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NGO boss probed over domestic violence allegations

The NGO boss denied the domestic violence allegations.



The founder of a women’s rights NGO is being probed over complaints of domestic violence, the Maldives Independent has learned.

The allegations of domestic violence against Safaath Ahmed Zahir, founder of Women & Democracy, emerged on Twitter last week.

Sources in the Gender Ministry confirmed to the Maldives Independent that Safaath was being investigated over an anonymously filed complaint, and that the ministry was monitoring the situation of the alleged victim.

According to the sources, the alleged victim is a member of Safaath’s family.

Safaath denied the domestic violence allegations.

“I have never been questioned by any authority or the police. I don’t know where these allegations are coming from. I have nothing but love for my family. We all love each other and these allegations are very stupid,” she told the Maldives Independent.

The Gender Ministry deals with support and care for survivors in cases of domestic violence and abuse. Officials were unable to give information about the status of a criminal investigation and police spokesman Ahmed Shifan was not answering calls at the time of going to press.

Mi Verin Koba, a social media campaign posting well-documented cases of abuse committed by people in positions of power, asked why Women & Democracy was taking so long to respond to the allegations.

Aishath Sheeza, COO for Women & Democracy, told the Maldives Independent that the organisation only heard about the allegations through Twitter.

It could not take any action over the matter as the body’s governing rules did not specify disciplinary actions, she said, and that Women & Democracy was working on amending its regulations.

“We [the board] also questioned Safaath on the matter. She denied it, saying that it was an attempt to defame and slander her,” Sheeza said.

She said the allegation was baseless and that there was no evidence.

Two board members of Women & Democracy resigned last week over the allegations and the way they were handled by the NGO, a source familiar with the issue told the Maldives Independent.

Safaath is also a member of an internal committee of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party and has been active in its youth wing activities.

MDP spokesman and MP Imthiyaz Fahmy said the party did not condone any form of violence or rights abuses.

“If not baseless or groundless, these are serious allegations and have to be properly and credibly investigated by the authorities concerned,” he said.

Safaath was on a 2017 Forbes “30 under 30” list for Asia, with the magazine describing her as “a leading women’s rights activist in the Maldives.”

In 2016, she was also a recipient of the Queen’s Young Leaders Award.

Photo shows workshop organised by Women & Democracy

This article has been updated with additional comment from the COO of Women & Democracy.