Episode 8: "No place for me in paradise!"
Play • 36 min
Why Human Rights Defender Shahindha Ismail had to flee the Maldives

No place for me in paradise

The posters appeared overnight. They featured a soft looking young woman. Added to her picture were her private address, phone number and a sickening call for action: “Burn Shahindha Ismail and her lot alive! Or kill them otherwise!”

It was radical Islamic groups which had plastered the streets of the Maldivian capital Male with this and similar hate messages. The police refused to protect Shahindha and her colleagues at the non-profit “Maldivian Democracy Network” (MDN). The office of the prosecutor general kept silent. And finally, and against all promises, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and his government decided not to support MDN and the organization’s founder neither in private nor in public.

Weeks of self-confinement in her tiny apartment did not help to placate the ire of the fundamentalists. The call on social media for her to be raped and killed continued unabatedly. In the end the young Human Rights Defender had to realize the time for shock and outrage had passed. Facing a clear a present danger for her and her daughter’s life Shahindha reached out for international help.

It was the Hamburg Foundation for politically persecuted People which invited both women to Hamburg.

But even 11.000 kilometers distance to the island state which foreign vacationers often refer to as “paradise” weren’t enough. Emboldened by the back-peddling of the Maldivian government the Wahabism-inspired fundamentalists asked for and eventually achieved the ban of MDN and the illegal confiscation of the NGO’s financial assets.

In former times this would have certainly meant the end of this vociferous and opinionated group of South Asian human rights defenders. But in the digital age physical distance is of very little importance.

Within a few months Shahinda had moved her non-profit organization from Male to Geneva in Switzerland. Since then and nonetheless she and her collaborators are working from different locations, she and her team have stubbornly been working to re-position the goals of the Maldivian Democracy Network centerstage back home. Donations have re-started to arrive. At least one third party government has decided to support the MDN.

But most of all, old friends, acquaintances and supporters from the Maldives have been back in touch with Shahindha, thus overcoming the climate of fear installed by religious extremists and the government in Male.

“Realistically my presence in paradise might not be possible for the time being”, the human right defender admits. “But there is always hope for better times to come.”

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