A 60-year-old man has been detained by the Funadhoo Magistrate Court on charges of sorcery, with allegations suggesting he attempted to cast black magic on Mohamed Mamdooh (Manday), the newly elected representative for the Funadhoo constituency. He will remain in custody for 15 days following his arrest in Funadhoo, Shaviyani Atoll.

The accusations stirred unrest among the island residents, prompting them to gather outside the courthouse during his remand hearing. The protestors demanded that appropriate legal action be taken against the man, who allegedly placed magical items across the island to influence the election outcome.

Belief in sorcery and black magic is widespread in the Maldives, with sihuru (black magic) and fanditha (folk magic) holding cultural significance. Licensed fanditha practices are permitted under a 1978 law, but sihuru is prohibited and considered taboo.

While arrests related to sorcery have been frequent, prosecution remains challenging due to legal loopholes and a lack of specific provisions in the penal code. Since the implementation of the new penal code, sihuru has been prosecuted under the Religious Unity Act; however, neither contains explicit provisions for the practice.

In December 2016, the Islamic Ministry ordered Sangu TV to cancel a weekly programme on sorcery and black magic, citing concerns over religious unity and societal harmony. In August 2015, the Maldives Figh Academy, then an advisory body of religious scholars, warned against the promotion of black magic in local media after opposition figures linked certain political decisions to then-President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom’s alleged fear of sorcery. The government declined to comment at the time.

Authorities have recognised the need to streamline legal measures to address sorcery practices. However, the complexity of the issue, coupled with legal loopholes in the current penal code, often leads to the swift release of suspects without charges. Meetings between law enforcement and religious leaders have underscored the challenges in prosecuting cases of sihuru, calling for further research and potential legislative revisions to effectively tackle the problem.

Manday secured his electoral victory with 1,110 votes, a decisive lead over his nearest competitor, MDP candidate Ilham Ahmed. The incident has brought renewed focus on the complexities surrounding the prosecution of sorcery and raised concerns over societal divisions and legal inadequacies in tackling the practice.