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College vandalised after protest against chairman accused of insulting Islam

Published Jan 23, 2019
Updated May 26, 2020

The glass door of Mandhu College was smashed around 2am on Tuesday, hours after a protest was staged outside the building calling for the arrest of the college’s chairman Ibrahim Ismail ‘Ibra’ for allegedly insulting or mocking Islam.

The vandalism is under investigation, police said.

On Monday night, a group of about 30 young men, identified as activists of jailed former vice president Ahmed Adeeb’s new party, gathered in front of the college premises on the capital’s main thoroughfare, holding up placards condemning Ibra as well as Home Minister Imran Abdulla and chanting for the former lawmaker’s arrest.

‘Arrest laadheenee [irreligious or secular] Ibra!’ ‘Scholars come out in defence of religion!’ and ‘To insult is not freedom,’ read some of the placards.

The protest continued Tuesday afternoon with about 50 people marching in the capital’s suburb Vilimalé. Calls to “behead Ibra” and “hang Ibra” were heard among chants to arrest him and “protect Islam.”

Ibra, a former president of the Maldivian Democratic Party and chairman of the committee that drafted the 2008 constitution, stirred controversy during a Twitter debate last Friday on the absence of a verse in the Quran that prescribes stoning as a punishment for adultery.

Ibra challenged claims that such a verse had been revealed but was lost after it was written on a leaf and kept underneath the bed of the Prophet’s wife Aisha.

The belief that it was later revealed by Caliph Umar implies “that the Prophet was not trustworthy. That some revelations of Allah were kept under Aisha’s bed and not revealed. What laadheenee talk is this? That Mohamed concealed. That Umar revealed. Which one is the Prophet here?”

The tweet was misreported by the tabloid Vaguthu as Ibra “exceeding all bounds” by calling the Prophet dishonest. News site Miadhu and opposition TV station Channel 13 accused him of mocking Prophet Mohamed (pbuh).

On Sunday night, Ibra was summoned to the police headquarters amid a growing public backlash against his tweet. The summons came after the Islamic ministry advised against “misleading” debates about Sharia law.

The ministry has recently been receiving complaints about insulting and mocking religion as well as the dissemination of inaccurate information about Islam in the news media, social media, websites and public spaces, it said in a statement, noting that the constitution prohibits speech that is contrary to tenets of Islam.

Religious information could be clarified through the ministry, it advised.

The ministry was also working with the authorities to identify those who mock and insult Islam as well as those who “encourage harshness and violence in the name of religion while remaining hidden and threaten to damage life and property outside legal bounds.”

On Monday morning, three young men who were protesting against Ibra outside Mandhu College were taken into custody. They were not arrested but briefly detained for disobeying police before being advised and released, police said.

The protests against Ibra come amid growing calls to mete out harsh punishments for Maldivians who mock Islam.

Former vice president Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed proposed introducing a blasphemy law to prescribe life imprisonment for those who mock the Prophet.

He previously suggested that “influential people” were behind the police failure to take action under the 1994 Religious Unity Act.

Former home minister Umar Naseer warned the new government to stop people insulting Islam if President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih wants to complete a five-year term.

Earlier this month, police launched an investigation into hate speech and death threats after a public chat channel started branding individuals as apostates.

At least three people, including a local cleric and radio journalist branded as an apostate, have been questioned so far.

Debates and heated arguments raged on Twitter and Facebook earlier this month after an island magistrate court sentenced a woman to death by stoning.

Human rights activists who condemned the verdict were accused of blasphemy and a public telegram channel called ‘Apostate Watch MV’ started branding individuals as apostates.

In April 2017, liberal blogger Yameen Rasheed was killed by a radicalised group of young men who believed he was guilty of blasphemy and insulting Islam, according to police.

In the wake of the brutal murder, several sheikhs labelled Yameen as someone who “mocked Islam” and sought to justify his killing.

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.