Maldives: Lenient no more, island nation arrests 2

Maldives photo promoting tourism in the tropical Indian Ocean country. (Photo courtesy of Allworldtowns.com)
Maldives photo promoting tourism in the tropical Indian Ocean country. (Photo courtesy of Allworldtowns.com)

Local police in the island nation of the Maldives arrested two men on Aug. 29 on charges of homosexual activity, the London-based LGBTI activist group Rainbow Warriors reported.

The arrests follow a toughening of the Maldives law about LGBTI intimacy, which was extended last year to everyone in the country, not just Muslims, Rainbow Warriors stated.

The organization reported earlier this month about changes that the Indian Ocean nation made in this laws:

“Same-sex relations are illegal in the Maldives under Sharia law, and with the publication of a new Penal code in 2014, also under national law, and may be punishable by death penalty. The new Penal code transposes into national law provisions which were previously just in Sharia law and applicable to Muslim citizens. In any case these new provisions have not been put into legal practice so far and there is no record of trials for homosexual practices in the aftermath of the new penal code.”

However, the latest arrests put an end to that period of inactivity.

“This is a worrying move by local police,” Rainbow Warriors stated, “as up until now private behaviour was not being tackled. Also concerning for the tourist community on holiday in the country who could be subject to similar threats by local police.”

Location of the Maldives south of India. (Map courtesy of american.edu)
Location of the Maldives south of India. (Map courtesy of american.edu)

Rainbow Warriors said that the two men, ages 56 and 27, were arrested in their private home on the island of Dhaandhoo after police received a complaint alleging homosexual activity there..

The new anti-gay repression intensifies a homophobic climate that led LGBTI people “to flee persecution based on their sexual orientation throughout Maldives in 2014,” according to the New Zealand immigration agency.

The laws in Maldives had been more lenient, as described in the 2015 State-Sponsored Homophobia report from ILGA, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association.  According to that report, the nation’s Penal Code of Maldives did not directly apply to sexual conduct, which instead was left to Sharia law, applying only to Muslims. The ILGA report stated:

“[Sexual conduct] is instead regulated by uncodified Muslim Sharia law, which criminalises same-sex sexual acts between both men and between women. For men, the punishment is banishment for nine months to one year or a whipping of 10 to 30 strokes, while the punishment for women is house arrest for nine months to one year.”

That report also included background about international opposition to the Maldives’ treatment of LGBTI people, as expressed in 2010 and 2015 during its U.N. Universal Periodic Review (UPR), which scrutinizes each country’s human rights record every four years:

“At its 1st UPR in November 2010, recommendations to Maldives were to decriminalise, protect against violence and remove discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in national laws.

“Maldives rejected all five of these recommendations. In a Briefing Paper submitted to Maldives’ 2nd cycle UPR in May 2015, the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) says, ‘[u]ncodified Muslim Sharia Law criminalises homosexual conduct, thus making the Maldives a very insecure place to advocate for the rights of persons who identify themselves as LGBTI.’

“A panel of refugee appeals officers in the Immigration New Zealand Agency recognised that individuals are forced to flee persecution based on their sexual orientation throughout Maldives in 2014.”

Rainbow Warriors noted:

“In response to an appeal by a Maldivian asylum seeker in New Zealand, the President’s Office in the Maldives has recognised sexual orientation as a reason for prosecution in case of return to the country.

“The LGBT movement in the Maldives is only nascent and primarily limited to virtual groups that operate on the Internet, given the high level of homophobia and lack of trust even within the LGBT community.

“Maldives is one of the 54 members of the United Nations which in 2008 signed a statement opposing LGBT rights. ”

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at info@76crimes.com.

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