Maldives : whiplashes under coconut trees

Antoine Boyet, translated by Carla Ortuño Guendell
5 Juillet 2013

A Maldivian court condemned, under Sharia law, a 15-year-old teenage girl – a presumed victim of rape – to a hundred whip lashes and 8 months of house arrest after she confessed having had premarital sex. More than a million people around the world signed an online petition condemning this decision and in this way hoping to put pressure on the Maldivian government.

Maldives : whiplashes under coconut trees
Maldives is the archetype of the tropical island where it is nice to spend the holidays. White sand, bungalows on piles, bikinis, turquoise waters, coconut palms: The Maldivian islands represent a slice of paradise for all tourists. It is the plebiscite destination for fortunate tourists and for western couples who celebrate their honeymoon. The scenery is luminous, but the show is much less wonderful behind the scenes.
Maldives is also a country in which more than 300,000 people face the sad reality of a democracy that is victim of an interpretation more and more radical of Islam. The basis of the Maldivian justice contains elements of the Islamic law (Sharia law), as well as of the British Common Law. Under Sharia law, men and women – adults and children included – are exposed to the risk of a sentence of 100 whip lashes as well as house arrest if they are known to have had premarital sex. Foreigners are evidently exempted and can fully live up to their sexuality, or drink alcohol, or even eat pork meat.
This law is far from being an accessory, and the tragic story – amongst many others – of a 15-year-old young girl proves it right. Last year, the teenager was arrested in Feydhoo Island in Shaviyani atoll where the police discovered a dead newborn buried in the courtyard of the house. When the young girl got pregnant after having been repeatedly raped by her stepfather, her parents prohibited her from going to school so as to hide her from the eyes of the community and keep quiet the family’s dark secret. They waited patiently for 9 months and then probably killed and buried the newborn. The teenager’s stepfather will be sentenced to 25 years of prison if he is declared guilty of rape and assassination. The investigation revealed the frightening reality that is still very common in the isolated island of Male, the capital of the Maldives: sexual maltreatments.
It is estimated that in the archipelago, 1 out of 3 women between the ages of 15 and 50 has been a victim of sexual violence or rape. What is more, no rapist has been condemned in the last 3 years. According to a study carried out by UNICEF in 2009, it is believed that 1 out of 7 children has been a victim of sexual aggression. 


However tragic the drama might be, the story should have stopped there. Any authority with the minimum degree of common sense would have protected the child victim of abuses. The Maldivian police and the prosecutors opted for another logic: the young girl was arrested, interrogated and accused of “fornication” by the authorities. The latter advocates that the teenager admitted to having had consensual sexual relations with another man other than her stepfather. This man has yet to be identified, arrested or charged. The young girl has been condemned to 100 whiplashes as well as confined under house arrest during 8 months; however, she will also be sentenced to flogging once she turns 18, unless she asks for it earlier… Zaima Nasheed, one of the Juvenile Court in Maldives’ spokespersons, defended the heavy sentence, advocating that the young girl had “willingly committed an act outside of the law”, reported BBC.
According to the Ministry of Judicial Administration’s statistics relayed by the info website Minivan News, almost 90% of the people known to be guilty of fornication in 2011 were women. Out of the 129 cases of fornication in 2011, 104 people were condemned, 93 were women out of which 10 were minors.
In 2011, Navi Pillay, the Human Rights’ High Commissioner of the United Nations, denounced the practice of flogging of women having had premarital sex, flogging being “one of the most inhumane and degrading forms of violence against women, and should have no place in the legal framework of a democratic country”. Abbas Faiz, Amnesty International ’s researcher in Maldives, reacted to the story of the young girl and declared: “This is an absolute outrage, regardless of the reason for her charges. Victims of rape or other forms of sexual abuse should be given counseling and support – not charged with a crime (…) Flogging is a violation of the absolute prohibition on torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment. The fact that this time a 15-year old girl who has suffered terribly is at risk makes it all the more reprehensible”. It is important to point out that on April 20th 2004, Maldives signed the Convention of the Charter of the United Nations against torture and other sentences or cruel, inhumane or degrading treatments.


More than a million people signed an online petition condemning Maldives for having been tough on the victim, for the reason that she had sexual relations before marrying another man. The petition, launched by the website, invites the President of Maldives, Mohamed Waheed Hassan, to intervene urgently. The website hopes to “put an end to this lunacy by hitting the Maldives’ government where it hurts – the tourism industry”. Expressed in numbers, Maldives welcomed more than 800,000 tourists in 2010. This sector represents today a third of the total revenue of the State and almost 60% of the revenue of foreign trade.
In reaction to the wave of international indignation, the President Mohammed Waheed Hassan expressed his “shock”. One of his spokespersons, Masood Imad, said that for the government, the 15-year-old young girl is “a victim who needs to be protected and not punished by authorities” and that “we will be talking with the Ministry of Islamic Affairs” so as to “changing” the existing laws. A willingness that already seems compromised because of the recent declarations of the Conservative Party Adhaalath – whose members largely dominate the ministry of Islamic Affairs. For the ultra-religious party: “The purpose of penalties like these in Islamic Sharia is to maintain order in society and to save it from sinful acts. It is not at all an act of violence. We must turn a deaf ear to the international organizations which are calling to abolish these penalties, labeling them degrading and inhumane acts or torture.”