Customs officers at the airport seized “idols” from four Indian tourists who arrived in the Maldives on Sunday.
Some 28 idols of different sizes were found when their 13 pieces of luggage were screened, the Maldives Customs Service said in a statement Tuesday. Idols used for worship were found in each of the 13 bags, it added.
Upon questioning, they insisted the objects were artefacts. The three women and one man told customs officers they came to the Maldives for a “peaceful gathering.”
The Indians have since left the country after the idols were returned to them, customs said.
The import of objects of worship is prohibited by the 1975 contraband law. Confiscated items are usually returned to their owners when they depart the Maldives.
Last September, police removed “human form” sculptures from an art installation at a resort for being un-Islamic.
The local Dhivehi language lacks words for statutes, dolls or monuments and such objects are generally referred to as Budhu (idols), the worship of which is a grave sin in Islam.
On February 7, 2012 – amid a violent police and army mutiny that led to the resignation of the president – a group of men vandalised pre-Islamic artefacts at the national museum in Malé.
Leaked security camera footage showed the men knocking over glass cases and smashing Buddhist-era statues. According to the museum director, they destroyed “99 percent” of the evidence of the Maldives’ pre-Islamic history prior to the 12th century, including a 1.5-foot-wide representation of the Buddha’s head.
More recently, the Four Seasons Kuda Huraa resort removed sphinx statues lined up along its arrival pier after complaints to the police.