The High Court on Thursday ruled that MPs could be arrested at crime scenes despite a provision in the parliamentary rules stipulating that MPs could not be arrested while there was a pending no-confidence motion.
The ruling (Dhivehi) was made after the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) appealed a decision by the Kulhudhufushi Magistrate Court to release MPs Abdulla Jabir and Hamid Abdul Ghafoor, who were arrested on an uninhabited island on charges of alcohol consumption.
While it overruled the magistrate court decision to release the suspects, the High Court however ruled that there were no grounds to detain the MPs any further.
In its appeal, the state had requested authority to arrest the MPs again. But the High Court noted that the only reason police had given for requesting extension of detention was that the suspects might attempt to influence witnesses, ruling that such a possibility no longer existed.
In separate rulings referring to the constitution, the Police Act and Islamic Shariah, the High Court determined that despite the provision in the parliamentary standing orders, MPs could be arrested from crime scenes or if the arresting officer observes a crime being committed.
The article in the parliamentary rules was intended to protect MPs against arbitrary arrest, the High Court noted, but did not preclude arrests under any circumstances.
Section 202(d) of the house rules state that MPs cannot be arrested while there is a no-confidence motion before parliament to impeach the president or remove a cabinet minister, judge or member of an independent commission from his or her post.
Parliament on Wednesday meanwhile approved amendments to section 202 with 27 votes in favour and 18 against.
“The amendment proposed to Article 202 (b) states that if in the event of the arrest of a Member of Parliament under a circumstance that excludes allegations of criminal offense, and where immediate interrogation is not possible, then either the Speaker or the Secretary General of the People’s Majlis must be notified of the arrest in 15 minutes at the most,” according to the Majlis secretariat.
At the time of their arrest on November 16, no-confidence motions were submitted against President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik and Civil Service Commission (CSC) Chair Mohamed Fahmy Hassan.
While Speaker Abdulla Shahid had instructed police to abide by the rules and release the MPs, police had refused and contended that it was up to a judge to determine the legality of the arrest.
During the hearings on the appeal, the High Court rejected a request by the state to abolish the provisions in the parliamentary rules as the appeal concerned extension of detention and not the constitutionality of a clause in a specific regulation.
Following an emergency meeting in the wake of the arrests, parliament’s Privileges Committee passed a motion to ask the Prosecutor General to press charges against Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz for arresting the MPs in violation of the law, and disregarding the Speaker’s instructions to release them.
The committee also passed a motion to ask the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) to investigate allegations of police brutality against the MPs.
Meanwhile, in a statement at the time, police said 10 people were arrested during a ‘special’ operation on the island of Hodaidhoo in Haa Dhaal Atoll.
In addition to ruling coalition Jumhoree Party (JP) MP Abdulla Jabir and Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor – also the party’s international spokesperson – those arrested included former SAARC Secretary General and Special Envoy to the former President, Ibrahim Hussain Zaki, former Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair and his wife Mariyam Faiz.
The others arrested were Jadhulla Jaleel, Hamdan Zaki, two Sri Lankan nationals named Raj Mohan and Anoor Bandaranayk as well as a Bangladeshi named Suhail Rana.
While Hamdan Zaki – son of Ibrahim Hussain Zaki – was detained on orders of the magistrate court, he was released to house arrest on Wednesday after being taken to hospital. Hamdan’s family told local media that he suffered a seizure when he was taken to the hospital and accused police of ill treatment and negligence.
Hamdan Zaki was admitted at the ADK hospital and reportedly suffered another seizure on Thursday morning.