Male: An International Yoga Day event in the Maldives capital was on Tuesday morning disrupted by a violent mob of Islamist extremists who swarmed into the venue, waving Islamic flags, and pushed and threatened the participants, who included India’s High Commissioner Munu Mahawar, and other members of the diplomatic community.
The Maldives government strongly condemned the violent disruption of the International Yoga Day event.
The ruling MDP party has also condemned the attack, which is being blamed on the opposition PPM party headed by ex-president Abdulla Yameen.
The Maldivian police have rounded up six suspects so far
The Maldives Third-Way Democrats MTD party has also condemned the “violent attack planned and master minded by President Yameen and PPM on International Yoga Day event targeting the Maldives Youth Minister, Indian High Commissioner to Maldives & UN representative to Maldives & Diplomats and participants.”
Maldives President Ibrahim Mohammed Solih ordered a probe into the incident even as police said that the Islamic flags that the protesters were carrying had come from the office of the opposition Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), of former president Abdulla Yameen, who is leading the “India Out” campaign on the Indian Ocean archipelago nation.
The International Yoga Day event was being held at the Galolhu football stadium in Male, and was hosted by the Maldives Youth Ministry in collaboration with the Indian Cultural Centre.
Ambassador of India Munu Mahawar, diplomats and senior officials from the Maldivian government alongside members of the general public were doing yoga at the Galolhu National Stadium when the riotous mob stormed in at 6.30 am, waving Islamic flags and threatening and pushing out yoga participants.
They were carrying flags containing verses from the Islamic Shahada.
A Police spokesperson said that six individuals have been arrested over the incident – which is being investigated as a serious matter.
Maldives President Solih said those behind the disruption would be swiftly brought before the law.
The Maldives Foreign Ministry, in a statement, said it strongly condemns the violent acts perpetrated by a group of individuals targeting the participants, including members of the diplomatic community who were attending the celebrations held to mark the 8th United Nations International Day of Yoga.
“Such malicious acts of violence aimed at disrupting public safety and undermining security of individuals and the diplomatic corps will not be tolerated,” it said.
It said that authorities have launched a special investigation into the incident and the Government will ensure that the perpetrators are swiftly brought to justice.
The Maldives foreign ministry said that the International Yoga Day has been celebrated in the Maldives, since 2015. The United Nations declared the day as International Day of Yoga by consensus on 11 December 2014, through a resolution which was co-sponsored by a record of 177 countries, including the Maldives.
The Maldives Police Service (MPS) said it has launched a “high priority investigation” into the violent disruption of the yoga event.
“Perpetrators had sought to incite fear by forcefully entering, destroying property and attempting to assault participants of the event. The event was attended by international Diplomats, state dignitaries and members of the public.”
It said the Serious and Organized Crime Department of the Crime Investigation Command is investigating this incident with “utmost urgency”.
“As of now, the evidence indicates that the demonstrators were using items taken from the office of the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM). So far, six male Maldivians have been taken into custody regarding this case. Additionally, an internal review of the police response to the incident has been initiated. We assure the public that we will take all necessary measures to ensure the safety of our whole community,” it said.
The ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MMDP) also unequivocally condemned Tuesday morning’s violent attack on the Yoga Day event. “These types of egregious and violent acts have no place in a peaceful democratic society such as ours.”
Islamist religious organization ‘Ilmuveringe Gulhun’ comprising of religious scholars had sent a letter to the Islamic Ministry on Monday expressing their concerns regarding the celebration of International Yoga Day in the Maldives, which they said is a “practice closely associated with Hindu religion”.
The letter read that “yoga was a threat to Islam and the Maldivian constitution in the name of exercise”. It also requested the Ministry to stop the event.
The ‘International Yoga Day’ event was initially to be held at Rasfannu area. However, the Male’ City Council decided to cancel the permit issued to hold the event at Rasfannu following complaints from the public.
Expressing concern over the incident – Maldivian Youth Minister Ahmed Mahloof said that the event was “obstructed for political reasons”.
Minister Mahloof said that ‘Yoga Day’ has been celebrated in the Maldives since 2014 – with major public events being held to mark the day during the earlier dispensation under President Abdulla Yameen as well. He added that there is no reason for something that was not considered ‘haram’ back then to become ‘haram’ now. He also stressed that yoga was not a religious activity.
He also alleged that the violent incident was backed by senior officials from the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and the Jamiyyath Salaf was also behind the violence.
However, both the parties have denied the allegations.
The minister described today’s incident as a lowly act which unfolded in front of senior officials from foreign countries.
The Ilmuveringe Gulhun organisation, in their letter to the Ministry of Islamic Affairs on Monday, said:
“We believe that yoga is a dangerous thing against Islam and the Maldivian Constitution under the name of exercise. This is concerning.” The letter also said that the ministry needs to initiate advocating and creating awareness about the religious implications of yoga.
Many have alleged that the flags which the rioters were used this morning were the same flags used in PPM’s recent ‘My prophet’ rally. A photo showing the flags being allegedly carried out of the PPM’s office has gone viral on social media as well.
The PPM has issued a statement condemning the incident.
The Jamiyyath Salaf, which calls itself an NGO, has denied involvement in the incident, and said it has been “involved in creating awareness and educating people regarding Islamic tenets ever since yoga was introduced to Maldives”.
(With UNI inputs)
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