“Irreligious” discourse on social media and the politicisation of religious extremism is a threat to national security, the defence minister has said.
Defence Minister Adam Shareef blamed social media for playing “the most prominent role” in aggravating social issues in the Maldives.
A conversation that threatens national security has started on social media, he was reported as saying, and social media was being used to spread irreligious and extremist narratives.
“We know there is the problem of religious fundamentalism in the Maldives, but we are not a country selling concubines,” he told a graduation ceremony at Clique College on Tuesday, referring to former president Mohamed Nasheed’s claims that Maldivians had been sold as concubines in the Syrian war.
The government and opposition have clashed over the issue of fundamentalism in the Maldives.
The opposition claims as many as 250 Maldivians are fighting in Syria and Iraq – the highest per capita in the region. But the government says the opposition has been inflating the figure to lobby international support for its cause, offering various lower estimates and decrying damage to the economy due to “exaggerated” claims.
Shareef said in January the number of Maldivians fighting in Syria is 61.
“We don’t understand how big of a threat to national security such stories are by themselves, even as we hear about it,” he told the graduation ceremony.
The government has said it wants to clamp down on extremist and irreligious social media content.
In November, the Islamic Ministry said people making fun of Islam on social media would get housecalls from government officials.
However the Maldives Independent found that several websites — including those known to be linked to Maldivians fighting in the Syrian war — are still accessible.
Social media groups for jihadi recruits are also accessible in the Maldives.
In April, the government published a new policy paper addressing apostasy, foreign fighters and religious freedom that imposed harsher penalties on hate speech, which will be criminalised, and a tougher stance on mockery and misinformation regarding religion.
This story has been updated