Maldivian Ex-Muslim Atheist Convicted for Blasphemy, Life Under Threat

UPDATE: The case of Maldivian human rights activist and free-thinker Mohamed Rusthum Mujuthaba, convicted and charged with "Blasphemy," has finally reached a conclusion. Although he was set free, Mujuthaba and many who support him are still concerned for his life and well-being.

Mujuthaba, also known by his pseudonym Rusthum Russo on social media, is a well-spoken activist that champions the right to freedom of belief. In a country like the Maldives, where blasphemy is a crime, his active participation in pointing out the faults in religious scripture has resulted in trouble with the state.

Mujuthaba has been arrested twice for his outspoken beliefs. In September 2019, Mujuthaba was accused and detained on suspicion of posting “obscene material” and insulting Islam. Mujuthaba claimed that he was jailed for more than six months without a trial. He was released in March 2020 but was again arrested and convicted of "obstructing the course of justice." He served another year in prison.

Mujuthaba was again convicted in November 2021, but the authorities brought back the charges against him for his first detention in September 2019. Mujuthaba feared he would be imprisoned again for a charge he had already served.

The hearing was held on August 10th; Mujuthaba pleaded guilty. The prosecutor was forced to apologize for stating Mujuthaba was held in custody for 29 days. The correctional service records prove that he was detained for six months. He was sentenced to a four-month prison term. As he had already served more than that in detention, he was set free.

Although free, Mujuthaba has received several death threats. In the Maldives, criticism of Islam can lead to a year in prison and a fine under the Blasphemy laws of Section 617 of the Penal Code. However, anyone who is accused of blasphemy is not only fearful of the state but everyone around him.

Human Rights organizations such as Humanist International are extremely worried about Mujuthaba. Humanists International calls on the Maldivian authorities to protect the activist.

The vigilante violence that human rights activists and free-thinkers face in an Islamic country is exponentially high compared to the rest of the world. Even if the state drops the charges of the accused, many try to hand out the punishment that they think is adequate. Since most of these attacks are mob violence, it's harder for the state to prosecute the perpetrators; thus, most go scot-free without repercussions.

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