Maldives: NGO's concern over Ministry of Islamic Affairs' campaign of intolerance

WLUML Networkers

In two days, the UN will elect four members to represent Asia in its Human Rights Commission. The Maldives, as one of the candidates, is widely expected to gain a seat since only four member states are running for the four seats. But is the Maldives ready for a human rights position at the international stage? Here in the Maldives, human rights activists and civil society groups have been raising concerns about the threat to freedom of expression, gender equality and child rights from a sustained campaign being waged largely by the government’s Ministry of Islamic Affairs.

Headed by leaders of the religious right wing Adhaalath Party, which formed an alliance with the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party in 2008, the Islamic Ministry has unlimited access to state TV and radio, and an annual budget of 16 million US dollars.

We are concerned that the Islamic ministry is using these resources to campaign against human rights and to spread hatred and intolerance. Here’s a glimpse of its handiwork:

  • The Islamic ministry’s new Religious Unity Regulation, currently awaiting implementation, would make it illegal to promote personal views on religious matters, including views expressed on blogs and websites; prohibit advertisements contrary to “Islamic codes of conduct”; and give the ministry power to order relevant authorities to deport foreigners it suspects of preaching other religions and deport foreigners it suspects of propagating any beliefs that contravene Sunni Islam.
  • Last year, the religious NGO Jamiyathul Salaf brought preacher Bilal Philips, with the blessing of the Islamic ministry, who told Maldivians on live television that it was alright to marry off girls who had had their menarche, even if they were only nine years old.
  • In an episode of the Islamic ministry’s daily TV show Thedhu Magu (The Righteous Path), the Minister Abdul Majeed Bari categorically stated that Islam required girls to help in domestic chores because “a woman’s role is that of a mother”. The minister and his colleagues at the Adhaalath Party have continuously opposed the appointment of female judges and said it was un‐Islamic for women to become heads of states.
  • The Islamic Ministry granted a preaching license to the radical cleric Ibrahim Fareed, who has repeatedly told congregations that more women than men will go to hell because women sin more.
  • When the online newspaper Minivan News exposed the judiciary’s flogging sentences, overwhelmingly passed against women, the religious right held a protest against the online newspaper and called for the deportation of its editor.

To read the letter in full, please see the attached document

letter to the international community from Maldives civil society (3).pdf72.24 KB