Photo: Mosque dome in Malé, capital of Maldives, which claims that 100 percent of its population is Muslim
NEW DELHI (Morning Star News) -- Authorities in the Maldives held a Bangladeshi Christian in jail for 23 days before deporting him for bringing Christian literature into the South Asian archipelago that claims to be 100 percent Muslim.
Customs officials found Jathish Biswas with 11 books on Christianity in the Dhivehi language, the Christian worker said. Arrested on Sept. 27 at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport in Malé, the nation’s capital, he was deported on Oct. 19, after being held in jail for 23 days.
“While I was not physically harmed, authorities treated me as if I wanted to destroy their nation by bringing in Christian books,” he told Morning Star News by phone. “They stripped me almost naked to see if I was carrying anything else.”
The 46-year-old Biswas is executive director of Way of Life Trust, a Christian social and economic development agency.
“Customs and police officials would ask me question after question and deny me proper food,” he added.
A U.S. Christian whose identity is withheld for security reasons was later arrested and deported for alleged links with Biswas. Biswas told Morning Star News, however, that he did not know the other Christian and had not heard of his deportation.
Local press reported that both Christians would not be allowed into the country again.
The Maldives – the only nation after Saudi Arabia to claim that all of its 300,000 citizens are Muslims – has laws banning the import of any material that contradicts Islam. Authorities are known for arresting and deporting Christian expatriates if they are found attending Christian worship even in private homes or having links with Christian groups abroad.
The immigration form all foreigners are required to sign warns that pornographic material, idols, alcohol, pork products and “materials contrary to Islam” are prohibited in the country.
A recently implemented regulation under the nation’s Religious Unity Act of 1994 states, “It is illegal in the Maldives to propagate any faith other than Islam or to engage in any effort to convert anyone to any religion other than Islam. It is also illegal to display in public any symbols or slogans belonging to any religion other than Islam, or creating interest in such articles.”
It adds that no one in the country can “carry or display public books on other religions and books and writings that promote and propagate other religions,” or translate into the Dhivehi language “such books and writings on other religions.”
The country’s constitution states that a “non-Muslim may not become a citizen of the Maldives.” Enacted in 2008, it paved the way for a multiparty democracy after 30 years of virtual dictatorship under former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. But the new document kept religious restrictions intact.
Gayoom’s successor, Mohamed Nasheed, sought to introduce basic freedoms, but the move led to what he termed a coup d’etat on Feb. 7. The new president, Mohammed Waheed, whom Nasheed accused of organizing the coup, is closely allied to Gayoom and has tightened religious restrictions.
After taking the president’s office, Waheed told supporters they were now mujahideen, or holy warriors, and encouraged them to protect the Islamic nation from “the enemies,” according to Minivan News.
Religious repression appears entrenched in this nation, regarded by many wealthy and influential people as a touristic paradise. Presidential elections are due next year, and Gayoom’s allies are likely to remain in power for five more years.
c. 2012 Morning Star News. Used with permission.
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Publication date: December 4, 2012