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Yameen’s remarks on sex workers, opium spark controversy

President Abdulla Yameen has sparked outrage on social media with recent comments on Maldivian men visiting sex workers in Bangkok, feeding opium to the youth, and a reference to Allah’s children.



President Abdulla Yameen has sparked controversy with recent comments on Maldivian men visiting sex workers in Bangkok, feeding opium to the youth, and a reference to Allah’s children.

The comments made at three separate ceremonies are now playing on a loop on opposition aligned Raajje TV and the clips have been widely shared on social media.

On May 21, Yameen, at a ceremony to mark 913 days in office, said: “I have to say that I know everyone, especially all men, go to Bangkok. And certainly, the women they get there are not hiley [for free].”

The word hiley means without payment in Divehi and hiley anhenun refers to unmarried women.

Then on May 24, Yameen, at a ceremony to inaugurate a sewerage system on a northern island, said: “The solution to the social issues we have in the Maldives, is for Maldivians to get an opiate that allows them to forget these issues.

“That opiate is the people’s empowerment. Create choice for youth that allows them to stop wasting time, and go forward with the country, get money for their families, and work to lead blessed lives, and earn incomes. And so, to empower youth, is for us to distribute this opiate. Without a content youth, our country will not go forwards.”

The comments were taken as distasteful and inappropriate for the president of an Islamic country.

Sheikh Hussein Rasheed Hassan, a religious scholar, said comments on prostitution should not come “from the leader of an Islamic country.”

He added: “The statements insinuate encouragement [of such activity]. This would have big results. A president should not speak in this manner.”

Ali Hussain, an MP for the Jumhooree Party, said: “A man who believes that feeding opium as a solution for citizen’s issues should not be the president of an Islamic country.”

Responding to the furore, Ibrahim Muaz Ali, the president’s spokesman, said the comments had been taken out of context.

“The president was speaking in Dhivehi and what he said is clear to the Maldivian public,” he said. When asked if opiate was the best choice of word in a country grappling with high heroin addiction rates, Muaz said: “Maldivians have used opium in the past as a medicine. In that context, it is the same as saying that there needs to be a vaccine for social problems. Maldivians will understand.”

The Maldives Broadcasting Commission issued last week a report into a complaint filed over a comment the president made on May 1, in which we said: “We are not Allah’s second sons. We are humans, like in any other country.” The complaint alleged Yameen’s words were un-Islamic.

In Islam, it is blasphemous to claim God had children.

The MBC said the Islamic ministry had explained that the remark was a rebuttal to Jews and Christians, who believe God had fathered children and “who work to hinder the progress and development of the Maldives.” Therefore, it did not violate broadcasting standards, the commission said.

The MBC had previously ordered Raajje TV to issue an apology after an opposition member accused Yameen of benefiting from the theft of some US$80million from tourism leases. The president, acknowledging the scandal to be the biggest case of corruption in the Maldives, has dismissed the claim, pinning the blame solely on his former deputy.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed had also caused outrage previously, with comments on methadone treatment for recovering addicts and the need for an alternative narrative to conservative interpretations of the Islamic Shariah.