Opposition meets Vice President, pledges allegiance and urges him to take control of executive

The ‘December 23 alliance’ of eight political parties and a coalition of NGOs met Vice President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan at his official residence, Hilaaleege, at 1:00am last night, pledging allegiance and urging him to assume control of the executive.

The meeting followed the 14th consecutive night of opposition-led protests against the government’s ongoing detention of Chief Judge of the Criminal Court, Abdulla Mohamed, after the judicial watchdog obeyed a Civil Court injunction to halt its investigation of the judge.

Last night’s protest started outside Reefside on Orchid Magu, during which protesters reportedly threw black ink at riot police.

Police pushed back the crowd around 10:15pm, dividing them up in the process, but the protest continued in the area and protesters were seen eating rice pudding. An MNBC One cameraman was reportedly hit on the head and was rushed to hospital in a police ambulance.

The steering committee of the protests then gathered for a meeting at the Dhivehi Rayithunge Party (DRP) office around 11.15pm. The meeting was attended by Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) Deputy Leader Umar Naseer, Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Deputy Leader Ahmed Mohamed, Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) Secretary General Abdulla Ameen, Adhaalath Party President Sheikh Imran Abdulla, Jumhooree Party (JP) Secretary General Fuad Gasim, NGO coalition chairman Sheikh Ibrahim Didi and a representative of Dr Waheed’s Gaumee Ihthihaad Party (GIP).

The party leaders emerged from the DRP office around 12.45am and headed towards the VP’s official residence, next door to the Justice building. Opposition supporters were gathered in the area when they arrived.

Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) officers with shields soon arrived and cordoned off the area. At 1:40am officers entered the Vice President’s residence through the back door and a few minutes later Naseer and the rest of the party leaders came out of the building.

They then headed to the Jumhooree Party (JP) office for a press conference. A team of MNBC reporters were refused entry.

According to local media, the opposition leaders asked for a meeting with the Vice President because of the government’s “destruction” of the judiciary and “the President’s declaration that he would not hold the 2013 presidential election.”

An audio clip of President Mohamed Nasheed vowing to ensure a fair judiciary before the 2013 presidential election was leaked to local media yesterday.

In the recording Nasheed is heard to say: “Freedom of expression and an independent and fair judiciary in this country – I will not go for the election after these five years without doing these two things.”

Several local media outlets reported the comment as a threat from the President not to hold elections unless the judiciary was reformed. The President’s Office yesterday said the statement was a promising to reform the judiciary before the conclusion of the President’s first term in office: “He has no intention of calling off any elections.”

After last night’s meeting in Hilaaleege, Umar Naseer said all the parties in the opposition alliance have agreed to “pledge support to the Vice President.”

Speaking to DhiTV after the meeting, Naseer said the members of the alliance decided to meet the VP to discuss the current situation.

“After these discussions we are now calling upon the nation’s security forces, on behalf of our ‘December 23 alliance’ of all the opposition parties in the country as well as the NGO coalition, to immediately pledge their allegiance to the VP,” Naseer said.

“I repeat, all members of the December 23 alliance are now calling on the security forces to immediately pledge allegiance to Vice President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik and, as Mohamed Nasheed has violated the constitution, to not obey any of his orders and to pledge allegiance to the Vice President.”

Dr Waheed had assured the party leaders he would “take any legal responsibility he had to within the bounds of the law”, Naseer stated, and was “ready to take over the duties specified in the constitution.”

The stand of the ‘December 23 alliance’ was that President Mohamed Nasheed has “lost his legal status”, DhiTV reported.

President Mohamed Nasheed’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair told Minivan News today that the Vice President “has not said anything to cause a loss of confidence in him by the government. He was very careful in his statement, which was that he would undertake his duties as stipulated in the Constitution. Had the protesters gone to meet with [Fisheries Minister] Dr Ibrahim Didi or [MDP MP] Reeko Moosa they would have said the same thing.”

The protesters claimed to represent 13 political parties and 21 NGOs, Zuhair said, “but all the rallies have seen the involvement of no more than 300-400 people. It is very disproportionate.”

“I think the protests are slowing down and now they are trying to save face – pledging allegiance to the Vice President is the same as pledging allegiance to the government. The VP is working in cabinet today – there is no rift. This is a non-story,” he maintained.

The government was not concerned about Dr Waheed’s late night meeting with opposition leaders, as letting the protesters into his house “was the polite thing to do,” Zuhair said.

He also dismissed opposition claims that there was anti-government sentiment brewing in the security forces.

“The security forces have shown themselves to be a disciplined and absolutely professional force loyal to he government. There is no cause for any concern,” Zuhair said.

Legally, President Nasheed can only be impeached with a two-thirds (51) majority in the 77 member parliament. The combined opposition parties can marshal 36 members to the MDP’s 35 – without considering the six independents – so a decision to impeach would require the unlikely cooperation of at least nine ruling party MPs.

Dr Waheed was not responding to calls at time of press. However in a blog post on January 21 regarding the government’s detention of Abdulla Mohamed, he said he was “ashamed and totally devastated by the fact that this is happening in a government in which I am the elected the Vice President.”

He subsequently gave a press conference in which he requested the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) suspend Criminal Court Judge Abdulla Mohamed from the bench while complaints against him remain outstanding, “because as you can see [keeping him on the bench during questioning] has created more disruption than we all had bargained for.”

The JSC this week told parliament that it is unable to take action against the judge after he filed an injunction in the Civil Court halting the investigation.

Aishath Velezinee, former president’s member at the JSC, argues that “if the judicial watchdog can be overruled by a judge sitting in some court somewhere, then the JSC is dysfunctional. But that’s what has been happening,” she asserted.


Chief Judge “took entire criminal justice system in his fist”: Afeef

Ministers have sought to give their legal justification for the involvement of the armed forces in the arrest of Chief Judge of the Criminal Court, Abdulla Mohamed, amid spiraling political tensions.

In a televised statement on MNBC One last night, Home Minister Hassan Afeef said military assistance was sought for “fear of loss of public order and safety and national security” on account of Judge Abdulla, who has “taken the entire criminal justice system in his fist”.

Afeef and Defence Minister Tholhath Ibrahim Kaleyfan said police requested the involvement of the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) in the arrest of Abdulla Mohamed.

Defence Minister Tholhath revealed that police sent a letter to the armed forces on Monday, January 16 “requesting assistance to carry out its legal duty under article 71 of the Police Act, stating that the Criminal Court was not cooperating with police and that as a consequence of Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed obstructing police work, the country’s internal security was threatened and police were unable to maintain public order and safety,” he said.

MNDF therefore exercised authority under chapter nine of the constitution and the Armed Forces Act of 2008 to take the judge into custody, he said.

He noted that Article 243 of the constitution charges the military “to defend and protect the Republic and its people”, while article two of the Armed Forces Act states that it must “protect the lawfully elected government of the Republic of the Maldives from any unlawful action that may in any way diminish its stature.”

Moreover, he added, the Armed Forces Act authorises the military to assist law enforcement agencies upon request, during which it would be given “all lawful powers accorded to police.”

“I assure citizens that at this critical moment the country is faced with, the armed forces will do everything it must to restore national interest and defend the lawful government,” he said in conclusion.

Afeef meanwhile listed 14 cases of obstruction of police duty by Judge Abdulla, including withholding warrants for up to four days, ordering police to conduct unlawful investigations and disregarding decisions by higher courts.

Afeef accused the judge of “deliberately” holding up cases involving opposition figures, and barring media from corruption trials.

Afeef said the judge also ordered the release of suspects detained for serious crimes “without a single hearing”, and maintained “suspicious ties” with family members of convicts sentenced for dangerous crimes.

The judge also released a murder suspect “in the name of holding ministers accountable”, who went on to kill another victim.

Afeef also alleged that the judge actively undermined cases against drug trafficking suspects and had allowed them opportunity to “fabricate false evidence after hearings had concluded”.

Judge Abdulla “hijacked the whole court” by deciding that he alone could issue search warrants, Afeef continued, and has arbitrarily suspended court officers.

The chief judge “twisted and interpreted laws so they could not be enforced against certain politicians” and stood accused of “accepting bribes to release convicts.”

Prosectutor General Ahmed Muizz has meanwhile maintained that the MNDF acted illegally, telling local media that he would comply with an order from the Criminal Court to prosecute the Chief of Defence Forces for contempt of court, as well as those officers responsible for arresting the judge.

Muizz has also asked the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) to investigate the case, stating that he would decide who to charge based on their conclusions.

“The military arrested Abdulla Gazi in violation of the Judges Act. Action will be taken against those involved,” he said.

The first case against Abdulla Mohamed was brought to the President’s Office in 2005 by then Attorney General Dr Hassan Saeed, now the leader of the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP).

That complaint referred to the judge allegedly demanding that the underage victim of a sexual assault reenact her attack in the courtroom. The Judicial Services Commission (JSC) subsequently dropped the inquiry.

However in an open letter to parliament in March 2011, President’s member on the JSC and outspoken whistle-blower Aishath Velezinee claimed that the politically-manipulated JSC was protecting the judge despite the existence of “reasonable proof to show that Chief Judge of the Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed was systematically committing the atrocity of setting free dangerous criminals and declaring them innocent with complete disregard to the evidence [presented at court].”

The JSC formed a complaints committee to investigate the cases against Judge Abdulla in December 2009, which met 44 times but failed to present an update report every thirty days as required by article 29(b) of the Judicial Service Commission Act and had not presented a single report as of March 2011.

Opposition Dhivehi Rayithunge Party (DRP) MP Dr Afrashim Ali spoke in defence of the judge and insisted the complaints could not be investigated, but declined to provide reasons in writing to the commission.

Despite Judge Abdulla having been sentenced for a criminal offence, Speaker Abdulla Shahid pushed for his reappointment and later “bequeathed the Criminal Court to Abdulla Mohamed until 2026″ under the Judges Act, which was passed hastily during the constitutional crisis period in July-August 2010.

Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) has meanwhile called for the immediate release of the judge, accusing the government of disregard for judicial and constitutional law.

Interim Deputy President of PPM, Abdul Raheem, told local media that the government was seeking the declaration “of a state of emergency”.

“Recent actions suggest [the government] is capable of anything,” he said.


Jesus on SAARC banners, reports Sun Online

Banners and posters put up at the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport to promote the SAARC summit in Addu City feature the image of Jesus Christ, reports Sun Online.

The online paper reported that it received a number of calls complaining about the Christian imagery.

The visual art set to the theme of ‘Building Bridges’ was designed by local company Mooinc Pvt Ltd.

Mooinc Creative Director Ali Saeed said the designs were based on five themes approved by the cabinet to depict the culture and religion of the eight SAARC nations, where some 10 religions are practiced.

Under Religious Unity Regulations published by the government in September, it is illegal to propagate any other religion other than Islam, to carry or display in public books on religions other than Islam, and the translation into Dhivehi language such books and writings on other religions. Proselytising by foreigners remains punishable by deportation.

The regulations interpret the Religious Unity Act passed by parliament in 1994, which carries a 2-5 year prison sentence for its violation.

An Indian teacher working in Raa Atoll was arrested and deported in October for possession of Christian imagery and a Bible, after another teacher contacted police after finding hymn videos on the desktop of a school laptop.

Kokkattu claimed he had allegedly transferred the files from his personal flash drive by accident.

Kokkattu’s subsequent detention drew media attention in India, and the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) demanded the Indian government seek an apology from the Maldives for Kokkattu’s treatment.

“The lack of justice and the degree of religious intolerance in the Maldives is reflected by the actions of the Maldives government,” GCIC President Sajan K George told Asia News. “This is the worst form of religious persecution. The Indian government should demand an apology for the shabby treatment inflicted on one of its citizens.”

George called Kokkattu’s case evidence of the Maldives’ paradoxical nature. He said the Maldives “claims to be a major tourist destination, yet arrests innocent people,” George said. “This shows its intolerance and discrimination towards non-Muslims as well as its restrictions on freedom of conscience and religion.”


New religious unity regulations crack down on extremist preaching in Maldives

New religious unity regulations have been published in the government’s gazette cracking down on extremist and unlicensed preaching of Islam in the Maldives.

The regulations reflect the enforcement of the Religious Unity Act and were originally put forward by the Islamic Ministry, but have undergone numerous drafts and revisions over the past year. The penalty for violating the regulations under the Act is 2-5 years imprisonment, banishment or house arrest.

Under the regulations – the government’s interpretation of the Act – scholars foreign or local must be licensed to preach in the Maldives by the Islamic Ministry, and have received at least a first degree at one of 36 listed universities.

None of these are Maldivian institutions, although the regulations stipulate that new institutions would be evaluated on a case by case basis, and the list reviewed every three months.

The regulations contain general principles for the delivery of religious sermons. These include an emphasis on specifically referencing the Quran when statements are made, and clarifying the authenticity of Hadith.

Preachers are instructed not to express anything “against general agreement” reached among Islamic scholars, or provide any information “ about issues disputed among Islamic scholars that serves to create disunity among the people and result in internal conflicts.”

The regulations also require preachers to refrain “from passing off as Islam one’s personal stand – that may result in obstruction of human progress and development and hinder modern findings and intellectual advancements.”

Controversially, preachers are also asked not to preach in a manner that flaunts human dignity, that may be interpreted as racial and gender discrimination, prevent people from education or health services in the name of Islam, or demeans the character or creates hatred towards people of any other religion.

Foreign scholars preaching in the Maldives “should not talk against Maldives’ social norms, nor should they criticise Maldives’ domestic policies and laws,” the regulations state.

It remains illegal to propagate any other religion other than Islam, and to carry or display in public books on religions other than Islam, “and the translation into Dhivehi language such books and writings on other religions.” Proselytising by foreigners remains punishable by deportation.

Articles involving comparisons between Islam and other religions, “and description of sayings and expressions about Islam by people of other religions, and dissemination of Muslim expressions on other religions”, are exempt, according to the regulations.

Media is banned from producing or publicising programs, talking about or disseminating audio “that humiliates Allah or his prophets or the holy Quran or the Sunnah of the Prophet (Mohamed) or the Islamic faith.”

“This also includes the broadcasting of material (on other religions) produced by others and recording of such programs by the local broadcaster, and broadcasting such material by the unilateral decision of the local broadcaster,” the regulations stipulate.


At a press conference today, the Islamic Foundation of Maldives (IFM) contended that the regulations conflicted with both the Maldivian constitution and the Quran.

In February this year, the IFM filed a case at the High Court requesting that outdated provisions in the Protection of Religious Unity Act of 1994 be abolished.

Article 2(b) of the Act states that permission to preach or offer instruction in religious matters must be sought in writing with the President.

Islamic Foundation Lawyer Shaheem Ahmed argued today that the Act conflicted with article 27 of the constitution, which states that, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought and the freedom to communicate opinions and expressions in a manner that is not contrary to any tenet of Islam.”

“Sadly however no hearings have been conducted in this case so far. We don’t know why this is so,” he said.

In addition, Shaheem argued, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs did not have the legal authority to enact regulations that restricts or limits fundamental rights and freedoms enumerated in chapter two of the constitution.

Article 16 states that the rights and freedoms contained in the chapter could be restricted “only to such reasonable limits prescribed by a law enacted by the People’s Majlis”.

“After this regulation was approved, from this day onward no one without a degree could teach Islam in any school in the country,” he said, adding that imparting knowledge of Islam by a person without a degree would also be illegal.

As provision 5(l) of the regulations prohibits speech that could “incite hatred among the public, demean or undermine the human dignity of followers of another religion,” Shaheem noted that the Quran described Jews as “evil people and liars” and cautioned against “taking Jews as your friends.”

“Would expressing something like this from the Quran incite hatred or love towards us from Jews?” he asked. “The people who formulated this regulation should consider that the basis of Islam is the Quran.”

Quran 2:120 states that, “Never will the Jews or Christians be pleased with you till you follow their religion” while 5:51 reads, “Take not the Jews and the Christians as Auliya’ (friends, protectors, helpers, etc.), they are but Auliya’ to one another. And if any amongst you takes them as Auliya’, then surely he is one of them. Verily, Allah guides not those people who are the Zalimun (polytheists and wrong-doers and unjust).”

Sheikh Ibrahim Fareed Ahmed meanwhile called on Islamic Minister Dr Abdul Majeed Bari to “repent” for approving a regulation that conflicted with the Quran.

“[The regulations] obstruct the freedom granted by Almighty God to spread Islam. It is therefore completely void,” he claimed.

Fareed called on the government to review the regulations and reconsider enforcing the new rules, urging Islamic Minister Bari to consult religious scholars who were not Adhaalath party members and “not make such decisions on your own.”

“We urge very respectfully and with affection, to reconsider this and change [the regulations] so that it does not conflict with the Quran,” he said. “And don’t try to narrow Islamic matters in the country.”

IFM President Ibrahim Fauzee meanwhile revealed that the foundation was preparing to mount a legal challenge to the regulations at the Supreme Court.

Adhaalath Party condemns regulations

The Adhaalath Party, which controls the Islamic Ministry, issued a press statement today criticising the removal of “very important principles” from the original draft, and distanced the party’s religious scholars from the regulations.

The statement notes that the regulations were drafted by a legal team from police and 11 prominent religious scholars and approved by three Attorney Generals.

“We would like to inform the beloved Maldivian people that the party condemns [the changes] in the harshest terms and the party’s religious scholars and members renounces the gazetted regulations,” it reads.

“We note that provisions from English law have been added that were not in the regulations before and are not suited to a 100 percent Islamic community. We also note that other dangerous changes have been made to the regulations,” reads the statement signed by Sheikh Ilyas Hussein, vice-president of Adhaalath party’s council of religious scholars.

“While the Minister of Islamic Affairs [Dr Bari, president of the religious scholars council] was requested to not agree to publishing the regulations in the gazette without consultation with the party’s
scholars, we want to reveal that the regulations were brought out in the form it is in the gazette without any discussion at all with Adhaalath party’s council of religious scholars.”

Among the clauses that were removed were provisions outlining criteria for issuing preaching licenses, and prohibitions on broadcasting “un-Islamic” material.

These included provisions that preachers must be Sunni, and according to the Adhaalath Party, a provision requiring that religious fatwas (edicts or rulings) must be issued in accordance with the Sunni sect
was also removed, and so-called ‘blasphemy’ laws appeared to be toned down.

Laws forbidding independent prayer congregations were also scrapped.

The amendment regulations published in the government gazette yesterday was made up of 12 provisions, whereas previous drafts contained 40 provisions and a number of sub-clauses.

A more ‘academic’ approach

Former member of the Special Majlis and the new Constitution’s drafting committee, Ibrahim ‘Ibra’ Ismail, who was involved in redrafting the regulations, told Minivan News that they set out a more “academic” approach to preaching Islam in the Maldives, and were targeted at curbing the spread of extremism.

“[The regulations] do not impinge on freedom of expression, compared to the first draft, and I believe we have taken out those elements,” Ibra said.

“We have observed in this country and elsewhere that there are people who misquote the Quran and twist it around to propagate their agenda. These provisions curb that,” he explained.

“What in effect we are ensuring is that preachers should not say whatever comes to their mind. We say that if those preaching religion must refer to sources – the Quran and the Prophet’s sayings – so someone can independently verify if they wish.

“Where scholars deliver sources on areas and issues that are in dispute, these regulations require that they should state that,” he said.

“We put in a provision that prohibits hate speech, such as no one should propagate xenophobia or negative sentiments towards other religious.”

The criminalisation of those who violated the Act was not stipulated by the regulations, but in law, he explained.

“Currently the parliament is reviewing the relevant legislation (the Religous Unity Act), what we are doing is simply setting out how this can be enforced,” Ibra said, confirming that 2-5 years sentences was “more or less” what was in the Act.

Enforcement would ultimately be a court decision, he explained, with the Islamic Ministry only having the right to temporarily suspend preaching license pending the outcome of the court decision.

Ibra suggested that religious groups active in the Maldives – such as the Islamic Foundation of the Maldives and Jamiyyath-al-Salaf – should welcome the regulations, “as until now there has been a move by some people to silence them. These regulations do not silence them, but ask them to engage and follow procedures in their work. There are no ramifications for any particular group – again this different to what was originally proposed.”

He disputed that outlawing extremist preaching would drive the practice underground, and lead to a repeat of the 2007 Himandhoo incident, in which islanders donned red motorcycle helmets and armed themselves with batons and knives to defend the Dhar al Khuir mosque from a police crackdown.

In the ensuing skirmish, a policeman was taken captive and another’s hand was severed. Shortly afterwards a video discovered on an Al Qaeda forum was found to contain footage taken inside the Dhar-al-khuir mosque moments before it was raided by police.

“Himandhoo  was not based on religion – those where highly politicised times,” Ibra said. “What I believe is that this will allow liberal-minded thinkers to convince people of the middle ground. Initially there may be some reactions, but I’m optimistic.”

Download an unofficial translation of the new regulations (English)


Decision to remove Dr Afrashim from JSC “a victory for all reformists”, says Velezinee

Parliament today voted 38 to 34 in favour of a motion of no-confidence to remove opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Dr Afrashim Ali from the Judicial Service Commission (JSC).

The motion to dismiss controversial religious scholar Afrashim from the judicial watchdog body was submitted by Majority Leader “Reeko” Moosa Manik of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) last week.

The DRP had issued a three-line whip in an effort to save the embattled JSC member during today’s vote.

Breakdown of the vote

Afrashim’s defence

Responding to the multiple charges of misconduct, Afrashim denied that his appointment as the JSC’s representative to the Supreme Court violated article 163 of the constitution, which requires a majority of the commission’s 10 members to be in attendance for a vote.

Only five members of the JSC had signed in as present at the meeting in question on February 6.

Afrashim argued that seeking the approval of JSC members through telephone calls was standard practice while meetings could be held without a majority in attendance “under special circumstances.”

If members participated through audio conferencing, he added, “they can be considered to be present in a meaningful sense.”

On the matter of drawing allowances, Afrashim pointed out that the decision to award committee allowances was made by the interim commission in January 2009, prior to his appointment to the JSC.

“When we were selected for the commission, the Judicial Service Commission’s administration informed us to give our [bank] account numbers to deposit money,” he said. “We didn’t even know what that money was for. This is not something that we decided for ourselves unlawfully.”

Article 164 of the constitution states that “A member of the Judicial Service Commission who is not a member of the Executive, the Judiciary, or the People’s Majlis shall be paid such salary and allowances as may be determined by the People’s Majlis.”

Afrashim insisted that the article does not explicitly prohibit remuneration for commission members already receiving state incomes.

Moreover, as the article states that parliament could approve salaries and allowances for all commission members, Afrashim argued that the annual JSC budget, including provisions for committee allowances, was passed by parliament “because it was not in violation of the constitution.”

The JSC budget obtained by Minivan News confirmed that JSC members were in some cases receiving up to Rf 9000 (US$700) a month as a ‘committee allowance’; a total of Rf 514,660 (US$40,000) in 2010.

The DRP MP for Ungoofaru also denied any wrongdoing in the vetting process of reappointing judges in August 2010 – which took place amid concerns about the competency and integrity – as stipulated by article 285 of the constitution.

Echoing claims by fellow opposition MPs, Afrashim alleged that the resolution to remove him from the JSC constituted “an attempt to politically influence the judiciary and transfer judges.”

In his closing statement after the two-hour long debate, Afrashim alleged that President Mohamed Nasheed had called him on former DRP MP Alhan Fahmy’s phone and requested that Criminal Court Judge Abdulla Mohamed “be removed even if it meant disregarding principles and procedure.”

Former President’s Member on the JSC, Aishath Velezinee, described today’s decision in parliament as “a victory for all reformists.”

“The Majlis’ decision to remove Dr Afrashim for breach of trust and acting unconstitutionally raises a fundamental question about the legality of the courts today,” Velezinee said, highlighting the JSC’s hasty and untransparent reappointment of all sitting judges in August 2010.

“I blame the Speaker [Abdulla Shahid] for having sat in the JSC during Dr Afrashim’s treason,” Velezinee added. “He has lost all authority to remain as Speaker and thereby hold his seat in the JSC. The Majlis must now ensure that Article 285 is honoured in full, and judicial reform in undertaken as guaranteed by the Constitution.”

Dr Afrashim’s allegations that President Nasheed had attempted to bully him into dismissing the Chief Judge of the Criminal Court, Abdulla Mohamed, “sounded to me like a last minute life line,” Velezinee said.

“Afrashim never mentioned that in the JSC. And having sat as the President’s appointed member, I can vouch that President Nasheed never made any such request of me.”


Parliament sends controversial Crime Prevention Bill back to committee, goes to recess

The controversial National Crime Prevention Bill was returned to committee during a special session of the Majlis last night, after more than 100 amendments were proposed.

Parliament voted 37 to 33 in favour of a proposal by Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Ali Waheed, seconded by the opposition allied People’s Alliance (PA), and backed by some Independents, to send the bill back to committee.

The majority of MPs was of the opinion was that the addition of over 100 amendments to a bill restricting constitutional rights could not be properly considered and voted on before the end of the sitting at 12am.

Voting went along partisan lines with ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MPs and Independent MP Mohamed Nasheed in the minority against the DRP-PA coalition, the Jumhoree Party (JP) and the Dhivehi Quamee Party (DQP).

DRP MP Ahmed Mahlouf was conspicuously the only MP who abstained while leader of the People’s Alliance (PA), Abdulla Yameen, did not participate in the vote.

Waheed put forward the proposal after Speaker Abdulla Shahid informed MPs of the number of amendments to the bill, and opened the floor to a debate to decide how to proceed with the special sitting.

Shahid announced the parliamentary recess at the end of the sitting as no proposal had been made to either extend the special sitting or hold another.

MDP MPs claimed that the amendments were a filibuster tactic to avoid confronting the issue, with MP Ibrahim Rasheed suggesting as much when he said the amendments were made by those who “lacked sincerity” while MP Abdul Gafoor Moosa said that none of the amendments were submitted by MDP MPs.

As Chair of the National Security Committee, Yameen presented the committee report to the floor, explaining that a consensus was reached among committee members to restrict the rights for a limited period to empower the authorities to curb dangerous crimes.

The draft legislation contained a number of provisions that could violate or restrict constitutional rights, including the right to remain silent and a mandatory 15 day detention period.

If passed into law, police would be empowered to enter private property without a court order to arrest a person suspected of any of the crimes listed in the legislation or in case evidence is being or hidden.

Moreover, a person accused of any of the crimes in clause four of the bill could meet a lawyer in private only after 96 hours after the arrest, prior to which any such meeting would have to take place in the presence of police officers.

If a suspect is arrested at the scene of a crime with related evidence either on his person or at the place, the court could interpret the silence of the accused as an admission of guilt or association with the crime.

On extension of custody or remand detention, courts must consider the criminal record of the accused along with police intelligence and grant a minimum mandatory period of 15 days of remand detention.

In addition, refusal by the accused to disclose information on finances or assets considered as evidence shall be deemed an offence punishable by up to five years in prison.

The bill includes a ‘sunset clause’, making it applicable for 18 months, but it has raised concerns in the international community regarding the compromise of constitutionally-guaranteed human rights.

Notably, the draft bill provides exemption for MPs and those working in independent commissions from searches of their homes without a court warrant.

Independent MP Nasheed, who is parliament’s focal point for the Crime Prevention Committee, reprimanded MPs for passing on their responsibility to the committee and going to recess, stating that the sunset law was not prepared in haste and that as senior officials of the state had spent the past three days working in the Majlis, MPs who were interested could have attended the committee sessions.

The President’s Member on the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), Aishath Velezinee, said parliament’s focus on police powers as a means to resolve crime in the Maldives avoided them having to debating the real issue – the lack of an independent judiciary.

“My concern is that they have avoided a discussion of the issues this debate has raised regarding the establishment of an independent judiciary. They are still giving it a blind eye, and trying to fix crime without considering it,” she said. “There is no point passing laws and legislation if there is no independent judiciary to uphold it.”

She noted that members of parliament’s opposition majority had been colluding “with self-appointed leaders of the judiciary” in an effort to maintain the administration of justice that existed under the former government.

“They have simply renamed the former Ministry of Justice as ‘independent judiciary’,” she said.

Velezinee claimed that the police powers were only required “because there is no confidence in the judiciary.”

“I support absolute police power with a sunset clause in certain cases, such as when the criminal court has connections with organised crime,” she said.

The violation of constitutionally-mandated rights that this would entail has led to mutterings of concern among the international community – concern shared by many young Maldivians, one of whom told Minivan News that he was so confident that police would abuse their new powers, such as entering houses without a warrant, that he would “pack my bags and leave the Maldives for 18 months” if the bill was passed.