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Maldives foreign minister accused of sexual harassment

Dr Mohamed Asim was accused by at least four junior female staff.



Foreign Minister Dr Mohamed Asim is facing multiple accusations of sexual harassment in the workplace, sources have confirmed to the Maldives Independent.

A highly-placed source from the foreign ministry confirmed that Asim is accused of sexual harassment by at least four women, all of whom are junior staff.

The issues were raised through the ministry’s internal mechanisms and senior officials were aware of the accusations, said the source, who was unaware of details of the incidents.

A second source within the junior political ranks corroborated the information.

The Maldives Independent was unable to reach Asim despite multiple phone calls to his mobile number as well as the minister’s bureau. Neither Asim nor the foreign ministry media official has responded to emailed questions at the time of publication.

According to the sources, one of the women gave a verbal statement accusing Asim of sexual assault in June, after which three other cases of alleged sexual harassment emerged.

One of the cases could be considered sexual assault, the sources said.

But the woman who gave the statement later retracted the allegations, they said.

A third source within the ministry’s civil service staff told the Maldives Independent that the accuser withdrew the complaint after facing stigmatisation from some co-workers and senior staff.

Aminath Abdulla Didi, the ministry’s permanent secretary and highest-ranking civil servant, denied any official complaint was made. Some of the allegations were passed around as office gossip, she told the Maldives Independent.

“From April 2015 the ministry has had a complaints mechanism regarding sexual harassment and no complaints was officially submitted to the committee. There was gossip within the ministry like every other office,” she said.

But a complaint was officially submitted Thursday, she confirmed.

The foreign ministry sources suggested Didi might have been referring to written complaints. The complaints against Asim were relayed verbally, they said.

According to the Sexual Harassment and Assault Prevention Act, employers are responsible for investigating, taking action and protecting survivors in cases of sexual abuse whether or not the employers learn of the harassment from a formal complaint. The 2014 law does not require formal complaints to be made in writing.

The allegations against Asim surfaced on social media about a week ago. The Maldives Independent first learned of them in late September, but ministry staff refused to talk on record or anonymously due to fear of persecution or victim-blaming.

After an anonymous Twitter account detailed the allegations, several senior officials – including ambassadors and the permanent representative to the UN in Geneva – have started publicly calling to “step up the investigation.”

The allegations by the anonymous account have since been reported by local media.

A ministry staff who shared tweets from the account with the ‘MeToo’ hashtag said they “depict[ed] a series of unfortunate events that has silenced the victims for months and protected the perpetrator for years to come.”

It was retweeted by several senior officials, including the only deputy minister, the deputy permanent representative in Geneva, director of the EU division, deputy chief of mission in India and a director general.

Impunity for perpetrators is a big challenge faced by Maldivian women who have encountered workplace sexual harassment.

In 2015, Mohamed Fahmy Hassan – a Civil Service Commission member who was removed from the post by parliament for sexually harassing a staff member – was appointed as the Maldives high commissioner to Malaysia.

He remains in the post despite calls by women’s rights activists for his dismissal.