Maldives: Maldivian Activist Faces Jail For Blasphemy

Maldivian activist Rusthum Mujuthaba (c) Private
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Mohamed Rusthum Mujuthaba, 39, is a self-proclaimed atheist and a Maldivian religious freedom and human rights activist from the island of Thinadhoo. He was first detained by the Maldives’ police on 10 September 2019 for posting content that was critical about religion on social media. Accused under section 617 and 622 of the Penal Code of the Maldives for criticising Islam and possessing obscene material, Mohamed Rusthum Mujuthaba could face up to five months in prison, if convicted.
“I was tweeting about women’s rights, freedom of conscience and errors in religion, why it is wrong and why it must not be forced on anyone. They had all the tweets printed. It was nearly 6,000 tweets,” he told Amnesty International.

In the Maldives, blasphemy implies critical views about Islam, Quran, the Prophet and Allah and is punishable by imprisonment. The Maldives’ Islamic Affairs Minister Ahmed Zahir said to RaajjeMV, a local media outlet, that the Maldives is a 100% Muslim country and blasphemy will not be tolerated.

Prohibitions of displays of lack of respect for a religion or other belief system, including blasphemy laws, are incompatible with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), except in the specific circumstances that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence. The actions against Mohamed Rusthum Mujuthaba contravenes international human rights law including the ICCPR.

The Maldives acceded to the ICCPR in 2006 and made reservation on the application of the principles set out in Article 18, which relates to the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. The country’s constitution prohibits the right to freedom of opinion and expression that are “contrary to any tenet of Islam.”

Mohamed Rusthum Mujuthaba does not have a lawyer to represent him at the court because of the religious sensitivity attached to his case and the country’s prohibition of religious freedom.

Amnesty International has previously observed that the prison conditions in the Maldives are notorious and resulted in unnatural death of inmates. Mohamed Rusthum Mujuthaba was subjected to repeated mental examinations at different clinics by the police. These examinations returned normal results, he said, adding, “the doctors knew that atheism wasn’t a mental illness.” He was denied clothes to change into during his detention in the police custodial prisons. In addition, he was told blasphemers are the greatest sinners. At the Maldives Correctional Services, the prisons under judicial custody, he was kept in a small cell of about 64 square feet with three other prisoners. “When we slept, we couldn’t even roll to sides or even stretch our legs,” he told Amnesty International. He was attacked by several prisoners during his detention. The cells where he was kept were dirty and smelled of urine and defecation. 

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