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.