Drastic changes planned for new penal code

The judiciary is planning to submit drastic changes this week to the new penal code due to come into force on July 16, Minivan News has learned.

A reliable source told Minivan News that the proposed changes are modelled on South Sudan’s penal code and will undo a decade’s work of modernising the Maldives’ criminal justice system.

“The new penal code is very modern, drafted over 10 years with the participation of several sectors. The planned changes will set us back by 50 years,” the source said.

The existing penal code was adopted in 1968 and has been criticised as draconian, outdated and not in line with the Maldives’ obligations under international human rights conventions.

The new penal code was hailed as a landmark law that would usher in major reforms to the Maldivian criminal justice system.

Legal experts have said that with the new law, the Maldives will become the first Islamic country to adopt a criminal law compatible with both Islamic Shariah and international human rights standards.

A second credible source told Minivan News that only five percent of the new penal code will remain with the new changes. The changes were based on the penal codes of countries such as Egypt, Libya, and Qatar.

The source said that the pro-government majority in parliament is planning to delay the enactment of the new penal code by a further 90 days before July 16.

The 1966 penal code will remain in place for three months and the new penal code will be annulled, the source said. Afterwards a new law will be passed with the changes proposed by the judiciary.

The changes were drafted by the judiciary in a process led by the Supreme Court, Minivan News understands.

“The Supreme Court or judges should not be involved in writing laws. This is exactly how laws must not be written,” another lawyer familiar with the matter said.

The Maldivian judiciary has been widely criticised over “politicisation” and the lack of academic qualification of sitting judges. The new penal code would have minimised the discretion of judges in meting out punishments.

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

Its first draft was prepared in 2006 at the request of then-Attorney General Hassan Saeed by Professor Paul H. Robison, a legal expert at the University of Pennsylvania.

The legislation was stalled at the 16th People’s Majlis with no progress. The bill was resubmitted in late 2009 after the election of the 17th Majlis, where it remained with a committee until December 2013.

In a first vote, the law was rejected 36-34 and returned to a parliamentary committee.

It finally passed in April 2014 with 48 votes in favour and a one-year period for preparation.

Although the law was due to come into force in April 2015, the parliament delayed its enactment by three months, claiming more time was needed to raise awareness among the public and address concerns of religious scholars.

However, both the attorney general and prosecutor general have said there is no reason to delay the penal code’s enforcement. The government has trained some 1,100 individuals including state prosecutors, police officers, customs staff, lawyers and journalists on the new law.

The Supreme Court, however, barred judges and magistrates from attending training sessions.

Former deputy prosecutor general Hussain Shameem, who conducted training on the new penal code, said the legal resource centre set up by the attorney general and the UNDP had invited all judges and magistrates, but “none of them attended the trainings.”

Shameem says the legal resource centre could train all of the 186 judges and magistrates in the country within two weeks.


Tax authority removes freeze on Villa Group accounts

The tax authority has removed a freeze on Jumhooree Party leader and tourism tycoon Gasim Ibrahim’s Villa Group accounts in yet another indication of a thaw in relations between the opposition and the government.

A senior government official told Minivan News that the Villa Group had submitted a plan to pay the US$90.4million claim within two years.

“The Villa Group initially denied that had to make any payments. But now Villa Shipping has agreed to pay the government. That’s why MIRA [Maldives Inland Revenue Authority] has removed the freeze,” they said.

MIRA froze the accounts of Villa Shipping and Trading in May after the Tourism Ministry annulled several agreements on properties leased for tourism development and claimed the company had failed to pay rents on some of the properties since 2006.

The 90.4million claim includes US$75.5million as a fine.

The opposition says the move was an act of reprisal after Gasim’s JP split from the ruling coalition and allied with the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) in an anti-government campaign.

Several opposition politicians including ex-president Mohamed Nasheed was arrested and sentenced to jail shortly after the formation of the new alliance.

After months of street protests, historic anti-government marches, and mounting diplomatic pressure, Nasheed was transferred to house arrest in late June and preparations are now underway for talks.

Speaking to Haveeru today, Gasim maintained that his company did not owe any money to the state, but said he had no choice but to make the payment.

“We are having to do this this because our cases at the courts are still pending. We had no choice to do this until the court reaches a decision. If there is any justice in Maldives, I am sure I would not have to make the payment,” Gasim said.

The Villa conglomerate – which operates businesses in shipping, import and export, retail, tourism, fishing, media, communications, transport and education – previously said the claim is unlawful and is contesting it at the civil court.

The civil court had rejected a request for a stay order on paying the fine until the courts uphold the claim.

Villa Group says the claim has cost the company a US$80million loan. It had struggled to pay the salaries of some 5000 employees following the accounts freeze.

In mid-June, Gasim announced that he will retire from politics once his term as Maamigili MP expires in 2019. The long-time presidential hopeful also said he will no longer contest in presidential elections. The government with opposition backing has now amended the constitution to set new age limits of 30-65 years for the presidency, meaning Gasim will be ineligible for the 2018 presidential elections. He will be 66 then.

The JP is in disarray. Two senior party officials fled the country after they were charged with terrorism over a historic anti-government protest on May 1.


MDP calls for investigation into alleged unexplained wealth of PPM MP

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) branch in Haa Alif Dhidhoo has called for an investigation into the finances of Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Abdul Latheef Mohamed over alleged unexplained wealth.

The ruling party lawmaker has has spent between MVR3 million (US$194,552) and MVR5 million (US$324,254) in the Dhidhoo constituency during the past year, the MDP claimed, but he does not have business interests or “any other legitimate [sources of] income” apart from the parliament.

An MP earns a monthly salary of MVR62,500 (US$4,050) in addition to a committee allowance of MVR20,000 (US$1,300).

Since winning the parliament seat in March last year, Latheef has funded an MVR100,000 (US$6,485) Quran competition, an MVR100,000 football tournament, and an MVR500,000 (US$32,425) music show in Dhidhoo with the Olympians band.

Latheef has also donated an MVR700,000 (US$45,395) laboratory machine to the Haa Alif atoll hospital, offered scholarships worth MVR2 million (US$129,701) for two constituents to study medicine overseas, and organised an MVR200,000 (US$12,970) Quran competition this Ramadan.

“As the above-mentioned expenses could not have been made from the one-year salary of a People’s Majlis member, many citizens of Dhidhoo have been asking the MDP Dhidhoo branch to find out how he is getting the money,” the party’s Dhidhoo branch said in a statement on Thursday.

The statement added that many Dhidhoo constituents allege that Latheef has amassed wealth through bribery and corruption.

The Dhidhoo branch called on the Anti-Corruption Commission, the auditor general’s office, and other relevant authorities to investigate Latheef’s finances.

The constitution requires MPs to submit “a statement of all property and monies owned by him, business interests and liabilities” annually to the parliament’s secretary general, but the financial statements are not publicly disclosed.

Latheef told Minivan News today that he did not wish to comment as he had “no interest” in the MDP Dhidhoo branch’s statement.

The MP previously told opposition-aligned private broadcaster Raajje TV that allegations of corruption should be filed with the relevant state institutions.

Government, private, and foreign companies have provided assistance for charitable activities in Dhidhoo, he said.

The MDP meanwhile noted that both domestic and international organisations have expressed concern with bribery and illicit enrichment in Maldivian politics.

Last week, anti-corruption NGO Transparency Maldives called for the criminalisation of illicit enrichment and urged the government put in place a comprehensive framework for identifying and prosecuting cases.

The United Nations Convention Against Corruption – which the Maldives acceded to in 2007 – defines illicit enrichment as a “significant increase in the assets of a public official that he or she cannot reasonably explain in relation to his or lawful income.”

Ahead of last year’s parliamentary polls, Transparency Maldives also noted a lack of transparency in political and campaign financing.

“When political parties and individual candidates do not fully disclose where they get their money from, it is not clear who funds them, what their potential conflict of interests are, and, thereby allows vested interests to override public interest when elected as MPs,” the NGO observed.


20 inmates released under pilot tagging project

The home ministry has transferred 20 inmates to house arrest and island arrest under a pilot tagging project.

The inmates were released with an electronic tagging device attached to their ankle, which will send out a signal if he or she steps out of a restricted area.

Home ministry media coordinator Thazmeel Abdul Samad told Minivan News today that a local company called Telvert Maldives won the bidding process for the project and will be handling technical issues with the device, while the police, military, the Maldives Correctional Services will be monitoring the inmates.

Thazmeel said tagging would prove effective in preventing convicts released on parole from engaging in criminal behaviour.

“This device is a reminder not to commit crimes again. Inmates will be more hesitant [with the tag],” he said.

The tagging device will sound an alarm if the inmate steps out of the designated area while a receiver in his home will immediately alert the company.

Thazmeel said an official agreement will be signed with the company in the near future to carry out the tagging project.

Home minister Umar Naseer announced last year that inmates will be categorised into four groups based on security risks. The inmates in the least dangerous category will be tagged and released for work and study programmes with the electronic tags.

In addition to undergoing a security screening, Naseer said they will also have to be nearing the end of their sentence.

“They will have to do one or the other [work or study]. If they are working, we have to know where they are going. We also have to know the exact route they are taking. Through the tag, we can track which streets they are walking on,” he said.

The home minister previously said the tags have been tested during his trip to Singapore.

In May last year, Naseer said older inmates or inmates nearing the end of the sentence will be housed in an open jail on a separate island.

Inmates in category two will be allowed to work on the industrial Thilafushi island, and the most dangerous criminals or category one criminals will continue to serve their sentences behind bars in Maafushi prison.

The open jail is to be established on an uninhabited island. The government will provide modest shelter, run a mosque, and establish an administrative office and a security post. The inmates will cook for themselves and be self- sufficient, but will not be allowed to leave the island, Naseer said.

Updates on the open jail project were not available from the ministry at the time of going to press.

The reforms will reduce the prison population from 1,000 inmates to 300 or 400 inmates, the home minister said.


Hearing in Ibthihaal murder trial cancelled

A hearing in the trial of Afiya Mohamed Manik over the murder of her three-year-old son was cancelled today due to the absence of a defence lawyer.

At the last hearing of the trial on June 15, the judge offered Afiya the opportunity to appoint a lawyer at the state’s expense and explained the process of seeking a public defender.

The criminal court told local media that today’s hearing was cancelled because the accused did not have legal representation. The attorney general’s office is responsible for appointing public defenders to defendants who lack the financial means.

In addition to murder, Afiya was also charged with disobedience to order over child abuse and neglect with reference to the law on protecting children’s rights.

At the previous hearing, she pleaded guilty to the latter charge, but also confessed to the murder.

She told the court that she repeatedly abused her son, Mohamed Ibthihaal, and said she felt anger towards the boy because he was born out of wedlock.

Ibthihaal died “by my hands,” Afiya said. She confessed to strangling the child and kicking his chest three times.

Judge Muhthaz Fahmy reportedly stopped Afiya and reminded her that she was to answer the disobedience to order charge.

If she is found guilty of murder, Afiya faces a sentence of life imprisonment. She had reportedly confessed to murder during the police interrogation and her remand hearings.

Ibthihaal’s body was found with signs of severe abuse on January 28 in the worst case of child abuse in recent years. The horrific murder on the island of Rakeedhoo in Vaavu atoll shocked the nation while reports that the authorities had been aware of Ibthihaal’s abuse sparked public outrage.

Afiya was arrested for murder two days later and has since been held in pre-trial detention.


Comment: Mosque, story of my country

This article was first published on www.patheos.com. Republished with permission. 

I feel the weight of a nation on my shoulders; a nation that is too often spoken of in the global community in terms of its natural beauty rather than in terms of its people. And I wonder whether my individual experience reflects the experiences of all those Maldivians, who share this fate of having their life experiences casually set aside whenever their country is mentioned. ‘Maldives has really beautiful beaches, right?’ I am often asked. ‘Yes, and very interesting people.’

Most of us are Muslims, living in about 190 of the 1200 islands that form our country. Islam is the state religion, and the constitution requires all laws made in the country to abide by Islamic principles and all Maldivian citizens to be Muslims. As young Muslims, growing up Maldivian is a privilege that few of us seem to appreciate. Our community is mostly Muslim; our education system, our laws, our traditions and ethos are loosely based around Islamic principles; we have historically been spared the sectarian disputes that have plagued many other Muslim communities worldwide; almost always, no matter where we are on an inhabited island, we have a mosque within walking distance.

That is not to say we don’t have our share of difficulties. Our rather reserved society has failed to respond to the spiritual, social, economic and other needs of our youth demographic, and we are suffering the consequences. Many young people are becoming either disillusioned with religion or radicalised by groups who promote sectarian violence and Takfiri ideologies among others. Faced with a general lack of everything: proper housing, jobs, educational opportunities, space for self-expression, and for many kids, even a stable family environment – Maldives has one of the highest divorce rates in the world -, many young people are turning to drugs and delinquency as outlets for their emotions and frustrations. To top it all, in an environment rife with corruption and political discord, the growing disillusionment of youth from the political process and social structures is resulting in young people becoming more sidelined from the general community.

In all of this, the failure of the Mosque – as an institution representing religion – becomes apparent. The sermons coming out of the Mosque almost always address matters relating to creed, never relating them to issues that are more directly connected to socio-economic problems. When such matters are addressed, often there is a huge disparity between the preachings of the religious scholar and the tested and proven principles of human sciences.

Moreover, the Mosque is often not a welcoming space for women. In the past year or so, I have carried out a project to photographically document the differences between the men’s and women’s prayer areas. Not all mosques have a women’s area. Of the mosques that do, some mosques have the rainwater drainage pipes coming from the roof ending right at the women’s entrance. Others have women’s prayer areas too small, especially for the number of women who come out to pray Tarawih in congregation at the mosque during Ramadan. And of all the mosques in the capital that I have been to, few have a women’s area that shares the general ambiance of the prayer area used by the men.

This general lack of consideration towards women is doubled by the lack women’s access to the lectures given by scholars (most importantly, perhaps, foreign scholars), in the men’s prayer areas of the mosques. Moreover, no female Islamic scholar in the country holds, or in fact has ever held, a public lecture in a mosque.

Despite the odds, though, Maldivians are inching their way forward. Young people are trying to beat the rising rate delinquency. Despite the failure of the mosque to address human rights, administrative justice and other important issues, the youth are filling the moral gap as they know how, with the help of international and local rights groups. Female worshipers are increasing at mosques, especially for Tarawih and Eid prayers.

Maldives is a country that is moving forward currently, perhaps, in spite of its mosques. The community, and often its most vulnerable, are suffering the consequences and compensating for the current failure of the Mosque. I hope that one day, the Mosque will be an institution that drives and contributes to our progress. For that to happen, the Mosque has a lot of catching up to do.

Aisha Hussain Rasheed is a Maldivian Muslim woman, who believes our Islamic heritage is the key to our future, if only we know how to use it. You can follow her on Twitter @ishahr and on Facebook.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]