IN THE MALDIVES
The Maldives is a chain of some 1,200 small islands in the Indian ocean,
southwest of Sri Lanka. Adherence to Islam, the state religion since the 12th
century, is required for citizenship and nearly all of the nation's
approximately 300,000 people are Muslims. The legal system is based on the
Islamic code of sharia. 1
1998-JUL-28: Maldives holding Christians captive:
LOMBO, Sri Lanka, 28 July 1998--Authorities in the south Asian Muslim nation
of the Maldives are holding 50 Christians on religious grounds, according to the
Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka. In a statement, the alliance said that since
June 18 the Maldivian government has arrested all citizens suspected of being
Christians and are holding them captive in the notorious political prison of
Dhoonidhoo, a tiny island close to the capital of Male.
"The government continues to deny that Christians are imprisoned,
treated harshly, or being deprived of their rights, despite much evidence to the
contrary," says Godfrey Yogarajah, president of the Evangelical Alliance
of Sri Lanka.
The High Commission of Maldives in Colombo issued a statement earlier this
month claiming that allegations that Christians are being held for their faith
is "totally false and baseless," and that there is "no
religious discrimination in Maldives."
Evangelical Protestants in Sri Lanka held a prayer meeting for the alleged
captives on Tuesday, followed by a protest near the Maldives High Commissioner's
office in Colombo.
On Wednesday, Maldivian president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom arrives in Colombo for
the 10th summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).
"It is unfortunate and embarrassing that the president of the Maldives,
who will be feted as an honored guest in Sri Lanka as the outgoing chairman of
the SAARC countries, continues to deny even basic dignity and human rights to a
segment of his own loyal citizens because of religious intolerance,"
Yogarajah says. 1
1998-NOV-23: Maldives releases detained Christians:
LONDON, 23 November 1998--Authorities have released a group of more than 20
Maldivian Christians arrested in June on religious grounds, according to the
human rights group Christian Solidarity Worldwide. The Christians, some of whom
remained in prison for as long as four months, still face uncertainty regarding
freedom to practice their faith in the self-proclaimed Muslim nation, the
London-based group said.
The Maldives, an Indian Ocean archipelago southwest of Sri Lanka, requires
that all citizens be Muslim. In June the government began unannounced searches
of the homes of suspected Christians, confiscated possessions and imprisoned
more than 20 people, CSW says. Though charges were alleged, the process
by-passed the judicial system and no trial took place. The government expelled
19 foreigners in the crackdown.
The Maldivian government has consistently denied that anyone has been
imprisoned for their faith. Tight media control has ensured that only one or two
articles confirming the arrests reached the outside world. While the Maldivian
government seemed initially resistant to pressure, they unexpectedly began
releasing the prisoners to house arrest in late August. More releases followed
and in the last week restrictions have finally been lifted on all the
CSW says that Maldivian authorities pressed the Christians to recant their
faith during their imprisonment and forced them to read the Koran and undertake
the daily Muslim prayers.
CSW’s religious liberty director Tina Lambert says, "While we are,
of course, relieved by the release of these individuals, the situation in this
'holiday paradise' has yet to improve, and discreet pressure must be maintained".
2000-JUL-17: Maldives declared an Islam-only zone:
The president of the Maldives has declared that
the island nation has no room for any religion other than Islam, and has accused
foreigners of seeking to destroy the religious unity of the people by
introducing other faiths.
President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom made his comments at a special meeting in the
capital, Male, on July 3 to commemorate the anniversary of the Maldives becoming
officially a Muslim nation. Under the 1997 constitution, Islam is the state
religion of the former British protectorate in the Indian Ocean, and the
government has declared the chain of 1,200 coral islands to be 100 percent
President Gayoom claimed the Maldives has sustained its sovereignty by
adhering to Islamic principles. He warned that if other religions were practiced
the country would lose its independence.
According to a 1999 United States State Department report, freedom of
religion is restricted significantly. "The government (imposes) a
requirement that citizens be Muslims," the report says. "The practice
of any religion other than Islam is prohibited by law." Non-Muslims are
forbidden from proselytizing and conducting public worship. Any Muslim who
converts to another faith is breaking the Sharia (Islamic law) and can lose his
or her citizenship.
Until 1985 there were no known Christians among the Maldivian people,
according to the Protestant reference book Operation World. A number converted
to Christianity, however, after literature was made available in the national
language, Dhivehi, and through listening to broadcasts by a missionary radio
station based in the Seychelles. Small numbers of new converts met to worship
and study the Bible, but they were ostracized by their families and neighbors
and many lost their jobs.
In 1998 the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs banned Maldivians from
listening to missionary radio and police arrested up to 50 local Christians from
Muslim backgrounds, following a tip-off by teenagers, including the son of one
of those arrested.
Police carried out unannounced searches of foreign workers’ homes,
confiscating passports, Christian books, and other possessions. Many friends of
Maldivian Christians also were questioned and detained.
According to British human rights organizations, intense pressure was placed
on the Christian prisoners to convert to Islam. The Christians were forced to
perform Islamic prayers five times daily and to read the Koran. One was kept in
solitary confinement in a cell measuring just 6 feet long by 3 feet wide.
Nineteen foreign workers, including children, were expelled for life on
suspicion of missionary activity.
A European worker who was thrown out of the Maldives for being a Christian
told the British-based group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) that she was
forced to watch as her friends were roughed up by the police. "I felt
helpless," said the woman, who cannot be named. "No crime has been
committed -- unless being a Christian is a crime."
The Maldivian government denied the roundup, and an official press release
claimed: "Although the Maldives is a 100 percent Muslim country, it has a
very open and tolerant attitude to all religions." Yet a Maldivian
newspaper described Christian believers as "infidels/pagans (who) believe
in three gods (and) worship crosses and idols."
London-based Jubilee Campaign, Amnesty International, and Christian
Solidarity Worldwide lobbied for the release of the Christians. Jubilee also
called for a tourist boycott of the Maldives, whose economy is heavily dependent
on the tourist trade from the West. After several months in detention all the
Christians were released. The last to be set free was a 32-year-old woman, who
said she was threatened with death by a prison officer for being an infidel.
Commenting on the latest presidential announcement, Wilfred Wong, the Jubilee
Campaign's parliamentary officer, asserted: "President Gayoom is trying to
justify his repressive attitude towards religious freedom by the unsubstantiated
claim that it will preserve the stability and independence of his country."
Wong warned: "Another harsh crackdown against Maldivian Christians will
only bring down international condemnation on the Maldives and lead to a
widespread boycott of their tourist trade."
Tina Lambert, CSW’s religious liberty director, added: "We must
maintain pressure on the Maldivian government to encourage greater religious
liberty on these islands, in line with international standards."
The government of the Maldives recently banned the Steven Spielberg animated
film "The Prince of Egypt," explaining that its portrayal of the
prophet Moses was "offensive to Islam, because all prophets and messengers
of God are not to be animated or portrayed in any way." 3
Alliance of Sri Lanka/Godfrey Yogarajah
Solidarity Worldwide/Tina Lambert
Reprinted with permission from Newsroom.org. Their home page is at http://www.newsroom.org
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Originally written: 2000-JUL-17
Latest update: 2000-JUL-17