The Maldives Police Service has summoned three liberal bloggers living overseas and threatened to seek prosecution in absentia if they fail to return to the Maldives within two weeks.
The MPS told Dr Azra Naseem, Muzaffar ‘Muju’ Naeem, and Hani Amir via separate press releases posted on Twitter today to present themselves to speak in their defence against unspecified allegations.
The police will ask the Prosecutor General’s office to press charges and try them in absentia if they refuse, the statements warned.
The police spokesman declined to provide any details about the charges.
Dr Azra Naseem, 45, works as a research fellow at the Dublin City University in Ireland. She is the author of Dhivehi Sitee, a site presenting critiques of Maldivian society and politics with a special focus on “the religious radicalisation of people and the actors and actions that make possible the ongoing regressions in the Maldivian people’s right to a self-governed life of dignity and liberty.”
Muju Naeem, 37, who describes himself as an activist for secularism, has been living in self-imposed exile at an undisclosed location. Hani Amir, 27, an environmentalist, artist and photographer, is studying in Australia.
“I really have no idea what the summons are about. I have not done anything illegal,” Dr Naseem told the Maldives Independent.
“As far as what to do next, I really don’t know yet. The press release requires me to present myself at the police station in Malé within 14 days. I know for certain that I will not be able to do that. I have been living in Dublin, Ireland since 1998.
“I have a life here, a family, and commitments that I cannot just abandon to respond to a summons which does not even tell me why I am required, what they want to question me about. I am not rich. I don’t have the financial means to buy a ticket to travel to the Maldives just like that. Even if I did, why should I drop everything and travel half way across the world to satisfy the unspecified whims of a police force that are known to knowingly act against the constitution of the Maldives?”
Muju Naeem called the summon part of “an ongoing witch hunt for secularists” and suggested that it was prompted by Majority Leader Ahmed Nihan’s call for legal action against secular or irreligious Maldivians.
The parliamentary group leader of the Progressive Party of Maldives was reported as saying at a ruling coalition rally last Tuesday that Maldivians who insult Islam should be prosecuted and punished to the fullest extent of the law.
“This so-called ‘irreligiosity’ has been used in the past also to silence calls for universal human rights and civil rights in the country,” said Naeem.
“It’s a tool frequently used to silence ongoing violations of human rights and the bastardization of democracy in the country. I do not intend to hand myself into the police for whatever investigation they are conducting. It’s pretty clear at this point, this is persecution based on my beliefs.”
Hani Amir also believes the three were targeted “because we promote secularism.”
“That is the thread that ties us. It’s also kind of suspicious for them to release this less than a day after I published that compilation of [Yameen Rasheed’s] writings,” he told the Maldives Independent, referring to a collection of writings from the murdered liberal blogger published on his blog.
The 29-year-old satirist and IT professional was found with 35 stab wounds in the stairwell of his apartment building in the early hours of April 23. The police have arrested six suspects, including two men believed to have committed the murder, but have yet to send cases for prosecution.
Yameen’s family have questioned the ability of the police to conduct an impartial and credible investigation, citing the failure to investigate death threats or arrest suspects in the abduction of Maldives Independent journalist Ahmed Rilwan and the near-fatal attack on blogger Hilath Rasheed.
Like Yameen, both Rilwan and Hilath were prominent liberal voices against radicalisation and extremism.
No arrests were made despite the police claiming to have access to CCTV footage near Hilath’s home in the capital.
“Hilath must have known that he had become a target of a few extremists…We are not a secular country. When you talk about religion there will always be a few people who do not agree,” then-Youth Minister Mohamed Shareef, now Maldivian ambassador to Japan, told AFP.
A similar police summon was meanwhile issued on May 23 to Aishath Velezinee, a former member of the judicial watchdog and outspoken whistleblower, who was also told to appear within two weeks. Velezinee, who lives in the Netherlands, was declared an apostate by the Islamic ministry in late March over alleged blasphemous remarks she made in videos posted on Facebook.