The Maldives are well-known as a dream destination for holidays. The islands are located in the midst of the Indian Ocean, surrounded by blue water and white beaches stretched out under the blazing sun. This is the picture authorities want to give to the outside world. The harsh attitude the government takes towards all Christian believers is less known, darkening the lovely picture of the country considerably. Nothing substantial has changed during the last reporting period, resulting in no changes in ranking or points for the Maldives on the 2012 World Watch List.
As every Maldivian citizen has to be Muslim, all deviant religious convictions are strictly forbidden. The government does not distinguish between national and expat believers. The tiny number of indigenous believers is not able to meet publicly, let alone worship together. On the contrary, they have to practice their faith in utmost secrecy, always in fear of being discovered. While the authorities closely monitor all religious activities that they perceive to be suspicious, social control also remains extremely high. Maldivian citizens agree with the heavy handed authorities because they see freedom of religion as freedom to discuss religious issues related to Islam. This freedom was non-existent under the former regime governing the country. Maldivian society demonstrates this attitude towards all kinds of beliefs or convictions, be it Christianity or Atheism. Additionally, the government has increased control of all media.
According to an amendment made to the “Protection of Religious Unity Act” in September 2011, every person must avoid creating hatred towards people of other religions. While this may initially sound good, it effectively reinforces the existing government policy that Islam is an inseparable part of a Maldivian’s cultural identity. The legislation, forbidding the practice of any religion except Islam, is thus confirmed once again. Commentators therefore stated that the official direction religion is taking in the country will be toward Deoband Islam, the same ideology which informs the Taliban’s convictions.
The Maldivian government views itself as the protector and defender of Islam. This was recently demonstrated by the imprisonment of a foreign Christian teacher, who was detained and deported from the country after allegations that he had stored Christian material on a school computer. Although no converts were killed for their faith in the past year, pressure on them remains very high.
Given the sternness of the government and the support it enjoys by Maldivian citizens, it cannot be expected that there will be substantial changes in the years to come. Maldivian authorities capitalize on the remoteness of the Islands to keep a powerful grip on all perceived religious deviations. (Jan 2012, Open Doors)