US concerned over lack of religious freedom in Maldives

United States of America have released a report expressing concern on the lack of religious freedom in the Maldives.

The report prepared last year by the US State Department on the religious freedom in the Maldives stated that the archipelago's constitution and laws do not allow any religion but Islam in the country.

The report noted the existence of laws that punish those who commit blasphemy and mock Islam, and that the government encouraged to strengthen Islam in the country. The report also noted a societal pressure for Maldivian women to observe the hijab.

It further mentioned that expatriate workers and tourists are unable to practice in public any religion except Islam, and highlighted that the penal code permitted the administration of certain sharia punishments, including stoning and amputation of hands for acts such as murder, homosexuality, apostasy and theft among others.

While the police continue to question and probe into those who commit blasphemy against Islam, such people also receive death threats and other forms of intimidation from the public, the report said, specifically noting the cases of Aishath Velezinee and Shahindha Ismail, both of whom came under fire for allegedly blasphemous remarks.

Also noting that those who express anti-Islamic opinions on social media receive different forms of threats, the government is unable to provide adequate protection during such instances, the report further read. It also recalled the case of blogger Yameen Rasheed, a critic of religious fundamentalism and violent extremism who was brutally murdered in 2017, and noted that his case still remains unsolved.

Referring to non-profit organizations active in the Maldives, the report went on to state that a rise in Islamic radicalism and fundamentalism was identified within the society, and alleged that the government actively encouraged the trend.

The report sent to the US Congress assured that US officials regularly encouraged the Maldivian government during meetings and official calls to be more tolerant toward other religions and to ease the restrictions imposed on people of other religions from freely practicing their faith.