Protesters demanded justice for sexual assault victims at a public forum held at the Parliament on Wednesday.
The demonstrators were seated in the crowd, holding up signboards calling for decisive action over assault cases during the forum held to collect public opinions concerning the recently proposed ‘Maldivian Police Service Bill’.
This marks the first recorded instance that a protest was carried out within the premises of the Parliament.
The forum was conducted by a panel consisting of the parliamentarian representative for Henveiru-West constituency and Chairperson of ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Hassan Latheef, a parliamentarian representative for Hulhumale’ MP Ali Niyaz, and Superintendent of Police Yunus Sobah. In addition to members of the public, several police officers participated in the forum.
The demonstration was the latest in the outpouring of public sentiment in the wake of a case involving the sexual assault of a foreign woman aboard a safari last weekend.
On Monday, over 150 protesters gathered near the Ministry of Gender, Family and Social Services, urging the government to expedite cases, disclose the identity of perpetrators that were influencing the authorities, and calling for the arrest of rapists.
Recently, a collective of gender equality advocates originating from Family Legal Clinic (FLC), Nufoshey and Uthema Maldives also launched the #FundOurSafety initiative, voicing a list of demands including the reallocation of state funds toward the protection of victims.
Public ire continues to soar over the government’s meagre record of arresting and convicting perpetrators of sexual offences despite several promises to support the rights of children and women.
The 27-year-old victim of the latest high-profile sexual assault case was reportedly invited aboard the safari by a friend, and was later sexually harassed and assaulted by two men. After the woman jumped off the vessel in an effort to escape, she was picked up by a dinghy and transported to the jetty.
The two men, both aged 39, were arrested at the scene. However, they were later released with the authorities claiming, based on the information collected, that detaining them until the investigation concluded would be unnecessary.
Although photos circulating on social media claim that one of the alleged perpetrators is connected to politicians serving in the incumbent administration, authorities have yet to release any information concerning the suspects, citing the ongoing status of the investigation.
Initial reports by local media state that the victim was raped aboard the vessel and that the police had released the suspects after receiving phone calls from “people high up”. However, in an interview published by local media Mihaaru, the victim denied speaking to media outlets prior to Mihaaru.
Several members of the public have expressed scepticism over the aforementioned interview, citing the parallels between initial media reports and official police statements as well as the accounts claiming that the woman was intimidated, threatened with deportation and presented with bribes.
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