Leaked gay sex videos lead to Monkeypox Maldives contact tracing calls

A tired young man dressed in white looks away from the camera. His heavily hooded eyes are bloodshot. He joins his hands in a pleading position and looks straight into the lens.

“I repented. All Maldivian citizens, please forgive me,” he said. The man in the video is MD Alamgiri, a trafficked Bangladeshi sex worker who has been accused of filming, blackmailing and having same-sex relationships with Maldivian politicians and government officials.

Since June, several leaked videos of people having same-sex relationships with Alamgiri have gone viral on Maldivian social media. These include videos of a policeman, a former journalist and the brother of former president Mohamed Nasheed.

The Maldives is often touted as a gay honeymoon destination with token wedding ceremonies held 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.

Alamgiri’s case has metastasized into a widespread homophobic outcry on social media, with many expressing disgust, ridicule and outright anger towards Alamgiri and the men featured in the videos. Many demanded their arrest under local laws criminalizing homosexuality. Penalties for homosexuality in the country can be up to eight years in prison and 100 lashes.

The case is also being used in conjunction with the global monkeypox outbreak, further stigmatizing the country’s vulnerable LGBTQ community, most of whom are living in lockdown for their safety. Politician Ahmed Shiyam has called for monkeypox contact tracing to be carried out on Alamgiri and its customers after a suspected case was reported in the country in July.

“It is important that the authorities look into this case because there was a suspected case of monkeypox but the results came back negative. However, the concern is still there, as monkeypox is spreading all over the world,” Ahmed Shiyam told VICE World News. Police have not yet said whether they will proceed with the proposed contact tracing.

According to the World Health Organization, men who have sex with men are still the overwhelming majority of people most affected by monkeypox during the recent outbreak. However, contact disease can be contracted by anyone. Public health experts have insisted on using appropriate messaging to prevent homophobic stigma against the LGBTQ community.

“The response must be well-funded, nuanced and sensitive. It is not enough to say on a global level that monkeypox is currently spreading among men who have sex with men and that we should be contact tracing,” said Kyle Knight, senior researcher on LGBTQ health and rights. at Human Rights Watch, at VICE World. New.

“What you need to do is have very specific instructions when you have a confirmed case. Only then does it make sense, from a public health perspective, to reach out and do contact tracing. However, just because something makes sense from a public health perspective doesn’t mean it’s right from a human rights perspective,” Knight said.

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

“I am absolutely terrified of a real outbreak happening in the Maldives as it will be used to harass members of our community,” said a gay man who lives in the capital Male, who requested anonymity for his safety.

LGBTQ Maldivians are forced to live a double life with their identity constantly condemned by conservative religious groups. In the past, these convictions have turned into violence against openly gay people and LGBTQ rights activists by extremists.

In 2011, former journalist and LGBTQ rights activist Hilath Rasheed was nearly beheaded 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 constant onslaught of death threats.

“I receive threats all the time on my social networks. I am often threatened with beheading. At this point, I’m afraid of being beheaded,” Medulla Oblongata told VICE World News.

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

“If enough people with monkeypox or any serious disease are found in Alamgiri’s network, then I wouldn’t be against seeking contracts. But for now, they’re just anti-gay. Nothing else,” Ahmed told VICE World News.

He’s not wrong. Shiyam, the politician, believes that the authorities should crack down on homosexual activity in the country.

“We want the government, especially the investigating authorities, to look into this matter closely because monkeypox concerns aside, we are a 100% Muslim country and these kinds of acts are not is not allowed. They are haram (prohibited),” Shiyam said.

His concerns are shared by others. On August 23, an amendment calling for homosexuality to be made a major criminal offense was introduced in parliament. Only 12 criminal acts are currently classified as such, including murder, terrorist 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 calling it is doing it without evidence. This politician is doing it to jump on a global trend of using the rhetoric of homophobia surrounding monkeypox and outbreaks so far this summer to reinforce stigma and create an even more stigmatizing narrative about this case,” Knight said.

So far, 38 men have been identified from the videos and are being investigated by police for homosexual activity. Police seized the passports of 18 men and informed their employers that they were identified in the videos. Many have been fired or suspended.

On August 22, formal charges were filed by the Attorney General’s office against Alamgiri and three men. Although the three men were released from police custody, Alamgiri is still being held.

Follow Rimal Farrukh on Twitter.