Online protest over Maldives' rape sentence

Campaigners target islands' tourist economy after teenage victim is ordered to be flogged

With its crystal clear waters, white sandy beaches and iridescent sunsets, the Maldives is a sought-after destination for loved-up British honeymooners. But its Edenic reputation is under threat after a teenage rape victim was sentenced to 100 lashes for engaging in premarital sex. Now justice campaigners are planning to target the country's lucrative tourism industry unless it improves womens' rights.

The ultimatum has been issued by the world's largest online campaigning group, Avaaz. The network, which boasts 20 million members, has designed an advert contrasting the country's sunny beaches with an image of a crying young girl and a reference to the island republic's Islamic laws. The advert will be published in the travel press, online and via social networks if politicians do not agree to change legislation, according to the organisation.

The charges against the girl, from the tiny island of Feydhoo, were brought by police who said she confessed to engaging in sexual activity outside of marriage. The confession reportedly came when officials were investigating separate accusations that her stepfather had raped her and killed their baby. Maldives sources said the girl is thought to have been abused by local men for some time. Her mother is also alleged to have concealed the crime.

The flogging sentence prompted worldwide indignation from human rights groups which condemned the punishment as "cruel, degrading and inhumane". The Virgin tycoon Sir Richard Branson said the sentence was causing "enormous damage" to the Maldives, after asking the country's President, Mohammed Waheed Hassan, to intervene.

The threat of Avaaz's advertising campaign – used successfully in the past against the Hilton Group – is designed to increase the pressure on the government to review legislation. Around 35 per cent of the Maldives' economy is directly linked to tourism. Mohamed Maleeh Jamal, the deputy tourism minister, said he was "extremely worried" about the impact of adverse publicity on the industry. Around 100,000 Britons travel to the Maldives each year, making the UK its third-largest market for tourism.

Alice Jay, campaign director at Avaaz, said: "Britain's number-one honeymoon destination is a place where torture of women and girls is the law. Holidaymakers have a right to know what sort of regimes they're supporting and to make their travel decisions accordingly."

The islands' legal system combines elements of Sharia law and English common law. More than 100 "fornification" cases were filed in 2011, with almost 90 per cent of those sentenced women.

Masood Imad, a spokesman for the President, told The Independent on Sunday the case had been "blown out of proportion." He said: "The government is already engaged with the judiciary and trying to get the sentence repealed. The Government thinks flogging should end and that we should try and come up with a more modern and appropriate way of dealing with things."

He added that it was not the Government's role to "mess around with the judiciary," but that the law itself must be changed. Ms Jay said that Avaaz wanted to see "a bill that upholds girls' and women's rights on the tables in parliament".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Graphic and Motion Designer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Do you get a buzz from thinking up new ideas a...

Recruitment Genius: Media Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£14500 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Female Care Worker

£7 - £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This expanding, vibrant charity which su...

Recruitment Genius: Parts Supervisor & Advisor - Automotive

£16500 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's leading...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones