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Islam, infrastructure and foreign pressure: Maldives president on campaign trail

The president slammed foreign interference and vowed harsh punishments for Maldivians who insult Islam.



President Abdulla Yameen concluded Tuesday a two-day campaign tour of Shaviyani atoll, urging voters to choose economic development over the opposition’s alleged anti-Islamic agenda.

He shared metrics of government spending on overdue infrastructure projects at each island stop, making it the central message of his re-election bid ahead of September’s polls.

Speaking on Milandhoo island Tuesday morning, he claimed ex-president Mohamed Nasheed sought the former Islamic minister’s opinion on allowing the freedom to openly practice other religions in the Maldives.

“Have we forgotten this? It is I who have been saying other religions won’t be allowed in Maldives, isn’t that so?” Yameen said.

The failure to instill religious virtues and teach Arabic and Islam as compulsory subjects in schools until now was responsible for Maldivian youth insulting the Prophet (pbuh), he argued.

“Aren’t our Maldivian youth doing this beyond what non-Muslims are doing? Is this how far freedom of speech can be stretched? In my government, I want to give the harshest legal punishment to such people. And if there aren’t laws, this has to be stopped even if we have to make laws.”

Non-believers should be deprived of “any kind of benefits” in the Maldives, he said, echoing a policy paper in April that proposed financial penalties and prison terms for apostates.

“This is what we should bring to mind when we approach the [September] 23rd vote,” he continued.

“Why should we see if there’s space for religions other than Islam in the Maldives? Do the people of Milandhoo agree? They won’t. Do the people of Milandhoo want a temple of another religion in front of the mosque here?”

Maldivian atheists who insult Islam on social media are opposition supporters, Yameen insinuated.

The appeal to religious-nationalist sentiment was a prominent theme of the 2013 campaign, when the front-runner Nasheed was accused of pursuing a secularist agenda that threatened the country’s 100 percent Muslim status.

– Foreign pressure –

Yameen acknowledged the government faced pressure to implement the February 1 Supreme Court order to release his jailed opponents.

“What we heard lately is that there’s no democracy here if president Nasheed can’t contest. Foreign parties were also forcing me, pressuring me to do this,” he said.

But overturning criminal convictions was beyond the executive’s powers, he continued, defending the jailing of former chief justice Abdulla Saeed and justice Ali Hameed.

The February 1 order, rescinded by the remaining justices after a state of emergency was declared, was null and void from the outset, Yameen contended.

“But why are foreign parties so interested in executing that order? That’s how much we face this pressure. And if we aren’t able to do it, I don’t doubt that we’ll face greater pressure. I await it, too,” he said.

Insisting on Maldivian independence and sovereignty was the “difference of philosophy” between the government and opposition.

Yameen also reiterated that the European Union revoked duty-free status for Maldives tuna over the refusal to allow religious freedom and homosexual rights, an allegation denied by the EU.

During the tour of the northern atoll, Yameen marked the completion of a beach protection project in Bileyfahi and airport land reclamation project in Funadhoo. In his last stop Monday, he inaugurated the harbour of Kanditheemu.

In Milandhoo Tuesday morning, Yameen inaugurated the island’s sewerage system. Government spending for the island’s projects have increased five-fold to MVR222 million during the past five years, he said.

Speaking in Funadhoo, Yameen blamed restrictions or pressure for the failure to launch touted mega-projects like the i-Havan transhipment port and Faafu atoll project.

In Bileyfahi, he pledged to reclaim land and develop a domestic airport. A foreign company expressed interest in the project recently, he said, adding that company officials will visit the island next week with the tourism minister.

Shaviyani atoll will become a tourism hub once new airports are operational on Funadhoo and Bileyfahi, he said.