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A 25 year-old air traffic controller, Ismail Mohamed Didi, was found hanged from the control tower of the international airport in the Maldives on Tuesday, July 13, after he apparently killed himself to escape persecution for his rejection of religion. The suicide is the latest tragedy in a series of persecutions of non-believers in a nation that claims to be “100 percent Muslim.” The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) is raising the issue with the United Nations and representatives of the Maldives government.

Ismail Mohamed Didi’s story was reported in the independent Maldivian newspaper, Minivan News. The newspaper published two emails that Ismail sent to an international humanitarian organization* on June 23 and 25, in which he says he is an atheist and requests assistance for his asylum application, after claiming to have received several anonymous threats on June 22. In the emails, he says he “foolishly admitted my stance on religion” to work colleagues, and the news had “spread like wildfire.”

“A lot of my close friends and girlfriend have been prohibited from seeing me by their parents. I have even received a couple of anonymous phone calls threatening violence if I do not repent and start practising Islam,” he said. “Maldivians are proud of their religious homogeneity and I am learning the hard way that there is no place for non-Muslim Maldivians in this society.”

Just last month at the United Nations Human Rights Council, the International Humanist and Ethical Union included The Maldives in its condemnation of “the state-sponsored, institutionalized hatred of non-believers.” The IHEU statement mentioned the case of Mohammed Nazim, who was arrested and threatened with the death penalty after publicly asking how Islam viewed a man like him, who had learned all about Islam but was unable to believe. While in prison, Mohammed Nazim took the opportunity to save his life by embracing Islam.

Ismail Mohamed Didi faced a similar choice. “I cannot bring myself to pretend to be I am something I am not, as I am a staunch believer in human rights. I am afraid for my life here and know no one inside the country who can help me,” Ismail said in one email published by the Minivan News.

“Believe or die! It’s a choice nobody should ever be forced to make,” said Sonja Eggerickx, president of the IHEU. “That is why freedom of conscience is absolute in international law. But because the Maldives does not honor this fundamental freedom, Mohammed and Ismail both faced this tragic choice and both made tragic decisions. My heart goes out to them both in their agony. The Humanist movement must continue to stand up for every freethinker persecuted for following their conscience.”

–Matt Cherry

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*The newspaper does not reveal the name of the humanitarian organization. The IHEU has received requests for help from the Maldives and many other countries but never heard from Ismail Mohamed Didi.

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