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Whistleblower declared an apostate arrested on return to Maldives

Velezinee is accused of mocking Islam, according to the arrest warrant.



Aishath Velezinee, an outspoken whistleblower as a former member of the judicial watchdog, was arrested Tuesday upon her return to the Maldives after residing overseas for several years.

She was taken into custody in relation to an ongoing investigation, a police spokesman said, declining to provide any further information.

Velezinee is accused of “mocking Islam and leaving the principles of Islam” in videos posted on her Twitter and Facebook accounts, according to the arrest warrant seen by the Maldives Independent.

As her posts had drawn “displeasure and hatred” from the public, Velezinee needed to be in custody both for her own safety and protection of public order, reads the reasons cited for the arrest.

A cybercrime analysis report, a video recording, and a letter and press release from the Islamic ministry was listed as evidence.

In March last year, Velezinee was declared an apostate by the Islamic ministry over the allegedly blasphemous remarks she made in the videos.

A police summons was issued in May for her to appear for questioning within two weeks. She was living in the Netherlands at the time.

The charges in the warrant include obstruction of law enforcement and “criticism of Islam in a public medium with the intention of causing disregard for Islam” under sections 533 and 617 of the penal code.

The 1994 religious unity law was also invoked, which criminalises “attempting to disrupt the religious unity of Maldivians or talking in a manner that creates religious conflict among people.”

Her arrest has sparked fierce debates on social media with many stressing she was mentally unwell when she posted the videos.

Earlier on Tuesday, photos of Velezinee at the airport were widely shared and picked up by some media outlets that branded her an apostate.

Several people openly called for her beheading and murder on Facebook as others urged the authorities to provide her with medical care.

“Mental people should be in mental care hospitals, receiving therapy, not released to the streets to do and say whatever they want!” tweeted Sheikh Ali Zaid, who refused to accept her mental state as an “excuse” for the alleged blasphemy.

In a policy paper published last April, the Islamic ministry listed apostasy and openly mocking Islam as some of the biggest challenges facing the country and recommended expulsion from Maldivian society, financial penalties, and even a prison sentence.

Islam is the state religion of the Maldives and the constitution states a non-Muslim cannot become a citizen.

According to police, liberal blogger Yameen Rasheed was killed in April last year by a group of radicalised young men who believed he was guilty of insulting Islam.

In the wake of the brutal murder, death threats were openly made against human rights defenders and civil society activists, including human rights NGO chief Shahindha Ismail who was probed for “anti-islamic” tweets.

In 2010, self-declared apostate Mohamed Nazim publicly repented and reverted back to Islam after government counselling when religious groups called for his death.