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.


Anonymous said...

What a stupid bunch of people. Blindly following the footsteps of adhaalath without even knowing what's really going on.

The Shadowrunner said...

I is with deep shame that I admit I had prepared an attack against them; but was unable to carry it out as I had to keep my disguise up and attend a family meeting in Vilingili.

The Shadowrunner said...

I will say this again; it is a plot to exterminate the women of our countr, the future mothers of the nation, so that the evil arab overlords can convert the Maldivian race to manure; for the purposes of fuelling the wars agreed upon by the Arab-Israeli Pact.

hudhu-endheri said...

gud for men to hide nd let be ladies punnished.... wut a discrimination... woww.

Anonymous said...

when are we going to get mad and say enough is enough! enough tolerance for these fanatics!

freethinker said...

the refence to women, such as "anhendholhaa anhenunthakeh" was quite telling. they were carrying some black flags with some arabic logo on, i think belongs to some pakistani extremist organisation and there was definitely a strong "jihadist" tone of the speeches towards the end. i think the objective of their puppets masters are really to create a climate of fear and oppression and unrest in this country, and get recruites for jihadist activities abroad. the question is will we, allow foreigners to use us for their twisted agenda to reak havoc on the world in the name of raligion? we have a centuries old dhivehi culture; and they are out to wipe it all out and create a so called "nation of island" which includes a bunch of raving "mullah"s and oppressed, desperate masses have no hope, no value for human life and perfect candidates for foot soldiers in wars which have nothing to do with us

MZM said...

Thank you so much for this article. If this persuades even a single person to think objectively instead of blindly following, I shall be eternally grateful.

Fazeel said...

"...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 se..."

You said "It has emerged that..". Could you please specify any evidence whatsoever for this assertion?

dissidentmaldives said...

i checked with a source who had access to the case. although i can't name the source but you might want to check with the children's unit of the ministry of health; the criminal should also be able to confirm that the girl was underage when she 'fornicated'.

Anonymous said...

My heartfelt experience of Islam is something beautiful, merciful, and compassionate. I feel Islam as a powerful force for social justice. The Al-Qadr (Power) that I feel, streams from he who is Al Qadr, Allah (SWT), and it is this power which elevates my sense of humanity.

The Islam that I feel shreds my heart with painful mercy for the oppressed; it causes me to tremble with indignation when I see any exploitation or abuse of power. For me, Jihad (from Jahada – struggle) is a fight for human rights, social justice, and mercy. To use Jihad to justify violence in our day and age is an abuse of this beautiful, sacred duty to strive for the wellbeing of humanity. True Jihad is struggle to spread the Rahman and the Rahim, the Mercy of Allah.

When we study Islamic history, Seerah and Hadith and other history, we see that often Al-Qital was fighting to stop orphans and children from being killed because they were girls or burdens. Or, in other cases, the Muslims had to fight because if you were not a Muslim, your duty to your tribe or religion was to kill the Muslims. Even Muslim warfare which appeared aggressive was defensive if we really study Islamic history. However, in our day and age physical fighting to spread Islam or to get social justice can only be used in extreme cases of physical aggression. The spirit of true Jihad demands that violence be used as a strictly last resort only. A true Muslim leader is called to embrace suffering for others, (In Sahih Muslim a Muslim leader is called to be a shield for his people) not to impose suffering on others.

I refuse to accept that an Islam which oppresses people and reduces humanity is true Islam; so I studied into Islam from a liberal scholar’s perspective and it confirmed what I felt. Ayat’s or Hadith which I feel are oppressive, when I studied into these, I could see that such were contextual, not meant for all times and all places. In fact, out of all the scholars I have read on this, and I studied this in English and in Arabic for several years, the best I have come across is the Maldives own Son Professor Abdullah Saeed, brother of Dr. Hassan Saeed leader of the Dhivehi Qaumee Part. No matter what one thinks of Hassan Saeed, his brother is the best at explaining, in depth, that oppression of human rights cannot be justified by Islam. I got a few of my ideas from his books.

I reject the repression of democracy and human rights in the name of Islam.

One of my favorite quotes is Qur’an Surah 4: 75, “And Why should you not fight for those men, women and children whose cry is our Lord, rescue us from this town whose people are oppressor’s and send us one who will protect! “ The force for justice captured by this and other Ayat’s beautifully captures the essence of Islam, Allah’s force of liberty for the oppressed. Islam, for me, is a force for social justice, a powerful expression of the dignity of humanity. At the heart of Islam is the Mercy for the oppressed, “Beware of the prayer of the oppressed, there is no barrier between the oppressed and Allah!” This quote is often repeated in both Bukhari and Muslim, and when I feel it, I am appalled and angered when Islam is used as a tool to oppress people.

I completed my thesis on the topic of Islam as a force for democratization, and my findings are that the essence of Islam is deeply democratic, it is deeply empowering for the poor and oppressed, and any Islamic Hadith or verse which appears anti-democratic was only meant to stabilize a forming society. The repression of human rights and social justice is against the essence of Islam.

In the given climate, I feel that my ideas (which are Islam’s ideas) are relevant in Maldives so I am going to try and share them with you all because, I love all my Muslim Brothers and Sisters so much. If you like my ideas Hilath or feel they may be relevant or helpful you can use them it’s up to you…Consider this an introduction because I have a lot of points to make and I wish to use examples from what is happening in Maldives to illustrate my points.

Anonymous said...

Maldives dissent, this above is a slightly modified version of a comment i posted on hilath's blog... I posted it there but I wondered if it may be appropriate for you guys????

Al said...

The Let Go...Let Peace Come In Foundation is a newly formed nonprofit with a mission to help heal and support adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse worldwide. We are actively seeking adult survivors who would be willing to post a childhood photo and caption, their story, or their creative expressions to our website We need to "show" the world that we will no longer be silenced and that there are enough of us to make a difference. By uniting survivors from across the globe we can help provide a stronger and more powerful voice to those survivors who have not yet found the courage to speak out. Together we can; together we should; together we NEED to stand up and be counted. Please visit our site for more details on how you can send us your submissions.

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