Minister of Youth, Sports and Community Empowerment, Ahmed Mahloof says that free speech has its limits, and does not include mocking religious faith.
Mahloof made the comment in an interview on the RaajjeTV show Falasuruhee on Tuesday night.
It came hours after the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Community Empowerment - the regulatory body for all local non-governmental and civic organizations – announced its decision to annul the registration of local rights group Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) over its controversial publication – Preliminary Assessment on Radicalization in Maldives – which was found to contain blasphemous content which mock the Islamic faith, the Holy Quran and the Prophet.
Mahloof said that mocking the Islamic faith or Prophet Mohamed wasn’t condoned even in Europe, and that it did not fall under free speech.
He used the example of the case in 2009 in which an Austrian woman was convicted of disparaging religion by the country’s court after she held two seminars titled Basic Information on Islam in which she made derogatory comments regarding Prophet Mohamed.
The Austrian woman had contested the conviction with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), claiming that her comments fell under free speech.
ECHR, in 2018, ruled to uphold her conviction.
“This was the highest European human rights court. The court ruled that mocking the Prophet is not recognized even on the European Human Rights Convention,” said Mahloof.
He said that though MDN had been a local human rights advocacy group, it had, knowingly or unknowingly, mocked the religion of Islam. He said that the law did not accommodate for such an act, and that MDN had therefore been annulled.
“It was the MDN which had worked on my behalf by submitting my case to the UN Working Group when I was imprisoned. Many among us know that it took up many such causes,” said Mahloof.
He said that he would not hesitate to annul the registration of any organization found to have violated the law.
He urged all local non-governmental and civic organizations to abide by local laws, and welcomed the decision of the Maldivian government regarding MDN.
“We will not become a threat to organizations. We will be supportive to organization. We will facilitate their work. We will work alongside them. We will not be strict for as long as they work within the rule of law and regulations,” said Mahloof.
He noted that while MDN’s publication had been based on a serious threat to the Maldivian community, it did not make the content on it which mocked the religion of Islam any less wrong.
“Discourse regarding religious extremism can no longer be silenced. This is not stereotyping anyone who wears their trousers short and their beards long as an extremist. People have been killed in Maldives. Yameen Rasheed has been killed. Rilwan has been killed. Dr. Afrasheem has been killed,” said Mahloof.
Mahloof said that Islam was a religion of peace. And that killing, or advocating killing of people for wrongdoings cannot be condoned.
“This is not the solution. Everything should be done within the rule of law, and peacefully. Our religion is the religion of peace. This means all sides, those who call against religious extremism and those who call against mockery of religion,” said Mahloof.
The move by Ministry of Youth, Sports and Youth Empowerment to annul MDN’s registration follows weeks of calls and protests by local Islamic scholars, the opposition, and members of the general public to ban MDN.
MDN is currently under a criminal investigation over its publication by the police, which recruited local Islamic scholars to review the publication.
Ministry of Youth, Sports and Community Empowerment’s decision to annul MDN’s registration was based on the preliminary findings of the review, which established that the publication contained content which go against the core principles of the religion of Islam.
The police have sent summons to Shahindha Ismail and Dr. Azra Naseem for questioning regarding the publication. Both are among contributors to the publication, and currently reside abroad. Dr. Azra has refused to return to Maldives in response to the summons citing lack of confidence in the police to protect her from possible retaliation.