With additional reporting by Daniel Bosley
The People’s Majlis has today accepted a bill prohibiting tourism boycotts, with 30 members voting for, 30 members voting against, and Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Abdulla Shahid casting the deciding vote as speaker of the house.
The tourism boycott bill would criminalize calls for a boycott, as well as the supporting or endorsing of a boycott, participating in a tourism boycott, or any act that would incite fear amongst tourists.
Amendments to the penal code were also introduced in the Majlis today, with MDP MP Imthiyaz Fahmy submitting amendments to a number of articles, including article 81 – under which MDP presidential candidate Mohamed Nasheed is currently being charged.
The boycott bill – submitted by the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) MP Ali Arif – has now been sent to the Majlis Economic Committee.
Depending on the level of participation in the boycott, those found guilty could be fined MVR150,000 (US$9740), have their trade permits cancelled, or have any honors or privileges awarded by the state revoked.
Discussions of a tourism boycott have always been particularly sensitive in the Maldives, with the country reliant on the industry which contributes over 70 percent of the country’s GDP.
Government ministers have in the past described the industry as “sacred”.
A selective tourism boycott labelled the ‘Maldives Travel Advisory’ appeared in the months following the contested transfer of power in February 2012, although the website was soon taken down.
Similarly, Nasheed himself told the Financial Times in July last year that tourists planning to visit the Maldives should cancel their holidays.
This call was not repeated, however, with the party’s National Council never agreeing to adopt such a policy.
Removals from existing code
In addition to removing Penal Code’s Article 81, Imthiyaz Fahmy proposed removing Articles 75 and 87.
Article 81 of the penal code regards public servant using authority to arrest or detain innocent persons.
“It shall be an offense for any public servant by reason of the authority of office he is in to detain or arrest in a manner contrary to law. Person guilty of this offense shall be subjected to exile or imprisonment not exceeding 3 years or a fine not exceeding MRF 2,000,” reads the article.
Former President Nasheed is currently being charged under Article 81 for the arrest of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed – an incident that precipitated Nasheed’s ouster in February 2012.
The arrest followed the failure of parliament and the Judicial Services Commission to taken action over an extensive list of allegations against Mohamed.
The Nasheed trial subsequently stalled at the high court level after the legitimacy of the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court – specially assembled for the case – was disputed.
The composition of the court and the conduct of the trial was also criticised by UN Special Rapporteur Gabriella Knaul as “arbitary” and of questionable legality.
The Progressive Party of Maldives called for the trial to be resumed earlier this month, though not further action has yet been taken in the courts.
Penal code article 75 concerns the making of false charges: “Whoever institutes a claim against another person with the intent to cause inconvenience, loss or injury to that person without lawful grounds shall be subjected to a fine not exceeding MRF 2000.”
Section 87 of the code relates to the failure to assist public servant in his duties, with offenders subject to exile, six months imprisonment, or a MVR500 fine.
The amendments come at a time when several MDP MPs, including Fahmy, are being investigated for contempt of court and for criticising the judiciary.
The current penal code was written in 1968. Work on a new penal code started in 2008, but it is still at committee stage.