monkeypox, contact tracing, Maldives, gay sex
A politician has called for monkeypox contact tracing to be conducted on men featured in leaked viral videos. Photo is for illustrative purposes only. Credit: David Talukdar/Getty Images

Leaked Videos of Gay Sex Lead to Calls For Monkeypox Contact Tracing in the Maldives

Although its $1.4 billion tourism industry covets the rainbow dollar, LGBTQ freedom is limited to tourists.
Rimal Farrukh
Islamabad, PK

A tired-looking young man dressed in white averts his gaze from the camera. His heavily hooded eyes are bloodshot. He clasps his hands in a pleading stance and stares straight into the lens.

“I have repented. All Maldivian citizens, please forgive me,” he says. The man in the video is M.D. Alamgiri, a trafficked Bangladeshi sex worker who has been accused of filming, blackmailing and engaging in same-sex relations with politicians and officials of the Maldivian government. 

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Since June, several leaked videos of people engaging in same-sex relations with Alamgiri have gone viral on Maldivian social media. These include videos of a police officer, a former journalist, and former President Mohamed Nasheed's brother. 

The Maldives is often touted as a gay-honeymoon destination with symbolic marriage ceremonies conducted on the sandy beaches of its private luxury resorts. The country’s $1.4 billion tourism industry covets the rainbow dollar, but LGBTQ acceptance is limited to its tourists. 

monkeypox, contact tracing, Maldives, gay sex

M.D Alamgiri during a police raid of his residence. Photo: Ahmed Azaan

Alamgiri’s case has metastasized into a widespread homophobic outcry on social media, with many expressing disgust, ridicule and outright anger at Alamgiri and the men featured in the videos. Many have demanded their arrests under local laws criminalizing homosexuality. The penalties for homosexuality in the country can range to up to eight years’ imprisonment and 100 lashes. 

The case is also being used in conjunction with the global monkeypox outbreak, further stigmatising the country’s vulnerable LGBTQ community, most of whom live closeted lives for their safety. Politician Ahmed Shiyam has spearheaded a call for monkeypox contact tracing to be carried out on Alamgiri and his clients after one suspected case was reported in the country in July. 

“It is important for authorities to look into this matter because there was one suspected case of monkeypox but the results came out as negative. However, the concern is still there, since monkeypox is spreading everywhere in the world,” Ahmed Shiyam told VICE World News. The police have yet to say whether they would conduct the proposed contact tracing.

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According to the World Health Organization, men who have sex with men are still, overwhelmingly, the people most affected by monkeypox in the recent outbreak. However, the contact-based illness can be contracted by anyone. Public health experts have stressed using appropriate messaging to prevent homophobic stigmatisation against the LGBTQ community. 

“The response needs to be well-resourced and nuanced and sensitive. It is not sufficient to say at a global level that monkeypox right now is spreading amongst men who have sex with men and that we should do contact tracing,” Kyle Knight, a senior health and LGBTQ rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, told VICE World News. 

“What you need to do is to have very specific instructions when you have a confirmed case. Only then is it logical from a public health perspective to reach out and conduct contact tracing. However, just because something is logical from a public health perspective does not mean that it is right from a human rights perspective,” said Knight. 

Because the Maldives punishes gay sex, the LGBTQ community is fearful that when positive cases actually do emerge in the country, they will be forced further into hiding. 

“I am absolutely terrified of an actual outbreak occurring in the Maldives because it will be used to out and harass members of our community,” said a gay man who lives in the capital Male, and who requested anonymity for his safety. 

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LGBTQ Maldivians are forced to live double lives with their identities constantly condemned by conservative religious groups. In the past, these condemnations have escalated into violence against openly-queer individuals and LGBTQ rights defenders by extremists. 

In 2011, former journalist and LGBTQ rights activist Hilath Rasheed was almost decapitated outside his home. The attacker was never punished. 

Rasheed’s friend, LGBTQ activist and drag queen Medulla Oblongata who currently resides in New Zealand continues to receive a steady onslaught of death threats.                                                                       

“I receive threats all the time on my social media. I get threatened with beheading a lot. At this point I have a fear of being beheaded,” Medulla Oblongata told VICE World News. 

Maldivian LGBTQ rights advocate Shakyl Ahmed who spoke to VICE World News from an undisclosed location believes that Shiyam’s calls for monkeypox contact tracing are merely a smokescreen to fan homophobic hate against the LGBTQ community. 

“If sufficient people with monkeypox or any serious disease are found within Alamgiri’s network, then I wouldn't be against contract tracing. But for now, they are just being anti-gay. Nothing else,” Ahmed told VICE World News. 

He isn’t wrong. Shiyam, the politician believes that the authorities should clamp down on same-sex activity in the country. 

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monkeypox, contact tracing, Maldives, gay sex

Maldivian politician Ahmed Shiyam is calling for monkeypox contact tracing to be conducted against the men identified in the leaked viral videos. Photo: Ahmed Shiyam

“We want the government, especially the investigating authorities to look into this case closely because aside from concerns about monkeypox, we are a 100 percent Muslim country and these kind of acts are not allowed. They are haraam (forbidden),” said Shiyam. 

His concerns are shared by others. On Aug. 23, an amendment calling for homosexuality to be classified as a major criminal offense was presented in parliament. Only 12 criminal acts are currently classified as such including murder, terror financing, money laundering, rape and child abuse. 

Human rights groups and LGBTQ activists are troubled by the homophobic escalation of Shiyam’s calls for contact tracing. 

“This politician who is calling for it is doing it without evidence. This politician is doing it to jump on to a global trend to use the rhetoric of homophobia surrounding monkeypox and the outbreaks so far this summer to further drive stigma and create an even more stigmatising narrative about this case,” said Knight. 

So far 38 men have been identified from the videos and are under police investigation for same-sex activity. Police have seized the passports of 18 men and informed their employers that they were identified in the videos. Many have been fired from their jobs or suspended.

On Aug. 22 formal charges were filed by the prosecutor general’s office against Alamgiri and three men. Although the three men have been released from police custody, Alamgiri continues to be detained. 

Follow Rimal Farrukh on Twitter.