Ismail Khilath Rasheed
|Ismail Khilath Rasheed|
|Known for||activism for religious freedom, 2011 imprisonment, 2012 stabbing|
Ismail Khilath Rasheed (also known as Hilath) is a Maldivian blogger known for his support of religious tolerance and his involvement in several national controversies. Reporters Without Borders has described him as a "leading journalist" and "one of his country’s leading free speech advocates".
Rasheed worked for a time as an editor of the Maldivian newspaper Haveeru. He came to national attention in early 2010, when he was charged by the government with atheism, drug use, and homosexuality, allegedly in retaliation for his human rights reporting. He also received several death threats, and material appeared on Maldivian websites calling for his beheading, leading the Maldives Journalist Association to offer a statement in his support.
In November 2011, his website, www.hilath.com, was shut down by Communications Authority of the Maldives (CAM) on the order of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, on the grounds that the site contained "anti-Islamic material". Islam is the only legal religion for Maldivian nationals under the 2008 Maldives Constitution, with Sunni Islam predominant. Rasheed defended his blog as an expression of his Sufism and condemned the censorship as Sunni intolerance. In a visit to Malé the same month, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay described the blog's closing as a "disturbing act" raising concerns about a "rise in religious inolerance". Reporters Without Borders also condemned the closure, stating that "the increase in acts of religious intolerance is a threat to the Maldives' young democracy".
December 2011 arrest and response
On 10 December, Rasheed organized a 30-person rally in Malé calling for religious tolerance. The rally was attacked by ten men throwing stones, one of which fractured Rasheed's skull, causing him to be hospitalized. Following the protest, members of the Maldives' opposition Adhaalath Party called for Rasheed's arrest and called for a 23 December counterdemonstration to protect Islam. A website for these protests again called for the murder of "those against Islam". Amnesty International reported that the Government of the Maldives made no effort to locate Rasheed's attackers, despite "credible photographic evidence of the attack".
On 14 December, Rasheed was detained on a charge of questioning the constitution, later amended to "involvement in an unlawful assembly". Amnesty International described the charge as a "clear example of the erosion of freedom of expression in the Maldives," named Rasheed a prisoner of conscience, and demanded his immediate release. Reporters Without Borders also condemned the arrest, stating that "it is disturbing to see the government yet again yielding to pressure from the most conservative fringes of Maldivian society". Rasheed later stated that he faced mistreatment while in custody and that Maldivian prison conditions remained "unchanged" since the reign of autocratic president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. The Maldivian Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement pledging an independent inquiry into Rasheed's allegations.
Rasheed's detention was extended twice on request of investigating officers, in order that the Islamic Ministry might provide him counseling to "bring him back to Islam". He was released on 10 January after 24 days' detention.
On 5 June 2012, Rasheed was stabbed in the neck near his house in Malé. A hospital source stated that the blade had missed cutting an artery "by millimeters", but that Rasheed stabilized following surgery and was expected to survive. Reporters Without Borders stated that it appeared that he had been deliberately targeted for his journalism. A minister of the Maldivian government condemned the attack, but also added "Hilath must have known that he had become a target of a few extremists ... We are not a secular country. When you talk about religion there will always be a few people who do not agree."
- "Government shuts down blog in climate of growing religious intolerance". IFEX. 23 November 2011. Retrieved 12 January 2012.
- "Journalist detained, charges unclear". IFEX. 21 December 2011. Retrieved 12 January 2012.
- "MJA concerns over continuous intimidation to media". Maldives Journalist Association. 15 March 2010. Retrieved 12 January 2012.
- Eleanor Johnstone (21 November 2011). "Blog crack-down "is just the beginning", warns censored blogger". Minivan News. Retrieved 12 January 2012.
- "Maldives' Police Arrests Campaigner Seeking Religious Tolerance and Allows His Attackers Impunity". Amnesty International. 21 December 2011. Retrieved 12 January 2012.
- "Opening remarks by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay at a press conference during her mission to the Maldives". United Nations Human Rights. 24 November 2011. Retrieved 12 January 2012.
- JJ Robinson (11 January 2012). "Prison conditions "unchanged since Gayoom's time": detained blogger". Minivan News. Retrieved 12 January 2012.
- "Foreign Ministry Response to Amnesty International". Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Maldives. 11 January 2011. Retrieved 12 January 2012.
- JJ Robinson (5 June 2012). "Prominent blogger Hilath Rasheed in critical condition after stabbing". Minivan News. Retrieved 12 June 2012.
- Roy Greensdale (6 June 2012). "Maldives journalist stabbed in the neck". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 June 2012.
- "Liberal blogger stabbed in the Maldives: Police". The Express Tribune. Agence France-Presse. 5 June 2012. Retrieved 12 June 2012.