Sunday, December 27, 2009

It's ok to keep unclothed slave women, say Adhalath

In their weekly TV Show Thedhu Magu (The Right Path), aired after 6pm on TVM yesterday, Adhalath's Abdul Majeed Bari and Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed, respectively minister and state minister of Islamic affairs, may inadvertently have admitted their support for the "jaria", or sex-slaves tradition. 

Speaking of women's clothing, a topic so popular among Adhalath sheikhs that people have wondered if they are closet cross-dressers, Bari said Islam made it compulsory for women to "cover their nudity" upon reaching puberty. Moderator Saeed then interrupted to qualify Bari's reference to women as "free women", meaning those that are not free can remain unclothed. 

This extraordinary exchange to me is highly revealing of the attitudes of these two men. At best it suggests impunity to the custom of keeping sex-slaves. At worst, it's an attempt to indirectly normalise and, indeed, promote the tradition. It seems to me that for Bari and Shaheem not only is it ok for men to enslave women, but they can also keep postpubescent girls naked around the house.

Continuing with the theme of women's clothing, Bari equated "covering nudity" with veiling, but failed to mention that the issue was highly contested by scholars. He then appeared to call for the mainstreaming of girls uniforms worn in the madrassas Mauhadh and Arabiyya.

Bari also said Islam required girls to be brought up to help their mothers in domestic chores, to mould them to the role of the mother in latter life. A women's role, he stressed, was that of a mother.

TVM, which infamously gave free airtime to Salafi preacher Bilal Philips to voice pro-child abuse sentiments, is giving Adhalath a free reign to spread Wahhabism and misogynist propaganda. In addition, the sheikhs have also taken over a host of other TV and radio channels. Adhalath preachers also control the Friday sermon, the largest congregation of Maldivian males. Meanwhile, their partners in crime Jamiyathul Salaf produces countless CDs to be played in taxis and in mosques across the country. 

In November, parliamenterians from across the parties joined forces and vowed to fight violence against women. But no MP is challenging the religious right's continuation of its misogynistic agenda, probably the single-most important factor leading to the hatred, discrimination, and violence of women. With such powerful fueling, it's not surprising that the Maldives has some of the highest rates of violence against women in the world. And, there's no sign of things getting any better.

The vast majority of Maldivians voted President Nasheed in to get rid of dictator Gayoom and to usher in a new era of democracy. But by giving Adhalath a ministry of its own to monopolise Islam and to spread misogynist Wahhabi propaganda at will, Anni is seriously compromising the democratic aspirations of his core support base.

The only thing that has remained consistent in Anni's first year as Maldives president is the sustained assault on democracy, free media, and human rights by Bari and Shaheem, along with their proxies Jamiyathul Salaf (or is it the other way around?)

Note: Please call TVM on 3000428 and ask for a recording of yesterday's Thedhu Magu, analyse it carefully, and confront them if you are concerned. State media is answerable to the public. To raise the issue, also call:

Ministry of Health and Family's Gender Department: 3323687
Ministry of Islamic Affairs: 3323623

Friday, December 25, 2009

War on democracy

The Religious Unity Act has been hijacked by the very people against whom it was created. According to a news story published on last week, recommendations by the Wahhabi NGO Jamiyathul Salaf have been included by the Islamic ministry in the regulations being formulated for the Act.


It will come as a surprise for people to learn that former pop star Ali Rameez is now drafting legislature, but Wahhabism’s most famous convert and other colleagues appear to have been collaborating with the Islamic ministry, for some time, on these regulations.


In fact, the stated objective of formulating the regulations were to protect Maldivians from brutal practices in the name of Islam and combat religious divisions and antagonism. Jamiyathul Salaf has an unenviable history of openly supporting flogging, the marrying off of under-aged girls, and calling for harsh punishments for people who challenge what it says.


Now Salaf is recommending, among other things, for power to be given to a religious body (no doubt comprising of its supporters) to meddle with the national educational curriculum, crackdown on the print media, censor advertisements, and to take action against anyone they consider as defying Islam. If implemented, media and the freedom of expression will be even worse than they were during Gayoom’s dictatorship.


The Maldives Salafi movement rose to notoriety in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami, when Ali Rameez and his buddies produced an audio CD blaming women for the natural disaster, specifically women who refused to wear the veil. The CD had dramatic sound effects, which recreated the sound of the waves, and a voiceover by TVM’s Mohamed Asif Mondhu to lend it authority, and is said to have converted hundreds of women to the buruga.


The organization has been trying to spread Wahhabism across the country, allegedly with funds received from Saudi charities. Wahhabism originated in Saudi Arabia two centuries ago and has, since, been the dominant faith there. It insists on a literal interpretation of the Koran and strict Wahhabis denounce anyone who doesn’t practice their form of Islam as enemies. Wahhabism has been criticized as misinterpreting and distorting Islam and leading to extremists like Osama bin Laden and the Taliban.

With ever increasing resources and power, Jamiyathul Salaf produced an anti-music video in which it even got a Human Rights Commission member to denounce music and singing as haraam or anti-Islamic, a highly contested claim in Islamic scholarship. More recently, Salaf has tried to stifle debate about the disproportionate sentencing of women and under-age girls to flogging by Maldivian courts, and labeled critics of this cruel and degrading practice as anti-Islamic.


But Salaf’s lowest moment came when they brought in Wahhabi preacher Bilal Phillips to spout misogyny on the Maldivian populace and to state on live television that it was permissible in Islam to marry off under-aged girls. Studies have repeatedly shown that the Maldives has some of the highest (if not the highest) child-abuse rates in South Asia and, possibly, the world. Maldivian paedophiles have long argued that menstruation and not age, physical or psychological development, is the indication of maturity in a women. Philips’s claim can only be read as an endorsement of the sexual abuse of under-aged girls.


The Islamic Ministry, composed almost entirely of Adhalath Party members has, up until now, been coy about its relationship with Salaf. But commentators haven’t failed to notice that Salaf has grown in strength ever since President Nasheed gave a ministry to Adhalath. It has been observed that when Anni was declared president, and portfolio bargaining was in full swing, Adhalath members were so excited about the powers they were going obtain that they even forgot to go to the mosque for prayers.


It is unclear what Attorney General Husnu Sood will make of the Adhalath-Salaf regulations, but online responses to the Minivan News shows great dismay.


It seems that most Maldivians, certainly those that have access to the internet, recongise Adhalath and Salaf for what they are and will not surrender their hard-earned fledgling democratic rights without a fight.


But Maldivian politicians usually take longer to respond to threats to democracy when they come from “religious” groups. By the time they do it may be too late.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Should Adhalath sheiks be put to death?

Under Islamic Sharia, they could well be. More than one Adhalath sheikh has at one time or other accused Gayoom of not being Muslim. Under Sharia law, the punishment for apostasy is death. But a person who accuses another of apostasy and is unable to prove it must suffer the same punishment themselves. Leading Adhalath sheikhs Hussein Rasheed Ahmed and Abdul Majeed Bari failed to prove in court that Gayoom was not a Sunni Muslim. If the Maldives had enforced Sharia punishments, it is highly probable that these two would not be alive today to voice their laughable threats against Anni.

In their most recent rants, Adhalath sheikhs have been threatening to bring Anni down from power if he continued to argue for the abolishing of Hadd punishments, which the conservatives are interpreting as anti-Islamic. In the process,  Adhalath may be overplaying their own role in the fall of Gayoom. In fact, Gayoom won in the first round despite Adhalath's open lobbying against him. On the other hand, the Adhalath-endorsed candidate Gasim, despite his unlimited powers and resources, only managed to get fourth place. When Gasim joined the MDP coalition Adhalath had no choice but to follow their master or fade into obscurity.

The truth is Adhalath never had enough support in the Maldives to field a presidential candidate of its own, which was made glaringly obvious in its failure to win any seat in the parliamentary elections. The only power it now has is the Islamic ministry, which the government must surely have realised is a big mistake. 

Adhalath's string of failures include the banning of DJs, Airtell, dissenting websites, and their much mocked plans to start a TV station with Zakath money. In contrast, Adhalath has never raised its voice against child abuse or done anything to stop the spread of terrorism in the name of Islam by a growing number of Maldives. 

But their biggest lie may be the unquestioning equation of Islamic Sharia Law with Islam. In fact the only unquestionable source in Islam is the Quran. Sharia law, while containing elements from the Quran weighs more towards Hadiths. For instance, there's no reference to stoning to death in the Quran. 

The second most important source of Islamic Sharia is a proven liar. Abu Huraira, who narrated over 5000 Hadiths (Aisha, the prophet's wife narrated just over 2,000), was accused by the Prophet's companions of fabricating sayings just to gain status in society. Indeed, Omar Ibn Al-Khattab, the second guided Caliph, threatened to send Abu Huraira into exile if he did not stop lying about the Prophet. 

But, as with the buruga, the religious conservatives, heavily influenced by Wahhabism and the generous funds they receive for spreading it in the Maldives, tend to forget this. Many progressive Islamic scholars only regard Hadith as useful to establish a historic context to Islam. As for Sharia law, emerging scholars have dismissed it as deeply flawed and archaic. But criticism of Sharia law amounts to just that, and cannot be said to be a rejection of Islam.

But Adhalath has always worked to mislead the public and use religion as a tool for their personal gains, just like Gayoom did in the 1970s and 1980s. 

The irony is that if the Maldives implemented Islamic Sharia Law, Adhalath sheikhs, known for their blunders and buffoonery, are more likely to find themselves at the receiving end of its many cruel and inhumane punishments. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Death threats in the name of Islam

A section of the religious right has singled out a blogger and for three days openly called for his death. A person calling himself Ali Manik published an article on the Maldivan language website, accusing blogger Hilath Rasheed of mocking Islam, which prompted several commentators to call for the latter's death. 

Another blog earlier published a post with the title "Kill Whosoever Makes Fun of Islam", which also appeared to target Rasheed.

The online assault, launched under the guise of Islam, is a clear attempt to silence debate on religion by resorting to the threat of violence, but there has been no condemnation by the government, even though it tries to promote itself abroad as the providers of a safe haven for dissident writers. The Maldives human rights commission has predictably remained silent, as has the NGO which calls itself the Maldives Journalists Association. 

But one blogger, Simon, called on to remove the hate comments and death threats, and this seems to have had an impact; the offending article and comments have been temporarily removed. 

The incident recalls the 2007 death threats made against Aishath Aniya, the then secretary-general of the MDP, for writing an article against veiling. The government, the police, and the MDP didn't take any action in Aniya's defense back then.

The MDP government needs to send a strong message to religious bullies that death threats and calls to violence will not be tolerated under any circumstances. 

President Nasheed has no business to attempt to woo Aung San Suu Kyi to the Maldives if he is unable to protect homegrown writers from clear incite to violence, hatred, and murder.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The human rights commission: tennis and foreign trips

According to Human Rights Commission of Maldives insiders, the president Ahmed Saleem is in the habit of arriving leisurely for work, settling himself down comfortably in his office, and watching tennis on cable TV for most of the day. Vice-president Mohamed Zahid, meanwhile, never misses an opportunity to go on a foreign trip, even when it is to attend a specialist workshop or meeting more suitable for a reporting staff. A strict division is maintained between the "members" and "staff" of the HRCM, with the former reaping all the benefits like overseas travel and out-of-the-country expenditure. 

Both were appointed to the posts by the previous government, due to their close links to Gayoom. Saleem, of course, was a recipient of one of the notorious presiden't office "loans". To date, the HRCM hasn't found a single human rights violation that would implicate the aging ex-dictator, even though the commission was involved in all the high-profile investigations of alleged prisoner abuse of the recent past. Saleem was aslo part of the commission set up by Gayoom to clear himself from the murder of Evan Naseem and others in Maafushi jail in 2003. If Gayoom's motive for getting these two into the HRCM was protect himself from the barrage of accusations, he clearly chose the right pair. 

At the height of the recent Sula Siraz controversy, Saleem was overheard "confirming" to people that president Anni did, indeed, drink.  The human rights chief knows only too well which party controls the votes needed to get himself re-appointed and Zahid, a member of the DRP, has always been a faithful defender of Gayoom. 

Human rights experts who have worked with the pair have been flabbergasted by their sheer ignorance of international human rights laws and their unwillingness to learn.

It is not surprising, therefore, that the HRCM has not made a statement against the recent flogging of an 18-year-old girl in Male, or Wahhabi preacher Bilal Philips's endorsement of lowering the age of marriage for girls to the onset of puberty. These would violate at least four UN conventions signed by the Maldives: the child rights conventions; the convention on the elimination of discrimination against women; the civil and political rights convention; and the convention against torture. But Saleem and Zahid have been silent and no one has openly challenged their silence.

Under the leadership of the former human rights president Mujthaba, there was some hope that the Maldives would move towards an independent, efficient, and functioning human rights commission. But today, staff are frustrated with their new bosses and morale is at an all-time low. No one can get Saleem to sign anything when tennis is on, and many worthy initiatives by the staff themselves never see the light of the day.

The latest from the HRCM is that the president and vice president have been more active lately; apparently, their terms are about to expire and they are sweating it out in the bid to get re-appointed to continue to enjoy fat salaries, tennis, and foreign trips.

A human rights commission staff has pointed out to me that Saleem has an exemplary record of reporting to work on time. So I apologise for describing his arrival at work as "leisurely" in the first paragraph of the post.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Bilal Philips, friend of misogynists and child sexual abusers

On 8 August, Wahhabi preacher Bilal Philips told thousands of Maldivians that it is ok to marry young girls once they attain puberty. Upon reaching puberty, he said, girls were capable of carrying children regardless of what age she was. 

The medical profession should have a thing or two to say on that, but you can count on Maldivian doctors to remain silent. Bilal Philips's remarks are also a direct contradiction of Maldivian laws under which the general age of marriage is 18 years. However, young people of 16 and above can be married off under special circumstances, at the discretion of the judge.

The Maldives has one of the highest child sexual abuse rates in the world and the speech by Philips will be seen by many as an endorsement of the pro-child sexual abuse ideology. Many child sexual abuse sympathisers - and there are many in this country - have long tried to justify sex with minors by claiming that once a girl attains puberty she is no longer a child 

What is unacceptable is that the Maldivian Human Rights Commission, which has an obligation under national and international laws to defend the rights of children, and UNICEF, didn't feel a need to make a statement in response to Philips's speech. Other silent onlookers include the child protection services at the police department and the health ministry, MP Kutti Nasheed, and former MP Ibra, who champion against child sexual abuse only when it suits them.

The state broadcaster TV Maldives gave free, live airtime to Bilal Philips while the Adhalat Party-led Islamic ministry endorsed the preacher's visit. There are those that claim that without the support of the Islamic ministry, the Wahhabi NGO Jamiyyathul Salaf would never have been able to bring Philips to the Maldives. Meanwhile, the Maldives Human Rights Ambassador Mohamed Latheef, who was also spotted at a recent pro-flogging rally, was scheduled to meet Philips, though it is not known in what capacity.

The education authorities were no better. The principal of CHSE not only provided the pro-child sexual abuse preacher access into her school, but made it compulsory for her students to attend his talk. 

On Saturday night, Bilal Philips was unabashedly condescending to women. While it was "permissible" in Islam, he said, for women to become heads of states, he warned of the consequences. "It's a fact," he said, that rule by women ended in failure, pointing out that this was what the prophet Muhammad had warned us a long time ago.

Bilal Philips also warned Maldivians against "Quranites". Recent Islamic scholarship has challenged people like Bilal Philips for their departure from the Quran  and dependence on Hadith to endorse regressive, misogynistic ideology. In response, Wahhabis have attacked liberal scholars of being "Quranites". Philips notably dismissed the progressive Islamic scholar Amina Wadud as a product of Jewish brainwashing.

The preacher will find many fans among misogynistic, pro-child abuse Maldivians, who try to justify their ideology under the guise of Islam.

But I'm not sure what they made of his declaration that cigarettes are haraam.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Cover-up of Independence Day pickup accident

A re-telling of the Independence Day pickup accident in Gan, Laamu Atoll, by several sources to Maldives Dissent, is pointing to irresponsible actions by those in charge and a cover-up by the authorities. At least 22 students, aged 12-15, and two of their teachers sustained various levels of injury when a pickup truck, speeding on the dirt-track from Thundi to Mukurimagu, lost control, skidded and overturned.

Three students were flown to Male for treatment the same night, while five more students and two teachers were ferried to the capital on a high-speed boat by the Coastguard the following day. According to the police the driver of the pickup truck, who received minor injuries, was taken into police custody after being treated by the hospital in Gan. It emerged that the license of the driver had expired in 2007 and both the police and officials, who accompanied the injured to Male, appear to put the blame solely on him for the worst accident in Laamu recently.

But sources in Thundi, Gan, claim that the picture painted by the authorities is misleading. The pickup truck was, in fact, part of an entourage including two motorcycles, a bus, and another pickup. The pickup that overturned was, in fact, trailing the other vehicles. The bus, at the head of the pack, with the police motorcycles, was carrying the principal of the Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Sani School and the female students. According to the girls, it was the principal, Ibrahim Asif Rasheed, who ordered the bus driver to break the 40-km/hour speed limit. The two pickups following tried to keep up with the bus, which had kicked up a massive cloud of dust. Motorists on the road at the same time claim the vehicles must have been speeding at at least 80km/hour. 

Without clearly seeing where he was going, the driver of the second pickup saw a pit on the dirt-road too late, tried to avoid it, and caused the pickup to skid and overturn, throwing off the students.

While the driver will almost certainly face charges, the authorities have not asked the principal of the school for an explanation of his irresponsible behaviour. Not only did he allegedly order the driver of the bus to break the speed limit while he had several of his students under his charge, it is also not quite clear why he bundled several other students in the back of two pickups. Under Maldivian law, it is illegal for pickup trucks to carry passengers in the back; only two persons can sit in the back to look after loads. But the second pickup had at least 25 students in the back when it lost control.

The authorities also appear to be downplaying the injuries caused by the accident. Families of the injured students say that the principal Rasheed tried to discourage them from sending the boys to Male for treatment, by claiming they would be discharged the same day and the school would not foot the medical bills. Initially, Male's Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital went with the official version. The official in charge, Dr. Abdulla Ubaid, at first said that no one had sustained serious injuries, praising Gan Hospital for their primary care of the patients. However, he later contradicted himself when he admitted that three of the students who had sustained head injuries, as well as a teacher who broke his shoulder, were in a  "serious" condition.

But sources in Gan claim the injuries included fractured skulls, and uncontrollable bleeding. Moreover, families complained that Gan Hospital didn't disinfect the wounds properly before stitching them up; as a result, they turned septic and IGMH had to take out the stitches.

Meanwhile, the evening of day that the patients arrived in Male, principal Rasheed was telling parents that all the patients had been discharged, and that there was no need to send any more students to Male. In fact it was only after three days that anyone was released from the hospital. But the education minister Musthafa Luthufy wasted no time in getting on TV to praise the school for its handling of the events.

The Al-Sani School, its principal, and the education authorities may hope that arrest of the driver of the pickup will be enough to appease the families of the victims. 

If things go as they plan, Rasheed may never have to answer any uncomfortable questions or be held accountable to the actions which directly and/or indirectly caused the worst accident in Gan, Laamu Atoll, in terms of the number of injured.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Post on Bilal Philips and terrorism deleted

I've just deleted the previous post titled "Bilal Philips inspired militants, say terrorism research group" because, as a commentator pointed out, the website of the research group in question, the IPT, is maintained by an individual who has several times been criticised for inaccurate reporting and sweeping Islamophobic generalisations.

Many thanks to the commentator for bringing this fact to my notice.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Anti-music preacher to visit the Maldives

Former pop-star Ali Rameez's Jamiyathul Salaf is inviting Bilal Philips, described by them as a "world-renowned English -speaking Islamic scholar", to give a series of talks to Maldivians in August. A YouTube clip of one of his lectures may give us a hint on what Philips is going to talk about. In the clip Philips, among other things, claims musical instruments apart from a tambourine-like gadget, are haraam in Islam. 

"They have a way of getting into the heart," he explains. "And you remember the notes long after you forget the words of a song." Addressing a largely subservient, unchallenging audience, he says with an easy finality that, according the the prophet Muhammad, "We're not supposed to use these instruments".

In fact many scholars challenge this view. They point out that prohibitions are stated very clearly in the Quran and these do not include music. Quran, a complete work on its own as far as Islam is concerned, teaches that God is extremely displeased with those who prohibit things not specifically prohibited by its verses. 

Yet representatives of Jamiyathul Salaf, inspired by Muslim "scholars", have waged a long campaign against music in the Maldives. They refer to some Quranic verses, for instance 31:6 of Luqman Sura, and simply interpret words such as "idle talk" to mean "music".  More often than not, however, they draw on Hadiths to give the credence to claims for which they fail to find any in the Quran.

For a more thorough discussion on music in Islam, see the chapter on music and singing in

Last year, a host of Islamic "scholars", including a member of the human rights commission, lent sound bites to an anti-music propaganda video. Jamiyathul Salaf also has several YouTube clips proclaiming music is haraam in Islam

Many people would find it ironic that Ali Rameez, who must have plagiarised more than 500 Hindi tunes to make a fortune, is now the champion anti-music advocate.

So far, however, Maldivians haven't paid much attention to their propaganda. 

But in one respect, Jamiyathul Salaf does seem to have affected a change. After the 2004 tsunami, the organisation wasted no time in releasing an audio album which suggests that the natural disaster was God's wrath against women who don't wear the buruga. The album, which boasted the saccharine voiceover of TVM's Mohamed Asif, was advertised in the print media with a quotation from the Quran stating that women should be modest and lower their gaze. In fact the original verse first tells men to lower their gaze, but somehow the part about men requiring to be modest was deleted.

Nevertheless, the album appears to have struck a chord and the buruga has taken off in a big way in post-tsunami Maldives. 

It remains to be seen if Maldivians will also surrender their love of music to Bilal Philips.

"Music and singing were never prohibited by God. They are part of the most beautiful creations of God."

Monday, July 20, 2009

Gayoom's ordeal

It's hard to gauge what was going through Gayoom's mind as he was escorted by police for questioning earlier this evening. Certainly, during the dictator's own rule hundreds, even thousands, are likely to have said their "last prayers", as we say here in the Maldives, when the police came to take them away.

Back then people spent months, even years, in detention centres without trial. Many of them would have incurred Gayoom's wrath by criticising his regime; somehow, someone would have heard them and carried tales to one of his brothers-in law. I know a woman who was taken in for questioning by police for switching off the television while Gayoom was on air.

Then there are the tales of torture. People were beaten, hung, leaves tied round them and tied to chairs inside goat sties. There were those that had their backbones broken, even killed. One of Gayoom's classmates, Ahmed Adam, who claimed some of the dictator's children were conceived out of wedlock, found himself in jail and languished there for years to suffer the most horrific torture imaginable. A hearty, robust man when he went in, he was reduced to a cripple when they were done with him. Adam died soon after he was released from prison. 

And let's not forget Ahmed Waheed, who wrote scathing articles about Gayoom in the 1990s weekly Hukuru, banned by the dictator months after it came out. Nobody knows quite what they did to Waheed, but whatever it was was so terrible that he's stopped talking to people. The former writer and TV producer can be still be seen hanging out in Ameeni Magu and the south seawall in Machchangolhi, immersed in a strange, autistic-like state. 

Witnessing Gayoom leave the police headquarters an hour or so after he went in, I'm thankful that things are not the same now and that the erstwhile dictator didn't have to suffer any of what his critics suffered in the not too distant past.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The religious right calls for violence against women and children to continue

Press freedom is under threat again, this time from a small group of the religious right and their supporters. Yesterday, about 150 people, believed to be proxies of the Adhaalath Party, gathered at the Artificial Beach to call for, among other things, a ban on the internet newspaper Minivan News, and the deportation of its writer Mariyam Omidi.

Omidi and other writers at Minivan News had recently covered a public flogging in the capital Male, and explored the debates surrounding it in a series of articles.

Protesters called the writings ‘anti-Islamic’, a label which in the past has succeeded in muzzling important debates and discussions. The crowd also called for the resignation of foreign minister Dr. Shaheed and the Maldvies embassador to the UK Dr Farhanaz Faisal, whose views on flogging to had been published in the Minivan News articles.

The public flogging at the centre of the controversy involves an18-year-old girl, but a disturbing aspect of the case appears to have gone unnoticed. It has emerged that the girl, who reportedly “confessed” to having had extra-marital sex with two adult males, committed the “crime” when she was under-18. If so, this would have grave implications for the Maldivian state.  Not only has the state failed to protect a child from sexual abuse but has, in fact, been party to subjecting her to further physical abuse.

Sadly, this is not an isolated case. At least 22 girls under 18 years of age were sentenced to public flogging, in 2006, for fornication or giving birth out of wedlock.

Under Maldivian law child sexual abuse requires a confession by the alleged abuser, or testimony by four eye-witnesses, for a successful conviction to take place. This means that if a victim reports sexual abuse but the perpetrator denies it and there are no eye-witnesses, the court can find the child guilty of having consented to the sex. The state would then wait for the girl to turn 18 and then carry out the sentence of public flogging, in effect, punishing her for reporting the crime.

By continuing with the practice, the Maldives is violating no less than four UN conventions it has signed: the convention on the rights of children; the convention on civil and political rights; the convention against torture; and the convention against all forms of discrimination against women.

But the UN has remained silent on the issue, as has the human rights commission, and the government’s child protection services.

Recent studies suggest the Maldives may have one of the highest child sexual abuse rates in the world. A 2007 survey revealed that one in six Maldivian women aged 15-49 is sexually abused before they turn 15 years of age. A UNICEF study published earlier this year has found that one in five school girls experiences sexual abuse at least once in their lifetime. Although boys are sexually abused too, the majority of victims of child sexual abuse in the Maldives are girls.

While there have been numerous protests against child abuse, attended by governmental and non-governmental organizations, no one has yet organized a public gathering against child abuse by the state. And, although it has been fashionable in recent months for people to call for harsher penalties for perpetrators of child sexual abuse, there hasn’t been a call to introduce the necessary evidence laws to convict these people of their crimes. Public flogging disproportionately punishes women, many of them victims of child sexual abuse.

And now, the religious right are calling for a continuation of punishment. At yesterday’s rally, speakers invoked the Quranic verse 24:2 to support their argument:

“The fornicatress and the fornicator, flog each of them with a hundred stripes. Let not pity withhold you in their case, in a punishment prescribed by Allah, if you believe in Allah and the Last Day. And let a party of the believers witness their punishment.”

In fact flogging, as practiced in the Maldives, would appear to contravene this verse. In an overwhelming majority of cases the “fornicatress”, and not the “fornicator”, receives the lashings.

Chief judge of the criminal court Abdulla Mohamed explained to Minivan News that while men were able to deny the crime, women were often implicated due to pregnancy.

Zina or fornication is notoriously difficult to prove under Sharia Law because a confession by the parties or testimonies by four eye-witnesses, who saw the actual penetration, are needed. Some scholars have said that these conditions indicate that Islam does not intend to punish people as a matter of course.

But the all-male speakers at yesterday’s rally were vociferous in their support for public flogging, even if it meant that a disproportionate number of women would be punished. They also rejected the suggestion that DNA testing on males should be introduced to ensure both parties are punished equally.

“Women don’t know who they’ve slept with,” said one speaker. “How can we test all the men in the Maldives?”

It is this unmistakable misogyny that gives the game away, and lifts the lid on the real agenda of these pious men. They want to continue to punish women and girls but are happy to absolve men of their part in the crime. And, when they feel the status quo is threatened, they always look for a female to vilify.

In 2007 when the religious right condemned MDP’s Aishath Aniya for writing an anti-buruga article in Minivan Daily, they didn’t bother to actually read what she said or argue with her points. There was a known and tested shortcut: label your opponents “anti-Islamic” and nobody asks questions even when you call for their death. Mariyam Omidi is the new Aniya for the religious right.

Adhalath bigwigs were notably absent at the rally, even though many people believe they are behind it. An earlier statement by the party, while it didn’t name names, said visas to foreign nationals should be conditional on their respect of the Maldives constitution. The theme was very much part of yesterday’s rally where Omidi was singled out for deportation calls.

The recently formed Maldives Journalism Association, which likes to present itself as the champion of free press in the Maldives, is yet to condemn this attack on an individual writer, a newspaper and, indeed, press freedom in the Maldives. We can also expect silence from the human rights commission.

But the attitudes of the general public may be changing, apparent in the small numbers that turned up for rally. Moreover, the online community, which Adhaalath Party tried to ban earlier in the year, is alive with debates not only of the flogging in question, but also press freedom.

In the 1950s, Maldivians protested against president Mohamed Ameen’s ill advised introduction of Hadd punishment, particularly capital punishment and the amputation of hands. The public outcry is likely to have contributed to the downfall of the first president of the Maldives, because the subsequent revolutions committee had to ban the punishments.

More than half a century later, Maldivians are grappling with public floggings. A criminal court judge has told Minivan News that 200 more floggings are waiting to be carried out.

With the help of new technology and tools, such as the social networking websites like Facebook, Maldivians can put a stop to a cruel and discriminatory punishment that has never served a legal, religious or social purpose.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The government's impending crackdown on women's mosques

A worshipper sits on a bench in Masjidul Muslima in Kendhoo, Baa Atoll, reading the Quran. Simply and tastefully designed, the spotlessly clean mosque with its spacious, immaculately swept garden basks in the afternoon sunshine, a picture of serenity.

Masjidhul Muslima is one of the several exclusive women’s mosques in the Maldives. Women’s mosques and female imams are virtually non-existent in the rest of the Muslim word, except for parts of China which in 1997 was recorded as having 29 mosques. The Maldives has 210, probably the highest number of women’s mosques in a single country in the world at present.

But in June, the Islamic ministry announced that it was closing down all the women’s mosques in the Maldives. The official reason given was that the government wanted to cut down on expenditure and “the best place for a woman to pray is at home.”

In fact the government spends very little on women’s mosques. Apart from a token monthly salary for some female imams, the only government contribution to women’s mosques is an annual calendar, a few Qurans, and cloth for cleaning the floors. Almost all the women’s mosques in the Maldives have been built by the communities themselves and maintenance is carried out by volunteer worshippers.

Women’s mosques have existed in this country for as long as any living Maldivian can remember. According to a registry of currently operating mosques, the oldest is Masjidul Salat in Thakandhoo, Haa Alif Atoll, which was inaugurated in 1926. It is likely that women’s mosques evolved in the last century or so, since historical writings before that make no mention of these unique places of worship.

Women’s mosques are a common feature of north Maldives with some islands boasting more women’s mosques than men’s mosques. Dhidhdhoo, in Haa Alif Atoll, has no less than four women’s mosques.

A 61-year-old retired female imam said that one of the women's mosques on her island predated its oldest inhabitant. However, with the growth of the population, the community decided to build a second one. Both men and women worked tirelessly to raise funds and to construct the mosque, which stands proud today, grander than even the men’s mosque. The communities take great pride in these mosques and female worshipers clean and maintain them lovingly.

“Our women’s mosque is such a pleasant place that sometimes even men go there to pray, when there are no women in the mosque,” the former imam told me.

For the women of these island communities the women’s mosque is a safe, peaceful place, where they can pray without fear or intimidation at any time of the day or night. These mosques are revered by all members of the community and, to date, no harassment is known to have taken place in any of them. In contrast, many homes are too noisy, crowded and unfit for worship. Women’s mosques, as well as being a place of worship, offers women a space for social interaction.

These mosques exist in most parts of the country but are notably absent in the far south. There is no women’s mosque on Foah Mulah and only one in the whole of Addu Atoll. Instead, on Hithadhoo, every house has a namaadhu-ge or prayer room, where women and children worship. A Hithadhoo elder has pointed out that this tradition may be a legacy of the Buddhist practice of building a shrine inside the house for worship.

The namaadhu-ge also serves another function. When children see their mothers praying, it helps them to learn to pray at an early age. “The namaadhu-ge is an age-old tradition passed down from generation to generation,” a Hithadhoo woman told me. “Even the smallest house has one.”

In 1987, a women’s mosque was opened in the adjoining island community of Maradhoo and this lead to Hithadhoo women demanding their own mosque.

“We told them women’s mosques were un-Islamic but they persisted,” recalled a former Katheeb or Island Head. “Fortunately, the funds never materialized and Hithadhoo, to this day, doesn’t have a women’s mosque.”

Addu people’s religious education has traditionally been different to the rest of the country. The atoll is believed to have converted to Islam at least half a century before the rest of the Maldives and has a history of exposure to visiting scholars from the Middle East. Many people also go to countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Pakistan to study Islam, and bring back with them religious sensibilities that are hostile to women’s mosques.

Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari, who heads the Islamic ministry, hails from Addu Atoll. While his ministry is gearing to ban women’s mosques from the rest of the country, it has not bothered to consult the women whose lives are going to be impacted. Instead, the ministry is recommending that women pray in the small designated corner of men’s mosques, behind the male congregation. But many women, used to the independence and security of their own mosques, are likely to feel intimidated in men’s mosques.

Although the Islamic ministry advocates women to pray at home, there is no evidence that women were banned from mosques by the Prophet Muhammad.  Indeed, no restriction or segregation is imposed on them in the largest Islamic gathering in the word, the Hajj pilgrimage.

If the Islamic ministry goes ahead with its proposed ban, it can only be read as a government crackdown on women’s right to worship in a safe and secure place that they have build for themselves.

“Many women, especially older ones, will be heartbroken,” the former imam told me. “For them, the exercise of walking to the mosque, worshipping there, and the social interaction are an important daily routine.”

The Islamic ministry recently threatened to ban Airtel dish antennas, but the outcry from angry citizens successfully thwarted it. It remains to be seen whether we'll hear enough noise to prevent the impending ban on women’s mosques too.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Islamic Ministry's banning spree

Last week it was women's mosques. This week the Islamic Ministry, lead by the Adhaalath Party, is set to ban Airtel dish antennas. 

The Adhaalath Party, which failed to win a single seat in the recent parliamentary elections and may have died a natural death like the Islamic Democratic Party has, nevertheless, been embraced by the MDP government for some undisclosed reason.

The Adhaalath Party does not have enough clout of its own to perform as an independent party, but leeches off bigger parties for survival. Up until recently, it was the mistress of Gasim's Republican Party. Now it is slutting for the MDP, which it earlier tried its best to discredit.

Music may be the next to go if Maldivians let Adhaalath have its way.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Maldives state violates human rights obligations

A woman was flogged this morning outside the "Justice" Building in front of a jeering crowd of mostly men. A witness said she had to be carried away after the ordeal because she was too weak to walk on her own. 

By continuing to carry out public floggings, the Maldives state is repeatedly violating international conventions it has signed, including the convention against torture and the convention on civil and political rights. Today's deplorable action by the state is a clear indication that cruel and degrading punishment of women, which the Maldives has been carrying out unchallenged for years, has survived into the new presidency. 

The only online statistics available on public flogging in the Maldives are for the year 2006 and they show that out of the 181 people sentenced to flogging 153 were women, including 22 minors.

To my knowledge no parliamentarian or politician or, indeed, the human rights commission has ever spoken out against the Maldivian state's violence against women. One reason for this could be their fear of offending the religious right and being labelled anti-Muslim. In fact most Muslim countries, including Iran and Pakistan, have banned the practice.

Anni's government must now publicly state its position on this inhumane practice and the human rights commission must condemn it in the strongest possible language. If both the opposition and the government can meet eye to eye on this parliament could ban the practice within days.

The Adhaalath Party, I suspect, will be the only people to moan the discontinuation of public flogging in the Maldives. But, as the recent parliamentary elections showed, the Maldivian public don't care much for Adhaalath's views.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Maldivians say no to Adhaalath

If there's anything good to say about the outcome of the parliamentary elections it's the clear rejection of the religious conservative Adhaalath Party by the Maldivian populace. Candidates on that party's ticket failed to secure a single seat in the next parliament, according to provisional results by the Elections Commission.

By rejecting Adhaalath Party, Maldivians are showing that they are more moderate and secular-minded than politicians and commentators seem to think. The MDP and the Republican Party have been humouring the Adhaalath Party in the mistaken belief that the religious conservatives command widespread support in this country. As a result, members of that party have enjoyed unlimited access to the media, including the Friday sermon, through which they've launched unchallenged diatribes against women, music, and democracy, in the name of Islam.

With the support of the MDP and RP president Gasim Ibrahim's money, Adhaalath had some success last year in undermining  more liberal Islamic scholars like Afrasheem Ali and Gubaad Abu Bakr. But in public debates and the ill-advised court action against Gayoom, in which they tried unsuccessfully to prove the former dictator was not Muslim, Adhaalath scholars were no match for these two.

To add insult to Adhaalath's defeat in the parliamentary elections , Afraasheem Ali appears to have won a seat in the parliament on a DRP ticket.

The Adhaalath Party is a politically insignificant entity with outmoded views that have no place in a progressive, liberal democracy and it remains to be seen how the MDP and RP, Adhaalath's main patrons, respond to this obvious fact.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Child abuse by the Maldivian state

Last week, the family court in Male registered a marriage between a man in his 20s and a 17-year-old girl. The terrified girl confided to a schoolmate that her family of religious conservatives had pushed her into the marriage and how frightened she had been that her husband might turn out to be really old. Under Maldivian law, any form of coercion would disqualify the marriage but neither the court nor child protection, in this case, seems to have noticed the immense pressures exerted on the girl by her parents.

In the Maldives, a person is legally of age only after he or she is 18 years of age, but a provision allows 16-18 year olds to marry at the discretion of the judge. Family law was introduced to the Maldives in 2001 and judges, to their credit, have used their powers to prevent marriages involving minors. But after 2005, the courts transferred the responsibility to child protection authorities in the ministry of gender and family. Ironically, this only saw a lifting of the restraint on marriages involving children. When questioned by national and international child rights groups, officials attempt to justify the state-condoned child abuse by citing overwhelming religious pressure.

There has been an increase in the number of marriages between older men and under-aged girls in the Maldives. Religious conservatives argue that once a girl attains puberty she is an “adult” and draw on the example of Prophet Muhammed’s marriage to Aisha. Even sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali, the state minister for Islamic affairs, is reported to have “approached” a 16-year-old girl for marriage.

In addition, “unregistered marriages” involving girls as young as nine years of age, have taken place across the country in the last couple of years, notably in Himendhoo, in Alif Atoll, and parts of Raa Atoll.

The state has also institutionalized another form of child abuse. According to statistics (see page 75) from the Maldives judiciary, 174 people were convicted of zina or fornication in 2006, and sentenced to public flogging. An overwhelming majority of those sentenced, 146, were women, 19 of who were under 18 years of age. In the same year, seven women, including three minors, were convicted of giving birth out of wedlock.

Usually, the state waits until the under-aged girls it has failed to protect are legally of age, and then subjects them to a cruel and degrading public flogging. Gayoom's government has a well-documented history of complicity in child sexual abuse, but there is no sign that the change of government will protect Maldivian children. 

At least one of MDP's candidates for the upcoming parliamentary elections, Ibrahim Manik, who is contesting a Dhaalu Atoll seat, was convicted of sex offense involving a minor. When concerned people contacted the party about it, they were told the candidate would be removed from the party ticket. But at the time of the publishing of this post, he was still on the MDP list of candidates

Maldivian laws, particularly evidence laws, have been criticised for their failure to protect children from child sexual abuse. With erstwhile abusers poised to become lawmakers, the future looks bleak for Maldivian children.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Video of flogging of 17-year-old girl in Pakistan

Pakistanti networks have aired a video showing a 17-year-old girl held down by two men while a third flogs her mercilessly. This has lead to widespread public outcry and forced the government to order an investigation into the flogging, believed to have been perpetrated by the Taliban. You can watch the video and read the Guardian article here.

If the video shocks you, you should know that public flogging is carried out in the Maldives too. The victims are overwhelmingly women and girls, and there has never been a public call for an end to the practice or any attempt by Maldivian parliamentarians to outlaw it. Ibra's much hyped bill, which proposes 16 years as the age of consent, will not protect victims of child sexual abuse from this cruel and degrading practice either. 

The UN system, likewise, has remained silent on the issue, even though public flogging would contravene a number of international conventions signed by the Maldives.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

God says no to Adhaalath

On Friday Adhaalath officials led a prayer for rain, following several months of the northeast monsoon Iruvai which have caused severe water shortages across the country. In fact, weather forecasts had predicted rain and the religious conservatives were probably hoping to cash in on it. Unfortunately, the weather remained stubbornly dry and no rain, which can in any way  be regarded as an answer to Adhaalath's prayer, occurred at the weekend. 

Adhaalath is also having a bad time in politics. After protests over revelations of internet censorship by the Islamic ministry, which is controlled by Adhaalath party bigwigs, president Anni has installed MDP's own religious scholars in the ministry to keep an eye on Adhaalath. Adhaalath is now grumbling that it might have to get critical of the government.

There are those that think God is punishing Adhaalath, because no religious group in the Maldives is as hypocritical as them. The Quran abounds in verses censuring hypocrites, and Adhaalath's double standards on issues such as photography and alcohol sale have been the butt of jokes for a long time.

But my favourite Adhaalath moment is when they justified endorsing Gasim for presidency last year, by claiming: "If a man can manage 4 wives, he can also manage a country."

Despite Adhaalath's support and unlimited resources, Gasim got less votes than Hassan Saeed.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Victim of child sexual abuse to be flogged and imprisoned for life

I've learnt from reliable sources that the state is under enormous pressure to prosecute a young woman, who was abused by her own father, for sexual misconduct and murder.

The girl, at the age of 16, was investigated by police and the child rights ministry in 2006 for allegedly giving birth outside wedlock and murdering the infant. What the authorities knew but never officially acknowledged was that the child had been sexually abused by her own father for years before she got pregnant. They also know that the father was party to the infanticide. Although the state had an obligation under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child CRC, to which it was a signatory, to protect the child, both the police and the child rights ministry chose to wash its hand off the case and send victim back to her abuser. 

The authorities initially housed her in the orphans home on Vilingili, but child protection officials said she was wanton and a murderer and would be a bad influence on the other children, and deprived her of state protection. 

Now legally of age, the girl has given birth to another child allegedly again fathered by her own father. A headline in the mainstream media reflects society's attitudes: "Woman who had and murdered an illegitimate child gets pregnant again". Not surprisingly conservative hardliners are secretly calling for her to be prosecuted for sexual misconduct and infanticide, as a lesson for other "easy" women.

This young woman is the result of the failure of Gayoom's government to protect its young people and the gross neglect and heartlessness of the social services, most of who are still in the payroll of the child protection department of the health ministry. 

If this woman is flogged and sentenced as hardliners want, it will also reflect the failure of Anni's government to protect victims of child abuse. 

It's looking increasingly unlikely that parliament and politicians will take an interest in this case, but the public can and should make it known to the authorities that they will not tolerate further abuse of this young woman.

Aishath Mohamed Didi failed to protect the young woman, but we should make sure that Aminath Jameel does a better job.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Ibra's bill will not protect children

In 2006, a 16-year old girl from an island in south Maldives was brought to Male for an investigation concerning a dead newborn discovered there. Police and the child rights ministry sources revealed at the time that the child had been chronically abused by her own father, who made her pregnant and assisted in the killing of the infant. But after the investigation, the then child rights minister Aishath Mohamed Didi sent the girl back to her parents and, in affect, to her abuser. 

Child sexual abuse, under Maldivian law, required, and still does, a confession by the alleged abuser, or testimony by four witnesses, for a successful conviction to take place. This meant that if a child reports sexual abuse, the perpetrator denies it, and there are no witnesses, the court can find the child guilty of consent. Victims of child sexual abuse are therefore often punished for reporting the crime while the abuser is almost always let free.

Ibra's much heralded bill to criminalise paedophilia would not protect the vast majority of victims, because it does not propose changes to evidence laws. If the conviction of child sexual abusers is a near impossibility, what's the point of calling for harsher sentences for them? I understand that Ibra was advised by experts and concerned individuals about this, but chose to ignore the issue of evidence laws in his bill.

Child sexual abuse flourished in the Maldives in Gayoom's three decades of power, with presidential pardons granted habitually to the few that were convicted. A survey published a year before Gayoom was ousted revealed that one in six Maldivian women aged 15-49 years was sexually abused under 15 years of age. A UNICEF study published this year has found out that one in five school girls and one in ten school boys experience sexual abuse at least once in their lifetime. The present government is yet to publicly speak out against the the high levels of child sexual abuse in this country or state what it plans to do about it. 

Ibra's bill does not offer respite either. The seriously flawed bill was probably more politically motivated than the result of any genuine commitment to protecting Maldivian children from widespread sexual abuse. Note also that Ibra is proposing lowering the age of consent to 16 years, even though those under 18 years of age are regarded as minors under Maldivian law. This means the 16 year old girl from south Maldives would not not have got any protection from Ibra or Anni.

That girl, now legally of age, is reported to have had another illegitimate child and the state is considering flogging her as punishment.

Perhaps Aishath Mohamed Didi and her team should have a taste of the "durra", or the flogging baton, for failing to protect the young woman.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Should the Islamic ministry be sued?

The Maldives constitution guarantees the freedom of expression of its citizens except when it's against the tenets of Islam. The banning of, which promotes Islam, therefore, may be a violation of the constitution and the owners of the website could profitably sue both the Islamic ministry and the telecommunication authority.

This is not the first time that Adhaalath hardliners have acted unconstitutionally. Last year Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari claimed that a woman could not become a ruler of this country because it would be "directly against Islam". 

In fact a Saudi government paper presented at a UN conference on women in 1996 stated: "There is absolutely nothing in the Quran which directly or indirectly forbids a woman to become the head of a state or even suggests that she is essentially incompetent for the position." 

Not only, then, is Bari's view not shared by more reliable authorities on Islam, his statement is directly against the constitution. When Bari made the remark the new constitution had already been ratified and, and not even the efforts by MDP's resident hardliner BA Naseem, could reverse the rights of Maldivian women to take up the top job.

And then there was the anti-music video, produced by erstwhile pop singer Ali Rameez's Jamiyathul Salaf, an organisation known to spread misogyny in the Maldives in the name of Islam. Ali Rameez, the biggest success story of the Wahhabi infiltration into Maldivian culture, managed to convince key Adhaalath players to proclaim music was haraam.  But liberal scholars claim that no sound hadith concerning the prohibition of music exists, and point out that some companions of the Prophet as well as second generation Muslims listened to music and did not see anything wrong in it. Since it cannot be firmly established that music is against the tenets of Islam, the attempts by the Adhaalath and the washed-out pop singer to curtail creative freedom and expression can only be regarded as unconstitutional. 

Interestingly, the Maldives human rights commission has remained silent on the issue of censorship and the currents debates surrounding the actions of the Islamic ministry. In fact one of the people deriding music in the Salafiyya video was a member of that commission. How he managed to employed by the human rights commission is anybody's guess.

Some people have been suggesting that president Anni is playing a shrewd game here: allowing those in the Islamic ministry to slowly destroy themselves in the eyes of the public. But it should be noted that not once has Anni backed women or defended freedom of expression against the religious right. Indeed, MDP members habitually mock and undermine liberal Islamic scholars, notably Gubad Abu Bakr and Afrasheem Ali, who can and have defeated the Adhaalath "shekhs" at numerous religious debates. The truth is that Gayoom got all the best, forward thinking religious scholars, while Anni was saddled with the dubious ones, who may well derail the democratic process that Maldivians have fought for so long. The Adhaalath have also proved to be an embarrassment to Anni's government as it courts international support.

I know some Maldivians who said that once we'd got rid of Gayoom, they would initiate legal proceedings against Adhaalath, and others, for their proven record of acts and statements against the constitution.

Now may be the time for this.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Maldives president blocks websites and cracks down on protests

The list of websites banned by Anni's government is growing, all of them on the orders of the Ministry of Islam. According to Haveeru, eight websites have been blocked so far for allegedly publishing anti-Islamic and pro-Christianity content in the Dhivehi, the Maldivian language.

One of the banned websites,, an English language one, was reportedly targeted because it evoked debates and discussions around Islam. And, at least one of the banned websites,, may have been targeted for political reasons since it exposed tyranny by a state minister at the Islamic ministry. 

The Maldives internet community is a vibrant space which for the last 5 years or so have seen the articulation of a wide range of thematic preoccupations in contemporary Maldives. Religion, politics, sexuality, drug abuse, paedophilia, amongst other subjects have been debated in far greater depth on the internet than in the conventional media. 

When president Anni created a ministry for the conservative religious party Adhaalath's  Abdul Majeed Bari and other hardliners as a reward for their "support" to the coalition, many internet writers expressed unease. Now the sentiments appear justified. The Islamic ministry is blocking dissent, debate, and discussion, in the name of Islam, and president Anni is pretending not to see.

Anni can't have imagined that a week after he announced his intention of turning the Maldives into a safe haven for the world's dissidents, he would have to block websites and send in police to crackdown on protesting resort workers.

While the very foundations of our fledgeling democracy are being threatened, the new president, for now, is chosing to turn the other way and chase international headlines.

Anni has just announced that the Maldives is to go carbon neutral in 2020,  to combat the threat facing the world's environment.

It remains to be seen if Anni will turn to the threat facing Maldivian democracy any time soon.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Anni's commitment to free speech under the spotlight

A week after President Anni announced his intention of turning the Maldives into a sanctuary for oppressed writers, his government has blocked a dissident website. The telecommunications authority has blocked the website on the order of the Islamic ministry. According to, the most reliable news service in the Maldives to my mind, the website was blocked a day after an audio clip by Foakaidhoo Imam Mohamed Shakeeb alleged that the state minister of Islamic affairs Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed had threatened him. 

Now, the permanent secretary of the ministry of communications Mohamed Latheef is accusing the telecommunications authority of not informing them of its decision.

He told "a websited can only be blocked after we have been informed and no website can be blocked for political reasons."

This will be an embarrassment for Anni, himself an erstwhile dissident writer, after the headline grabbing announcement he made to coincide with a visit to the Maldives by the UN freedom of expression rapporteur Frank La Rue.

Anni's response to the crisis will be a litmus test of how genuine his professed commitment to the freedom expression is. I'm highly skeptical. 

When Aishath Aniya, the then secretary-general of the MDP, was vilified by the party's religious right for writing an anti-buruga article, Anni didn't utter a word in public in her defense. There were even open calls for her death, but none of the MDP bigwigs protested. While Anni and Munavvaru, then the president of MDP, remained silent, Dhivehi Observer's Sappe ticked Aniya off in an open letter and called her to step down. 

Before the Maldives can become a safe haven for the dissidents of the world, it first needs to establish an environment for the freedom of expression of its own writers to flourish.

If Anni publicly apologised to Aishath Aniya and Mohamed Shakeeb and ordered the unbanning of, it would send a strong message to people like Shaheem and re-inspire Maldivians who once looked on the new president as a champion of free speech.

To access, go to and enter in the url box

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Human trafficking in the Maldives?

The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives has in its latest report slammed the country's treatment of migrant workers, warning that the practice of bringing a person in for one job and making them work on another may amount to human trafficking.

Migrant labourers pay as much as 2,000 US Dollars to agents to get into what they think is the lucrative Maldives labour force, only to be hoodwinked into lesser jobs, lesser pay and appalling working conditions. What is even more disturbing is that it is now almost certain that Maldivian government officials and employment agents have profited from this exploitation.

Last year, a report by the auditor general suggests that insiders in Gayoom's labour ministry may have deleted records on foreign labourers. It is widely believed that senior officials then made millions for issuing new permits to replace the "missing" labourers. New permits meant the recruitment of new migrant labourers who paid the exhorbitant fee, part of which was pocketed by Maldivian government officials. This cycle is believed to have existed for years under Gayoom's rule and his government did not attempt to seek or prosecute any of the alleged perpetrators, many of whom were supporters of his DRP.

But the dispossessed labourers found themselves in a place that couldn't have been more different to their dreams. Without proper documents they were unable to report to the police and susceptible to exploitation and extortion by unscrupulous Maldivians. The immigration department estimates that as much as 30,000 "illegal" migrant workers may be in the country.

Although the new government is trying to sort the problem, no doubt motivated by its bid to become a member of the the International Labour Organisatoin, it has, so far, failed to bring any of the alleged agents or officials to justice. Instead,  the government appears to be concentrating on rounding up illegal immigrants and trying to deport them.

Many of the labourers caught are kept in the immigration department's detention centre. The human rights commission has questioned the legality of this arrangement, pointing out that many have been there for more than a month even though Maldivian law requires a court ruling for this.

Human trafficking is a serious international crime and colluding or complicity can seriously jeopardise the Maldives government's bid to join the ILO, which has a consitiutional mandate to protect migrant workers.

As Juan Somavia, the director general of the ILO declared: "Migrant workers are an asset to every country where they bring their labour. Let us give them the dignity they deserve as human beings and the respect they deserve as workers." 


Thursday, March 5, 2009

Maldivian children abused by parents, schools and the community

A new UNICEF study is confirming what many in the psychosocial field have known for years: that child abuse is widespread in the Maldives.

One in five school girls have been sexually abused at least once, while the figure for school boys is just over one in ten. These rates are "considerably high" even by global standards, according to one of the researchers.

Of the nearly 2,000 students who participated in the largest study of emotional and physical punishment and sexual abuse of children in the Maldives, three out of ten children said their parents hit them with boys more likely to be subjected to physical and emotional violence than girls. 

School life doesn't fare any better; 23 per cent of boys and 10 per cent of girls said they had been hit by a teacher, even though corporal punishment is banned in Maldivian schools. Five per cent of the children said they had been so badly injured by their teacher that they had needed to go to the hospital. 

One third of the teachers in Maldivian schools are not qualified to teach. Not surprisingly, only 5 per cent of students sitting the GCSE exams passed in English in 2005. The UNICEF study paints a bleak picture of life for Maldivian children: they've been let down by their parents, the education system and by the community.

But a substantial section of Maldivian society, 36 per cent, supports physical punishment of children. Even supposedly progressive members of the community are pro-punishment. Dr. Abdullah Waheed, the deputy home minister, echoed populist sentiment in a personal blog post recently, when he criticised child laws protecting children as "ill-conceived and inappropriately implemented" and alleged they "prevented teachers from disciplining children". If this isn't a cry to bring back corporal punishment, I don't know what is.

Kay Engelhardt, a consultant for the international research firm Taylor Nelson Sofres which was part of the study, has commented that violence already enters the life of Maldivian children at an early age. "Home is not safe, the community is not safe and school is a grey area", Engelhardt told

But Maldivians in positions of power have habitually been unsympathetic to young people. Gayoom's buddy and former education minister Zahir Hussein, in the 80s, hit a Majeediyya student with a stick in front of the whole school. Hussein also, notoriously, tried to turn a blind eye to the serial child sexual abuse by two teachers during his disastrous reign at the ministry. Gayoom's faithful servant Umar Zahir, who headed the home ministry for several years, allowed rampant physical, psyhological and sexual abuse of children in the government's reformatory.

And now we have the likes of Dr. Abdullah Waheed, who failed to establish or manage a decent rehabilitation centre for recovering addicts or a modern prison service, advocating Maldivian children to be subjected to even more violence.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Payne puffs again

In a meeting yesterday with his staff, the general manager of One And Only Reethi Rah Resort Michael Payne told disgruntled staff to find work elsewhere if they still found working conditions on the island unsatisfactory.

The resort found itself in the centre of political controversy last November when its management called in police to break up a demonstration by staff protesting against inadequate working conditions and the failure to implement the new employment act.

Payne managed to get riot police or the "Golha" force onto the island, in part because the then home minister Gasim Ibrahim, who owned a fleet of resorts himself, would have been more sympathetic to the management than the protestors. Sending the golha force into Reethi Rah cost Gasim his cabinet portfolio, and government intervention forced the resort to take back staff they had sacked unfairly and take steps to meet the demands of its workforce.

Reethi Rah management has since adopted the new employment act and promised to improve working conditions there.

But Payne is singing a different tune now, say staff.

"He was raving like a lunatic yesterday," a staff told me. "He was going on about Obama and the global economic recession."

Payne reportedly warned staff of impending redundancies, then lost his cool when he was asked to explain why working conditions hadn't improved as promised.

Many of the promises made by the management, including better accomodation, more toilets for staff, and an increase in the transport to and from Male have yet to materialise.

In the words of one staff, Payne "puffed up like a puffer-fish" when confronted by his staff, and yelled at them to find work elsewhere if they didn't like conditions on Reethi Rah.

In December, president Anni bragged that his government had successfully resolved the Reethi Rah crisis.

But with Payne puffing again, that is beginning to look more like wishful thinking than fact.