chanting.

“Aleelaan, baleelaan…”, he begins. What he is chanting is not a verse from the Qur’an, or marriage vows in Dhivehi, but are the words of a popular Dhivehi children’s game.

Words of the game, too, are changed to say “black swine” instead of what is contained in the original.

“Before buggering a chicken, check if the hole is clean. That is because the people of the countries that you are from are familiar with the taste of the ****holes of chicken,” he chants, still with hands held over the couples’.

“Do not treat with kindness people against whom violence is being committed. Commit more violence against victims of violence. You are not people who have been sent to this world to commit violence.”

He then returns to the matter of staff salaries, which he continues to chant in the same tone as he had done the insults. “Do not complain too much about salaries, or matters regarding salaries. That is against the Penal Code. This is not something I am saying for your benefit – it is a law that we have made.”

He begins to chant loudly about “black swine”, stringing insult after insult and delivering it in the same rather ominous tone that Maldivian religious figures choose to deliver their sermons in.

“You fornicate and make a lot of children. You drink and you eat pork. Most of the children that you have are marked with spots and blemishes… these children that you have are bastards,” he continues solemnly.

Someone else is heard at this point to tell the ‘celebrant’ to “say a little bit more, and then quit.”

The concluding chant is delivered in a gentler, softer voice: “Keep fornicating frequently, and keep spreading hatred among people. The children you will have from this marriage will all be bastard swine.”

While the couple are putting rings on each other’s fingers, someone is heard saying that the recording should stop. “Don’t you worry about it,” says someone else, and the recording continues.

“Aren’t they going to suck mouth?” someone is heard asking. “Make them suck mouth”, it is urged. ‘Sucking mouth’ is a term used by Maldivians to denigrate the act of kissing.

“So now, in Maldivian law, in Islam, you are already married”, says the ‘celebrant’, returning to English. The hapless couple are then told to relax and enjoy the celebrations that are to follow, by the end of which a certificate of their nuptials will be ready for them.

Image from Vilu's website, advertising the ceremony

Once the ceremony is concluded, the celebrant, who is dressed in a shirt and tie – with the shirt left to hang loose over a traditional Maldivian sarong – swaggers out of the makeshift wedding venue – tugging at his tie and proclaiming himself “President of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed.”

The celebrant, Vilu Reef Manager Rasheed told Minivan News, is an assistant Food and Beverage Manager named Hussein Didi. As he leaves the wedding venue having concluded his job, someone announces his presence, as “Ghaazee Hussein Didi”.

A Ghaazee is the Arabic name for a judge or magistrate, also adopted to mean the same in Dhivehi.

People clap loudly as the couple, whose marriage vows have just been mocked in some of the filthiest language known to Dhivehi, are videoed making their way to the next part of their ceremony – the planting of a coconut tree to mark the occasion.

Various types of insults about the woman and the man, their clothing and demeanour, are being spoken throughout in the form of a running commentary in a sports video.

As the bride bends down to plant the coconut tree, a man is heard is exclaiming, “Can see her breasts!” The ‘commentator’ observes, “She is wearing something”, he knows, he says, “because my beard has gone grey watching those things… I have seen so many of them now that I don’t even want to look any more when I see them.”

The groom, who is watering the new coconut tree which they have just planted, is totally unaware of the manner in which his wife and her breasts are being discussed by the group of Maldivian men ‘officiating’ at the renewal of their wedding vows.

‘Celebrant’ Didi tells the couple they should return soon to check on the progress of their plant, testament to what had taken place on the island that day.

The video concludes with the ‘commentator’ repeatedly urging the ‘celebrant’ to make the couple ‘suck mouths, suck mouths’.

The resort’s Manager Rasheed was unable to tell Minivan News how much the occasion had cost the couple or where they were from.

Asked if the couple had been made aware of the nature of the ‘wedding vows’ they had taken, Rasheed said they had been sent pictures but not the video.

“Our package includes sending them pictures on the CD the very same night”, he said. Rasheed added that the resort does not have a written ‘khuthuba’ or sermon from which to read, nor is the role of the celebrant undertaken by a designated person.

“It is done on a rotating basis. We have been doing it for ten years now, and from a very small start, it has grown into a very successful part of what we offer at Vilu,” he said.

Rasheed said he had become aware of the nature of the ceremony conducted by Didi shortly after it happened. He had banned Didi from performing any more ceremonies, but did not feel it was necessary to take any further action, until the video appeared on YouTube.

The staff member who uploaded the video, Ali Shareef, a shop assistant, is not being disciplined or investigated further, Rasheed said. He complied with the request by the management to remove the video from YouTube.

The ‘celebrant’, Didi, however is currently under investigation by the Head Office in Male’, Sun Travel and Tours.

Minivan News has learned that the ‘wedding package’ offered by Vilu Reef Resort lasts an hour, costs US$1300 which includes the services of a ‘celebrant’, a sailing trip and Maldivian music and dancing.

The happy couple can obtain photographs of their beautiful ceremony in the Maldivian sunset on Vilu Reef Resort for an additional US$440.

CEO of Sun Travel Ahmed Shakir was unavailable for comment.

Warning: Video contains profanity

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