COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Maldives ordered hundreds of its luxury resorts to close their spas nearly a week after a protest led by opposition parties demanding a halt to “anti-Islamic” activities, the government said Friday.
A statement from the president’s office said “the government has decided to close massage parlors and spas in the Maldives, following an opposition-led religious protest last week calling for their closure.”
An official from the president‘s office said the tourism ministry notified the resorts Thursday but hasn’t confirmed if the spas have been closed. He spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak on the matter.
The Indian Ocean archipelago with 1,192 tiny coral islands is known for its exquisite resorts.
Thousands at last week’s protest called on the government to halt what they called “anti-Islamic” activities. Sunni Islam is the official religion in the Maldives and practicing any other faith is forbidden.
Last week’s protest was called by the opposition Adhaalat, or Justice, Party and several other groups that accuse President Mohammed Nasheed’s government of compromising principles of Islam and want strict Islamic law.
The protesters also want authorities to stop the sale of alcohol in the islands, shut down brothels operating in the guise of massage parlors and demolish monuments gifted by other countries marking a South Asian summit last month because they see them as idols.
They also wanted to halt a plan to allow direct flights to Israel.
Though the country does not allow stoning or executions, it is under scrutiny for its absence of religious freedom and for punishments such as public flogging.
Debates on religious issues have emerged since a group vandalized a monument gifted by Pakistan marking a South Asian summit last month with the image of Buddha. Buddhism was part of the present Islamic republic’s history.
An angry protest last month followed a call by U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay for the Maldives to end floggings of women being punished for adultery.