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Shahinda Ismail Testimony

Shahinda Ismail Testimony

Religious radicalism and violent extremism heightened significantly in the Maldives in 2014, the year that I began working to counter it. In March 2014 the government enforced a regulation on the implementation of the death penalty, whereby lifting the unofficial moratorium on the penalty since the 1950s. This was a move towards a swift execution of an individual convicted of the murder of a sitting Member of Parliament in 2012. MDN and I, with several other volunteers, organised advocacy activities to halt the execution. I have written about it here and here.

In August 2014 Maldivian journalist and blogger Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla was abducted and forcefully disappeared. It is believed that violent extremists who threatened Rilwan months before the abduction are behind the forced disappearance. Several individuals including Rilwan’s friends, those who advocate for justice for him and liberal thinkers continue to receive death threats in the Maldives. In April 2017 Rilwan’s friend and blogger Yameen Rasheed was found murdered at the foot of the stairs leading to his home.

In September 2016 three of my co-authors and I published a report – Preliminary Assessment of Radicalisation in the Maldives. The research looked at drivers of radicalism and violent extremism in the Maldives, including the national curriculum for Islamic Studies, religious sermons, a public perception survey and material published by local clerics licensed under the Ministry of Islamic Affairs. Three years later, following a public endorsement of the amendments made to the Anti-Terrorism Act of Maldives in August 2019, anonymous accounts on social media began a movement against the authors and our organisation. The movement was called #BanMDN and was soon lead by government clerics, followed and promoted by cabinet ministers, Members of Parliament and opposition politician. President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih denounced the report and the organisation soon after the Ministry of Islamic Affairs filed a complaint at the Maldives Police Service.

Our organisation was suspended pending investigation on 3 October 2019, and the Maldives Police Service announced that it was conducting an investigation against us jointly with the Ministry of Islamic Affairs – who was also the claimant in this case. None of us were allowed to defend ourselves and to our knowledge no investigation has taken place. On 19 December 2019 the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Community Empowerment arbitrarily shut our organisation down.

I was already in Germany, on a scholarship with the Hamburger Stiftung für Politich Verfolgte during 2019. After observing the situation for several months and when the government continued to make public statements demonstrating that I and my co-authors are still being “hunted”, I decided to move forward with seeking protection from the German authorities. I was granted political asylum in 2020. MDN is currently based in Geneva, Switzerland.

In August 2020 I filed a lawsuit against the government of Maldives citing lack of due process in the arbitrary shutdown of the Maldivian Democracy Network. The Maldives Civil Court has not yet reached a verdict. Interestingly I received, among ‘evidence’ documents submitted by the Attorney General’s Office against my case, a report compiled by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, in relation to the Preliminary Assessment of Radicalisation in the Maldives. A recommendation marked with ** states that the authors of the report had clearly committed apostasy, and that the verdict for apostasy in Islamic Shari’a is death. It goes on to add that a consensus of Islamic scholars state that such individuals should be killed regardless of whether they repent.


"Official government documents from 2019 label me as an apostate and state that the verdict should be death even if I repent.