Only three judges trained on new penal code

A new penal code is due to come into force at midnight tonight, but the three judges of the Juvenile Court are the only judges who have been trained on the provisions in the new law, reliable sources have told Minivan News. 

The juvenile court has declined to comment on the matter, while the Department of Judicial Administration (DJA) said no judges have been trained on the new law.

Judges and lawyers told Minivan News in April that the Supreme Court has denied permission for judges and magistrates to attend trainings conducted by the attorney general’s office and the UNDP at a special legal sector resource center, which was set up last year to train law enforcement agencies, judges, lawyers and journalists on the new penal code.

“The penal code is a large, extensive document with criminal proceedings that is new to the Maldives. I wanted to attend but the Supreme Court wouldn’t give us permission,” a judge who wanted to remain anonymous told Minivan News at the time.

The existing penal code was adopted in 1968 and has been criticised as draconian, outdated and not in line with the democratic constitution of 2008.

Speaking at a symposium about the new penal code in April, Attorney General Mohamed Anil said the country should bid farewell to the existing law “without any fear” as it was unsuited to the present day. The Majlis however delayed the law’s enforcement by three months in the same month claiming more time was needed to raise awareness.

Former Prosecutor General Hussain Shameem says that some 1100 people people have been provided extensive training as part of preparations for implementing the penal code.

“We have never been more prepared for a law than this,” he said.

The Supreme Court has meanwhile drafted a penal code of its own, which proposes lowering the age of criminal responsibility to seven years and sets hefty fines and jail terms for defaming a state employee.

But the People’s Majlis has suspended its sittings to block MPs from submitting any changes. Explaining the decision to suspend sittings, a senior ruling party MP told Minivan News: “We will not allow the judiciary to dictate laws and overstep its mandate.”

A source familiar with the apex court’s draft said it will undo ten years of work put into modernizing the Maldives’ criminal laws.

In the draft, defamation of a state employee by using the media is punishable by up to eight months in jail or a MVR15,000 fine. Providing misleading statements about court proceedings is punishable by up to three years in jail and a maximum fine of MVR30,000.

Reporters will have to bear criminal responsibility for translating or reproducing statements issued by international bodies that defame state employees, the draft said. Meanwhile, courts can also shut down media outlets if defamatory statements are published.

However, with the new penal code, the Maldives will become the first Islamic country to adopt a criminal law compatible with both the Islamic Shariah and international human rights standards.

The Maldivian judiciary has been widely criticized over politicization and the lack of academic qualification of sitting judges. The new penal code will regulate judge’s discretion in meting out punishments.

Correction: Minivan News has removed a statement from this article that said the training of the juvenile court judges had taken place without the Supreme Court’s permission.

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Majlis shutdown to ‘block changes to new penal code’

Sittings of the People’s Majlis were suspended this week to block MPs from submitting changes to the long awaited penal code, which is due to come into force at midnight tonight.

The Supreme Court has compiled a 150-page draft of a new bill to overhaul the modern penal code. Explaining the decision to suspend sittings, a senior ruling party MP said: “We will not allow the judiciary to dictate laws and overstep its mandate.”

Minivan News has obtained some excerpts of the judiciary proposed bill. The apex court wants to set the age of criminal responsibility to seven years and jail terms and hefty fines for defaming state employees.

The new penal code, passed by the Majlis in 2014, was due to come into force in April this year. But the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) delayed its enforcement until July 16, claiming more time is needed to raise public awareness.

Attorney General Mohamed Anil and Prosecutor General Muhthaz Muhsin had opposed the delay. Judges have been working on a draft since then, multiple sources have told Minivan News.

The new penal code is to replace a law adopted in 1968. It sets the age of criminal responsibility at 15 years. Offenders between 15-18 years will be prosecuted by the Juvenile Court, and will receive lighter sentences.

While the draft proposed by the apex court also sets lighter terms for children between 7-18 years, it gives judges the discretion to mete out full punishments provided in the Islamic Shariah.

The apex court also wants to introduce hard labor in jail as a punishment.

Defamation of a state employee by using the media is punishable by up to eight months in jail or a MVR15,000 fine. Providing misleading statements about court proceedings is punishable by up to three years in jail and a maximum fine of MVR30,000.

Reporters will have to bear criminal responsibility for translating or reproducing statements issued by international bodies that defame state employees, the draft said. Meanwhile, courts can also shut down media outlets if defamatory statements are published.

If an unmarried man has extramarital intercourse, he will be sentenced to a year under house arrest and 100 lashes. An unmarried woman who simply invites extramarital sex is sentenced to 100 lashes and a year under house arrest.

The apex court’s draft also criminalizes abortion, unless it is carried out to save the mother’s life or for a reason stated in another law. The new penal code legalizes abortion up to three months after conception, and makes exemptions for cases of rape even after the three-month cut off.

Terrorism is loosely defined as committing murders, kidnappings, hijacking of vessels, damaging diplomatic missions with the intent of undermining the constitution or influence government policy. Offenders can be sentenced to 10-15 years in jail.

Other offences in the draft include leaving goods on the street or placing chimneys or drainage systems in a manner that disturbs others. The offence is punishable with up to three months under house arrest and a fine.

Meanwhile, if the guardian of a mentally challenged person “sets them loose in a public area and they go on to disturb or cause harm,” the guardian will be punished with three months of house arrest and a fine of up to MVR2,000.

A source familiar with the apex court’s draft said it will undo ten years of work put into modernizing the Maldives’ criminal laws.

The existing penal code of 1968 has been criticized as draconian, outdated and not in line with the Maldives’ obligations under international human rights conventions.

With the new penal, the Maldives will become the first Islamic country to adopt a criminal law compatible with both the Islamic Shariah and international human rights standards.

The Maldivian judiciary has been widely criticized over politicization and the lack of academic qualification of sitting judges. The new penal code will regulate judge’s discretion in meting out punishments.

The landmark law brings together provisions in some 90 laws that specify criminal offences under one law.

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Three-hour play, skydiving among Independence day activities

A three-hour play with 2,000 students from across the country and a skydiving event are among activities planned to mark 50 years of independence.

The government is planning grand celebrations to mark the Maldives’ golden jubilee of independence from the British on July 26, including a parade by the army and school brass bands, reopening of public parks with water fountains, an official function at the Usfasgandu area with more than 100 foreign dignitaries, official games at the national stadium, and an atoll football tournament.

The government has not yet disclosed the full program for the day.

Deputy minister for home affairs Ahmed ‘Maaz’ Saleem, who is in charge of the ‘Minivan 50′ (Independence 50) office organising the celebratory activities, told the press that the three-hour drill will take place at the national stadium from 9pm to 12pm on the night of July 27.

The play will show different stages of Maldivian history from the Buddhist-era to the present and depict the sacrifices of national heroes to maintain the country’s independence, Saleem said.

The drill will also feature video projections. The Minivan 50 office has awarded a contract to a British company called The Projection Studio to manage sound, light and projection at the official celebrations.

Some 15 Maldivians have meanwhile undergone a 15-day training session in Addu City for a skydiving event on the night on June 27.

The skydivers will land at the national stadium using special parachutes manufactured with the national flag.

The second part of the skydiving training is due to start in Malé tomorrow with Malaysian trainers.

Several areas at Male’s waterfront have meanwhile been closed off as the government rushes to complete major renovation projects including a new official jetty and a musical water fountain at the Republic Square before July 26.

Meanwhile, president’s office minister Mohamed Hussain Shareef told the press earlier this week that more than a 1,000 people will attend the official function on July 26, including all Maldivian citizens born on July 26, 1965.

Shareef also dismissed allegations of corruption in the use of the independence day budget. The home ministry has received special permission from the finance ministry to award some projects without a bidding process due to lack of time.

The president’s office minister refused to disclose the total amount allocated for independence day, but finance minister Abdulla Jihad last week told Minivan News the budget was MVR150 million (US$9.7million).

 

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UN rights team calls on ex president

A team from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) met on Tuesday with former president Mohamed Nasheed at his residence, where he remains under house arrest over a terrorism conviction.

Nasheed’s wife Laila Ali met with UN human rights commissioner on human rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein in Geneva on July 8. The commissioner has previously said the rushed trial appeared to contravene the Maldives’ constitution and international treaties it was signatory to.

Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in jail over the arrest of a judge during his tenure. He was transferred to house arrest in a move widely perceived as a deal made with the government for opposition backing on a constitutional amendment that will allow President Abdulla Yameen to replace his deputy.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) is now in talks with the government. An MDP representative has suggested Nasheed may be freed by July 26.

Nasheed has filed a petition with the UN working group on arbitrary detention asking for a judgment ruling his imprisonment as illegal and arbitrary. A decision is expected in September or October.

The OHCHR team has also met with the Maldivian foreign secretary Ali Naseer on July 13.

Diplomatic pressure has been mounting on President Yameen’s administration to release Nasheed and other political prisoners.

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