The government has decided to dissolve the Maldivian Democracy Network over content in a 2016 report that was deemed contrary to the tenets of Islam.
The community empowerment ministry cancelled MDN’s registry on Tuesday and informed the NGO to settle its debts and matters related to its property within 45 days.
The unprecedented move came after the Islamic ministry and police concluded that MDN’s ‘Preliminary Assessment of Radicalisation in the Maldives’ mocked Islam and Prophet Mohamed, the community empowerment ministry announced. The 2003 associations law prohibits NGOs from contradicting tenets of Islam or undermining religious unity, it added.
Religious scholars launched a campaign to ban MDN in early October after screenshots of offensive sections in the report were widely shared on social media. More than 140 out of 200 local councils backed the calls and protest marches took place on several islands during the past four weekends. On October 10, the government suspended the NGO after the Islamic ministry asked police to investigate but the campaign continued unabated and opposition parties seized upon the cause with protests of their own.
President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih will take any action necessary to uphold rule of law and protect Islam and public interest, Home Minister Sheikh Imran Abdulla declared. “God willing, this government will not do anything without wisdom and due process,” the Adhaalath Party leader tweeted.
Sheikh Dr Mohamed Iyaz, a senior member of the Adhaalath Party and one of the leaders of the campaign to ban MDN, thanked the president for following through on assurances “even if it came a bit late.” Sheikh Ali Zaid also congratulated the president and expressed confidence that the report’s authors would be prosecuted.
A group of scholars met with the president last month to share concerns.
The Maldives constitution limits free speech to expression that are “not contrary to any tenet of Islam” and the penal code criminalises “criticism of Islam in a public medium with the intention of causing disregard for Islam,” which is categorised as a class one misdemeanour that carries a maximum prison sentence of one year.