Police unable to protect Maldives’ oldest cemetery from vandalism

Police unable to protect Maldives’ oldest cemetery from vandalism
February 26 18:41 2017

The Maldives Police Service has decided to appeal an order by a magistrate court to protect a 900-year-old cemetery in Addu City after ancient tombstones were vandalised.

The magistrate court of the Meedhoo ward in Addu City issued the order after a member of the public filed a case Wednesday seeking protection for the historic site.

A police spokeswoman said officers in the southernmost atoll are maintaining security at the cemetery in compliance with the order. But the police are preparing to file an appeal before the high court.

The spokeswoman declined to comment on the grounds for the appeal. But a police official familiar with the situation told the Maldives Independent on the condition of anonymity that Addu City police station lacks the resources to post officers at the site on a 24-hour basis.

The cemetery is located in an uninhabited area of the Meedhoo island.

The Koagannu cemetery is the oldest in the Maldives. Built 900 years ago to bury the first Muslims in Addu City, it also contains the largest tombstone in the country.

The vandalised tombstones date back to the 18th century and were made from coral stone with carved designs and inscriptions. Historic writings were also found in the cemetery.

The cemetery is believed to be the resting place of several historical figures. It also includes in its perimeter the Fandiyaaru Miskiiy, a mosque built circa 1660 by Chief Justice Mohamed Shamsuddin.

The vandalism was reported to the police earlier this month. The spokeswoman said the case is under investigation.

Yumna Maumoon, former head of the heritage department and daughter of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, urged the police on Saturday to protect the national heritage sites.

On February 7, 2012 – amid a violent police and army mutiny that led to the resignation of the president – a group of men vandalised pre-Islamic artefacts at the national museum in Malé.

Leaked security camera footage shows the men knocking over glass cases and smashing Buddhist-era statues. According to the museum director, they destroyed “99 percent” of the evidence of the Maldives’ pre-Islamic history prior to the 12th century, including a 1.5-foot-wide representation of the Buddha’s head.

It is unclear whether two men charged over the incident ever faced trial.

In September 2012, the United States government donated US$ 20,000 (MVR 308,400) to help restore and repair the damaged artefacts.

The vandalism was reminiscent of the Taliban’s demolition of the great carved Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan in early 2001 and raised fears that extremists were gaining ground in the Maldives, the New York Times reported in February 2012.

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