Maldives: Religious Liberty Absent from New Constitution

General August 11, 2008


By: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal

On Thursday 7 August, President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom ratified Maldives' new
Constitution to much fanfare from the Western media which is applauding the
government for its embrace of democratic reforms. (Link 1)

Clearly the Western media still regard religious liberty as a dispensable
human right, for the new constitution discriminates against and marginalises
non-Muslims, offers no guarantee of religious freedom, elevates Sharia
(Islamic Law) as the supreme authority, and iterates that the rights and
freedoms specified by the Constitution may be limited by law to protect the
tenets of Islam.

According to President Gayoom, a new era of governance based on the principles
of modern liberal democracy and the principles of Islam has been ushered in.
He said the new Constitution would provide civil, political, economic, social
and cultural rights in accordance with international standards. (Link 2)

NEW CONSTITUTION

The New Constitution can be found at:
http://www.maldivesinfo.gov.mv/home/upload/downloads/Compilation.pdf

While many of the "democratic reforms" are admirable, the Constitution is as
religiously repressive and discriminatory as ever.

Right from the beginning, Article 2 makes it clear that the Republic of
Maldives is "based on the principles of Islam".

Article 9d stipulates that "a non-Muslim may not become a citizen of the
Maldives".
In May, Information Minister Mohamed Nasheed said on his personal blog that
Maldivians who convert away from Islam, or who are children of Maldivians
married to non-Muslims, risked losing their citizenship under the clause.
(Link 3)

Article10 stipulates that Islam is the State religion and forms the basis of
all law. "No law contrary to any tenet of Islam shall be enacted in the Maldives."

It is proscribed in Article16 that the majlis (parliament) may pass
legislation that limits rights and freedoms "in order to protect and maintain
the tenets of Islam", but only "if demonstrably justified in a free and
democratic society". The courts will decide the "extent to which the right or
freedom must be limited in order to protect the tenets of Islam . . ."

Article 19 states: "A citizen is free to engage in any conduct or activity
that is not expressly prohibited by Islamic Shari'ah or by law. No control or
restraint may be exercised against any person unless it is expressly
authorised by law." While this article should protect citizens from
Taliban-style, self-appointed Islamic morals police, pressure will surely be
exerted to have Islamic morals proscribed in law and policed accordingly.

Article 20 guarantees equality before the law despite this being contrary to
Sharia.

Article 27 states: "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought and the
freedom to communicate opinions and expression in a manner that is not
contrary to any tenet of Islam."

Article 29, which guarantees "Everyone has the freedom to acquire and impart
knowledge, information and learning" and Article 30, which guarantees "freedom
of association", are both crippled by Article 19 which dictates that citizens
may not engage in any conduct or activity that is expressly prohibited by
Islamic Shari'ah (Article 19).

Article 32 guarantees freedom of peaceful assembly, but as Maldives describes
itself as 100 percent (Sunni) Muslim, the very prospect of Maldivian
Christians gathering for worship is not considered.

Article 36c states: "Education shall strive to inculcate obedience to Islam,
instil love for Islam, foster respect for human rights, and promote
understanding, tolerance and friendship among all people."

Article 67 states: " . . . it is the responsibility of every citizen" to
respect the rights of others, foster tolerance and "preserve and protect the
State religion of Islam".

MARGINALISATION

The marginalisation of non-Muslims is guaranteed by the new Constitution.

Article 73a3 stipulates that all members of the majlis (parliament) must be
Muslims. Articles 109b and 112c stipulate that the President and Vice
President (respectively) must be Muslims. And Article 130a3 needlessly
mandates that all Cabinet members be Muslims.

RELIGIOUS LIBERTY

Religious liberty is absent from the Constitution. Of course, when it has been
proscribed that Islam forms the basis of all law and that no law contrary to
any tenet of Islam shall be enacted (Article 10) then may be understood that
proselytism and apostasy are banned.

It is most disappointing that the young reformists of the "New Maldives"
movement -- referred to in the WEA RLC News & Analysis posting of 3 September
2007, "Maldives: Hope is born" (Link 4) -- have not condemned this total
absence of religious liberty.

Former Attorney-General Dr Hassan Saeed resigned from the government in August
2007 in protest over President Gayoom's persistent blocking of reforms.
Western educated, he is one of leaders of the New Maldives movement and a
presidential candidate. His book, "Freedom of Religion, Apostasy and Islam
(2004)", calls for 'absolute' freedom of religion to be permitted in modern
Muslim societies. However, responding to concerns over Article 9's provision
that non-Muslims cannot become citizen of Maldives, Dr Saeed said these
concerns were not relevant as "we do not have a non-Muslim population" (Link
5). This is despite his believing Muslims should be free to become non-Muslims.

Maldives might officially claim to be 100 percent (Sunni) Muslim but in June
1998 some 50 Maldivian Christians were imprisoned and tortured in the
notorious Dhoonidho Prison for their faith. When they were eventually released
in November 1998 they were placed under intense surveillance and ordered to
refrain from discussing religion, praying in Jesus' name, reading
non-government religious literature or meeting together. The Government then
had all their Dhivehi-language Scriptures destroyed.

While Muslims might be celebrating the new liberties guaranteed to them,
nothing much has changed for the repressed, downtrodden Christians of the
Republic of Maldives. Regardless, Information Minister Mohamed Nasheed
believes the new Constitution will catapult Maldives into the ranks of
established democracies. (Link 1 BBC)

By Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) BBC: Maldives adopt new constitution
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/7547725.stm
REUTERS: Maldives president ratifies new constitution
http://in.reuters.com/article/southAsiaNews/idINIndia-34876420080807?sp=true
AP: Official: Maldives adopts new constitution
http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5h6E0V4bb28BFfM1iwUns8-t-63owD92DA1800
LOCAL MEDIA
Maldives' New Constitution Ratified
By Judith Evans and Olivia Lang in Male, 7 August 2008
http://www.minivannews.com/news/news.php?id=4806

2) The President ratifies the new Constitution
Reference Number: 2008-423. 7 August 2008
http://www.presidencymaldives.gov.mv/pages/eng_news.php?news:4878:1

3) Constitution: The Sticking Points
By Zaheena Rasheed. 19 July 2008
http://www.minivannews.com/news/news.php?id=4726

4) Maldives: Hope is born
- the struggle for liberty is just beginning.
WEA RLC News & Analysis. 3 September 2007
By: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal
http://www.worldevangelicals.org/commissions/rlc/reports/articles.htm?id=1370

5) American NGO Condemns Maldives Constitution Over Religion Clause
By Olivia Lang in Male. 9 August 2008
http://www.minivannews.com/news/news.php?id=4814
Institute on Religion and Public Policy (IRPP)
New Maldives constitution severely restricts non-Muslim rights
Washington, DC, 9 August 2008
http://www.religionandpolicy.org/show.php?p=1.1.2076

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