Apostasy, foreign fighters and religious freedom in the Maldives: a policy paper

Apostasy, foreign fighters and religious freedom in the Maldives: a policy paper
April 15 16:25 2018

Earlier this week the Maldives’ Ministry of Islamic Affairs published a paper to strengthen legal frameworks and highlight policy gaps around apostasy, religious freedom and foreign fighters. Below is a translation:

Introduction

This is a paper to set out the policy for how state institutions should act in cases related to religious freedom, mocking religion, going to war, and committing assault and acts of war in the name of religion.

Purpose

  1. Among the biggest challenges facing the Maldives today include Maldivians (even if rarely) leaving our holy religion of Islam; openly demeaning Islam and talking and making calls against religion; going to war in the name of religion, committing assault and acts of war in the name of religion; and among people who hold such ideologies, acts of intimidation and bullying, both openly and secretly, of people who hold different views or are known to hold different views from the individual or group. And it is a tragic reality we have to accept today that such things have been multiplying and through that, physical harm and incidents of murder are occurring.
  2. In addition to problems arising at the individual level due to such acts, further social problems are being created as a consequence of such acts. And as these matters occur and arise out of faith and ideological beliefs, we have to accept that the opportunity exists for sectarian ideologies taking hold and (if proper action is not taken while there’s a climate for it) things getting out of hand. It is a reality today that such currents are passing in the country. And likewise, social issues faced by women, children, and the elderly belonging to such families because of this have become matters that must be resolved as a priority.
  3. Although such matters are domestic problems within the Maldives, they were created and rooted in international ideological warfare. While efforts to strengthen the power of such ideologies in every continent are carried out with a plan and incalculable funding, and even though it is felt that such things are relatively rare in the Maldives, we have to know that these are not problems that are limited or can be limited to the territory of the Maldives. The work done and policies formulated by the Maldives to address this also should be done with intelligence and wisdom.
  4. And likewise, we should know that in addition to challenges faced from within to the efforts to resolve these matters, problems posed from outside will be considerable. We have to know that, while the objective of some such people is to give space to other religions beside Islam and to allow for such actions and norms in our society, the objective of others is to radicalise Islamic ideology, provide space for extremist thoughts, actions, and norms  in Maldivian society, to make the Maldives a place for people with extremist ideologies to live in, and to facilitate such things at a state level. And we have to know with modern technology, transport, and communications these “wars” are being carried out with great force.

What the regulation addresses

This regulation will address three types of issues:

  1. Openly leaving Islam (apostasy)
  2. Going to war abroad in the name of religion and committing assault and acts of war in the name of religion
  3. Mocking and insulting Islam, spreading false information about Islam, and what constitutes “hate speech”

Openly leaving Islam (apostasy)

A policy or how to act in cases of leaving Islam (apostasy) or how to deal with the suspected apostate or even procedures to do so have not been adequately written in the Maldives. And along with that, apostasy is not a criminal offence determined by any law in accordance with the principles of present Maldivian constitution.

However, as the Maldives is a 100 percent Muslim country, we believe policies and procedures to follow if a Maldivian leaves Islam should be determined and declared. This is because if we look at democratic or legal principles it is up to the state to write down the consequence of every act, and this is also the right of the people.

In regards to the above, these are the policies for when someone leaves Islam

  1. To maintain the Maldives as a 100 percent Muslim state
  2. Counselling the apostate, explaining the principles of Islam, offering an opportunity for them to revert to Islam. And if they rejoin Islam by using this opportunity, for the state to provide religious and psychological help that the person needs.
  3. If a Maldivian remains without rejoining Islam, to determine that a court will decide if the person is an apostate
  4. The procedural rules to decide if a Maldivian has become an apostate should be based both on the person’s psychological capabilities and standards or criteria set by the highest authority for Islamic fatwas established under law number 94/6 (Religious Unity Act)
  5. After investigating such an issue, if a person is determined to be an apostate by trial, for that person to be removed from society for a certain period set by law. And like civil measures can be taken, for that person not to be eligible for parole or clemency or any other leniency to their sentence.
  6. If a Maldivian leaves religion and it comes to the attention of the minister, the highest authority on Islam, the state should take lead in implementing the above.
  7. If a case of a Maldivian leaving religion comes to the attention of the state before the implementation of this policy, the case can be looked into again under this policy.
  8. To arrange for the above within the legal framework.

Going to war abroad in the name of religion and committing assault and acts of war in the name of religion

We note with concern one of the problems of Maldivians going to participate in international wars and acts of terrorism is that, in the name of religion, men who go to participate in wars take their wives and children as well. Aside from the negative impact on young innocent minds, we note women and children who have been taken this way live difficult lives. From the information the state has received, in the case of the husband’s death the wife and kids are then handed over to another man (who doesn’t need to be Maldivian).

Additionally, (regarding the problems highlighted in this paper), attacking people who are known to have different views from one’s own, and harming their body, soul, property, wife and children is now an occurrence in the Maldives, and needs to be addressed at a national level. And as this hasn’t been addressed with foresight, the result is that people’s families have been damaged beyond repair, and lives have been lost. According to the Maldivian legal framework, going to war abroad is considered a crime under law 32/2015 (Anti-Terrorism Act), and (all types) of  murder are a crime under 9/2014 penal code.

With regards to the above, the procedures under this heading will be

  1. To research the legal framework to address going to war abroad, murder in the name of religion, and acts of war, and to impose harsher penalties for such actions
  2. For the problems under this heading, and for those that fund and aid such issues, to suspend or narrow under certain situations, the right to remain silent, freedom of movement, privacy for personal transactions and communications.
  3. For such people to not be given parole, clemency, or any other leniency
  4. To arrange for the above within the legal framework

Mocking religion, spreading false information about religion, and “hate speech” towards certain groups or ideologies

As noted in this paper, mocking and demeaning religion as well as spreading false information about religion is now done openly in the Maldives. Among such actions are things that are said by tongue or pen or artworks in the media to harass religion and demean it.

Additionally, regarding the issues addressed in this paper and also on other issues where other people have a difference of belief or opinion from one’s own, to bully them in public and in secret, and saying things that create hatred among others for people like that, and spreading such talk is also a common occurrence. This is being done within religious and ideological beliefs. And the result of this is that hatred is created for the one being targeted by hate speech. And the ones targeted by hate speech are caused physical damage, and their family face different challenges at societal levels.

With modern technology such acts spread very wide, very quickly. We have to note it is not a minority that believes that this comes under freedom of expression. As such, as arrangements have not been properly made into investigating such issues and taking action against them, it is now common to believe such behaviour is acceptable.

Under the legal framework, mocking religion and spreading false information is a crime under 9/2014 (Penal Code), and under 11/2010 (Stopping Offences Against Public Decency Act) and 6/94 (Religious Unity Act). But targeting certain groups or people with certain ideologies with “hate speech” to create and spread hatred and anger isn’t specified as a crime within the Maldivian legal framework.

With regards to the above, the policies for these are

  1. To make “hate speech” targeting certain groups or people with certain ideologies to create and spread hatred and anger a criminal offence, and to arrange to stop such acts.
  2. To block access to websites and blogs that are specialized for this in the Maldives.
  3. To work to shut down social media pages created for this (with a court warrant if necessary) by appealing to the page host.
  4. To take action within the legal framework against people who are writing such things published on social media
  5. If it is done by someone living abroad, to take action using international frameworks within the relevant system (through Interpol or bilateral relationships)
  6. To review and commit house arrest and fines as punishments in law for such actions
  7. To find solutions to the challenges of finding out who is committing such actions, investigate, and take action against them
  8. To arrange for the above within the legal framework

Financial penalties for the people mentioned above

While these are problems that need to be resolved at a national level, we have to accept that financial penalties are needed. As such laws need to be changed to deprive them of state benefits aside from pension and other necessities, such as healthcare, land rights and schemes, loan scheme, etc.

As such, regarding the people included in this paper, as it is required to take action against them lawfully, shaping the legal framework to facilitate this, and bringing about the necessary changes needs to be done.

Photos of Islamist march in September 2014 by Munshid Mohammed

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