Three men have been arrested on the southern island of Vilufushi in Thaa atoll on suspicion of practicing sorcery and black magic.
A police spokesperson told The Maldives Independent that the suspects were arrested with warrants after complaints from islanders alleging that they were practicing black magic in houses and boats.
The islanders accused the men of causing damages to households using black magic.
The suspects – aged 48, 56, and 58 – are due to be released today after two days in remand detention.
The top civil servant at the Vilufushi island council was reportedly among the three suspects taken into custody on Saturday. Members of the Vilufushi council declined to comment on the case.
According to local media, the police found materials used for practicing black magic in the homes of the suspects.
Belief in sorcery and black magic, known locally as fanditha or sihuru, is common and widespread in the Maldives.
Earlier this month, the Islamic ministry asked the privately-owned Sangu TV to stop a weekly programme on sorcery and black magic, saying it poses a threat to religious unity.
Three people were meanwhile arrested from the island of Fulhadhoo in Baa atoll last month on suspicion of attempted murder using black magic. The suspects from Fulhadhoo also included the top civil servant of the island’s council.
The arrests prompted former Attorney General Husnu Suood to question whether causation could be proved in court when a suspect is accused of using sorcery to commit a crime.
“In order to prove murder, law requires intent and causation. So, the question is where the means were supernatural in nature, is it possible to prove causation?” he asked in a Facebook post.
“If the state could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the actions of the defendant caused the death of the victim, and that the defendant intended such death, he could be convicted of murder. The question, then, becomes one of evidence – is there sufficient evidence of the connection between the defendant’s actions and the result to convince a judge beyond a reasonable doubt?”
Suood noted that mysterious deaths are sometimes attributed to “the malicious use of black magic.”
“In some cases, the black magic might be thought of as ‘long range artillery’ coming from unknown people in a distant location. Often, however, the alleged practitioners of the black magic are intimates of the victim. For example, the alleged sorcerer or witch might be the victim’s relative or neighbour,” he wrote.
In August, the Fiqh academy had flagged the promotion of black magic and sorcery in local media and urged the public to refrain from engaging practitioners of black magic.
The fatwa on sorcery came after opposition figures linked the uprooting of old trees at the Republic square and the removal of monuments in Malè to President Abdulla Yameen’s alleged fear of sorcery.
Several people were also arrested during the 2013 presidential election on suspicion of using black magic to influence the outcome of the polls.
In January 2012, local NGO Jamiyyathul Salaf called on the authorities to enact legislation to make sorcery or black magic illegal in Maldives.
Salaf’s calls followed the brutal stabbing of a 76-year-old man on Kudahuvadhoo in Dhaalu atoll, which was blamed on sorcery.
In 2009, parents on the island of Maamendhoo in Laamu atoll accused an islander of practicing sorcery on school girls to induce fainting spells and hysteria, which led to a police investigation.
In 2011, the Islamic Foundation of the Maldives conducted a certificate-level course on ruqyah, teaching the participants “spiritual healing” and how to cure diseases using “incantation”.