The closed-door trial of a religious scholar accused of performing a sexual act with a minor while in a position of trust began Wednesday.
The preliminary hearing involving Sheikh Mohamed Shafiu was closed to the media and public to protect the rights of the underage student, who accused the former university lecturer of sexual assault.
According to local reports, a 16-year-old girl student had accused Shafiu, prompting Maldives National University management to launch an internal investigation mid-June.
The religious scholar was reportedly dismissed from his job as a permanent MNU lecturer after the probe concluded.
A spokesman for the Prosecutor General’s office, Ahmed Thaufeeq, declined to provide details of Wednesday’s hearing.
The former lecturer was officially charged on July 31, according to the criminal court’s website.
The well-known cleric, from the island of Ihavandhoo in the northern Haa Alif atoll, faced public criticism after the sexual assault accusations were reported in June this year.
Several social media pages called for punishment and public pressure led to an investigation followed by his dismissal prior to pressing the charges.
Prosecutor General Aishath Bisham spoke to reporters in early August and confirmed the official charges.
She said charges were also made in two other child sexual abuse cases: the alleged gang-rape of a 17-year-old girl and sexual assault of a 13-year-old by a Maldivian and two expatriates.
The police declined to comment at the time and gender ministry officials assured that protection would be provided for minors connected to abuse cases while refusing to provide the media with details of specific cases.
The gender ministry’s monthly statistics of reported cases showed a drop from 260 cases in July to 246 in August, despite a rise in cases of child sexual abuse.
Despite an overall drop in reports in August, cases of sexual abuse increased to around 37 compared to 32 in July and 18 in June.
While child abuse and sexual abuse remain key challenges in the Maldives, a mandatory child sex offenders registry was published for the first time in November 2015.
The online registry came after a five-year delay and currently lists more than 70 individuals with their photos, full names, national identity card numbers, date of birth, age, address, date of conviction, date of imprisonment, date of scheduled release and name of the detention centre the individual is being held.
The online registry is mandated by a 2009 law on child sexual abuse prevention.