Trouble in paradise: The darker side of the Maldives

11 April 2013

 

Public lashings. Religious extremists seizing power. A gay blogger with his throat slashed. Few of the million annual visitors to the Maldives will recognize the hellish side of these heavenly islands. Following a miraculous recovery the blogger, now lives in exile in Sri Lanka. He misses home, but a country where it is illegal to be non-Muslim and violent forms of religious fundamentalism are on the rise is no place for a homosexual secularist, he says. Recent weeks have put a spotlight on Islamic fundamentalism in the Maldives after a 15-year-old girl who had been repeatedly raped by her stepfather was sentenced to 100 lashes for “fornication”. A petition by the global advocacy group Avaaz has been signed by more than two million people demanding a tourist boycott until the flogging sentence is annulled. President Mohammed Waheed told The Independent that he strongly opposes the court ruling. “This case should not have come to the courts at all. We see this girl as a victim,” he said, adding that he has set up a committee to “understand what went wrong”. The author points out that few of the millions of tourists to the Maldives each year see this side of the country. Most are whisked off to uninhabited resort islands before even setting foot on the crowded, alcohol-free capital of Malé. But the Islamic hardliners are reportedly responsible for further incidents. They are blamed for a raid on the national museum last year in which a priceless collection of ancient Buddhist artefacts was destroyed. They are also thought to be behind the killing in October of a member of parliament who had spoken out against extremism.

Online protest over Maldives’ rape sentence

The Maldives is a highly popular destination for British tourists. But its reputation is being questioned after a teenage rape victim was sentenced to 100 lashes for engaging in premarital sex. Justice campaigners are targeting the country’s lucrative tourism industry unless it improves women’s’ rights. The charges against the girl were brought by police who said she confessed to engaging in sexual activity outside of marriage. A confession was made during an investigation by officials into separate accusations that her stepfather had raped her and killed their baby. The girl is thought to have been abused by local men for some time and her mother is also alleged to have concealed the crime. The flogging sentence prompted outrage from human rights groups which condemned the punishment as “cruel, degrading and inhumane”.  Around 35 per cent of the Maldives’ economy is directly linked to tourism with around 100,000 Britons traveling to the Maldives each year, making the UK its third-largest market for tourism.