Minivan Brief: President promises action against insulting Islam
A roundup of the day’s top stories.
- MPs debate ‘anti-Islamic’ NGO report
- Bills on income tax and unemployment benefits to be submitted to parliament
- The national cricket team’s South African coach is accused of sexual assault
President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih promised to take action over the “mocking” of Islam in a report by human rights NGO Maldivian Democracy Network. In a statement on Monday, Solih said language in the report that were contrary to Islamic tenets and demeaned the religion and Prophet Mohamed was “unacceptable.” He assured a probe and legal action in order to protect and maintain religious unity and public order and harmony.
As Islam is the state religion and the constitution states that Islam shall be one of the sources for all the laws enacted in the country, “to govern within the bounds of Islam and protect the religion is a responsibility entrusted by the constitution to the head of state,” the statement noted.
The Islamic ministry on Thursday sought a criminal probe over the report amid growing calls by clerics and opposition supporters to ban MDN after offensive sections were highlighted and widely shared on social media. Several ruling party lawmakers, ministers and ruling coalition leaders also joined the chorus of condemnation.
In the face of the public outcry, MDN removed the report from its website and apologised for offending public sensitivities with the language used in the report. The NGO said it has decided to revise the report with the help of religious scholars. “This association respects Islam as well as Maldivian laws and traditions and assures all Maldivian citizens that this association will not repeat such an act hereafter,” MDN said in a statement on Thursday..
Thank you Excellency for your resolve to protect Islam and the Holy Prophet and safeguard the religious unity of our people. https://t.co/MGiCXadcvl
— Maumoon Abdul Gayoom (@maumoonagayoom) October 7, 2019
The parliament floor was opened to an impromptu debate on Monday after a motion without notice was submitted over the MDN report. The emergency motion was accepted unanimously with 55 votes in favour.
In the ensuing debate, Independent MP Mohamed Nasheed Abdulla, who submitted the motion, sparked outrage by calling for the “eradication” of secularists or “irreligious” people, “rainbow-coloured people,” and advocates for gender equality, describing them as “termites” that would be easier to dispose of before they could spread.
Both opposition and pro-government lawmakers echoed calls to ban MDN. Opposition MP Ahmed Shiyam criticised President Solih’s silence on the controversy and accused the government of protecting MDN staff. “This association should be banned immediately and its senior people should be in jail,” he declared.
Opposition MP Ahmed Thoriq’s allegation that MDN was part of the Maldivian Democratic Party drew an angry response from the ruling party’s lawmakers, who account for nearly a three-quarters majority of the 87-member house. Several MDP MPs also warned against an alleged coup plot under the banner of defending Islam.
The debate grew heated when lawmakers played audio clips of controversial remarks made by former presidents Mohamed Nasheed – now speaker of parliament – and Abdulla Yameen, the opposition leader.
Bills on introducing a personal income tax and an allowance for job seekers will be among 32 pieces of government-sponsored legislation submitted during the current session of parliament, the Attorney General’s office said on Monday.
The government also plans to pass new laws governing housing, tenancy, forestry, higher education, climate resilience, charted accountants, foreign investments, water and sewerage, civil society associations and transitional justice and trial procedures on civil cases.
The ruling party-dominated parliament is expected to approve significant changes to the 2010 decentralisation law to fulfil campaign pledges to empower local councils. The law will be revised to allocate five percent of government income to local councils and introduce a quota to reserve one third of seats for women, President Solih announced in August.
As part of criminal justice reform, amendments will also be proposed to the judicature law, family law, criminal procedures law, penal code and the 2008 Police Act. The current administration’s five-year legislative agenda includes more than 200 bills.
A South African cricket coach arrested on charges of sexual assault was released on Sunday because police failed to take him before a judge within 24 hours. The criminal court released Asif Khan when he was taken for a remand hearing on Sunday afternoon, police informed the media. But the 46-year-old has been barred from the leaving the Maldives for 30 days, police noted.
An administrative inquiry into the delay in taking the suspect to court is underway, the police media official said.
Khan, who was hired to coach the national cricket team last year, is accused of sexually assaulting minors and adults. He was reportedly arrested from the Velana International Airport on Saturday while trying to board a flight out of the country. In the wake of his sudden resignation and subsequent arrest, national team players accused the Cricket Board of Maldives of aiding Khan’s departure.
In a brief statement released on Monday afternoon, the sports ministry assured cooperation with the police investigation.