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President forms committee to address rising religious tension

Protesters have calling for the arrest of a former lawmaker accused of insulting Islam.



President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih on Tuesday formed a committee to address rising religious tension after the vandalism of a private college whose chairman was accused of mocking Islam.

Set up on the recommendation of the cabinet, the seven-member committee includes Vice President Faisal Naseem, the president’s chief of staff, and the ministers for defence, home affairs, higher education, youth and sports, and Islamic affairs.

The committee was tasked with discussing the issue with the relevant authorities, “taking immediate action and setting long terms strategies to prevent actions of those who criticise religion and those who commit crimes such as wilful destruction of property and endangering the lives of people in the name of protecting religion.”

In April 2017, liberal blogger Yameen Rasheed was killed by a radicalised group of young men who believed he was guilty of blasphemy and insulting Islam, according to police. In the wake of the brutal murder, several sheikhs labelled Yameen as someone who “mocked Islam” and sought to justify his killing.

The glass door of the Mandhu College in Malé was smashed hours after a protest was staged outside the building calling for the arrest of the college’s chairman Ibrahim Ismail ‘Ibra.’

On Tuesday afternoon, about 50 people marched in the capital’s suburb Vilimalé calling for Ibra’s arrest. Calls to “behead Ibra” and “hang Ibra” were heard among chants to “protect Islam.”

About 20 women with face veils gathered Wednesday afternoon at the artificial beach in Malé. ‘Take action against laadheenee [irreligious or secular] people,’ ‘You’re playing with our blood,’ and ‘You can’t mock Allah, you can’t mock the Prophet,’ read some of their placards.

Ibra, a former president of the Maldivian Democratic Party and chairman of the committee that drafted the 2008 constitution, came under fire after a Twitter debate last Friday on the absence of a Quranic verse that prescribes stoning as a punishment for adultery.

Ibra challenged claims that such a verse had been revealed but was lost after it was kept underneath the bed of the Prophet’s wife Aisha.

The belief that it was later revealed by Caliph Umar implies “that the Prophet was not trustworthy. That some revelations of Allah were kept under Aisha’s bed and not revealed. What laadheenee (irreligious/secular) talk is this? That Mohamed concealed. That Umar revealed. Which one is the Prophet here?” he tweeted.

The tweet was misreported by the tabloid Vaguthu as Ibra “exceeding all bounds” by calling the Prophet dishonest. News site Miadhu and opposition TV station Channel 13 accused him of mocking Prophet Mohamed (pbuh).

On Tuesday, Ali Hashim, the president of the Haa Alif Dhidhdhoo island council, resigned after islanders launched a petition calling for a vote of no-confidence against him after he came to Ibra’s defence and argued that his tweet was misconstrued.

“I resigned when people started signing a petition and because I do not want it to be a burden. It is also the democratic, fair way. I thank the people for their cooperation in my work,” the councillor told the media.

The petition accused Hashim of supporting those who openly insult Islam, the Quran and the Prophet.

Transparency Maldives was among the few voices that expressed concern after the Mandhu College vandalism. The NGO said “differences of opinion should not be met with calls for violence and damage to property” and urged the authorities to prevent such calls as “a prerequisite to establishing a society that respects human rights.”

On Sunday night, Ibra was summoned to the police headquarters amid a growing public backlash against his tweet.

The summons came after the Islamic ministry said it has recently been receiving complaints about the mocking of religion and the dissemination of inaccurate information about Islam in the news media, social media, websites and public spaces.

The ministry was working with the authorities to identify those who mock and insult Islam as well as those who “encourage harshness and violence in the name of religion while remaining hidden and threaten to damage life and property outside legal bounds.”

The protests against Ibra came amid growing calls to mete out harsh punishments for Maldivians who mock Islam.

Former vice president Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed proposed introducing a blasphemy law to prescribe life imprisonment for those who mock the Prophet.

He previously suggested that “influential people” were behind the police failure to take action under the 1994 Religious Unity Act.

Former home minister Umar Naseer warned the new government to stop people insulting Islam if President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih wants to complete a five-year term.

Earlier this month, police launched an investigation into hate speech and death threats after a public chat channel started branding individuals as apostates.

At least three people, including a local cleric and radio journalist branded as an apostate, have been questioned so far.