People making fun of Islam on social media will get house calls from government officials who will educate them about the faith, authorities have said.
It was common for Maldivians to use social media to insult or disrespect the country’s official religion, Islamic Minister Dr Mohamed Ziyad Bagir said at a news conference, and the house visits were intended to correct that.
The move comes amid the trial of seven people charged with murdering liberal blogger and Internet activist Yameen Rasheed, whose death was justified and even welcomed on social media by those who saw him as an apostate.
One article at the time said mocking Islam was punishable by death, while a Facebook page threatened more killings against those it accused of campaigning for secularism. It spoke of a hit list, announcing there would be no rest until all apostates were beheaded.
Islamic ministry officials at Thursday’s news conference did not explain what constituted mockery, nor did they give a reason for singling out social media.
The current anti-defamation act targets content or speech that is anti-Islamic, with up to five years in jail, and it covers social media posts too.
Shahindha Ismail, executive director of the Maldivian Democracy Network, said she hoped the Islamic minister was also taking action against individuals spreading hatred and intolerance in the name of the faith. Otherwise he was doing what President Yameen did after the blogger’s murder, she added, referring to his remarks on the limits of free speech.
“It would encourage labelling of free expression as blasphemy and another onslaught of vigilante violence. I hope he understands the responsibility of what he has declared,” she told the Maldives Independent.
Ministry officials also said they were concerned about Maldivians fighting overseas, claiming people became jihadis because they had been deceived them about Islam.
US-based security and risk management consultancy the Soufan Group says around 200 to 250 Maldivians are known to be fighting in Syria and Iraq, making the island nation the highest foreign fighter contributor based on per capita.
However, the government has given lower figures and some officials have sought to downplay the threat posed by jihadis including those returning from battlefields abroad.
Earlier this month the National Counter Terror Center published its first strategy document on countering and preventing violent extremism.
It says there should be emphasis on promoting moderate Islamic teachings and incorporating them into the national discourse.
“Religious civil society organizations and scholars must be engaged to counter the narratives used by extremist entities. Religious messages that promote tolerance, inclusivity and social harmony must be brought to the forefront.”