Parliament has divided opinions on the Bill on the Right to remain silent submitted by independent member of parliament, Mohamed Nasheed.
The bill had its second reading in parliament on Tuesday, following the first reading on October 3. During the ensuing one hour debate, Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MPs mainly spoke against the bill, while most MPs aligned with the ruling coalition supported the bill and advocated for it to be expedited.
“The right to remain silent is a fundamental basis on which the criminal justice system in many other countries are built upon. They do not have to explicitly define this in their laws as it is already well established in their respective societies,” Nasheed explained in parliament today.
“Our case is different. We first heard the phrase ‘the right to remain silent’ with the ratification of the 2008 constitution,” Nasheed said, adding that unlike other countries, Maldivians did not have any local material to refer to for better understanding of the right.
He said that the bill therefore aimed to define clearly what comes and what does not come within the boundaries of the right to remain silent, where this right can be applied and the legal outcomes that may ensue.
No threat to MPs
A number of MPs, some from the ruling coalition parties and some independent, spoke in favour of the bill. They insisted that narrowing the right to remain silent would assist in police investigations, thereby contributing to bringing down crime rates.
Some MPs stated that this bill only caused inconvenience to criminals, explicitly stating that it posed no risk to MPs and politicians.
Independent MP Ahmed Amir said that the MPs themselves needed to prove to the nation that all of them were people who refrained from getting involved in criminal activities, asking “Why then must we be concerned about this bill? I do not believe any member here needs to be concerned about this bill.”
Amir said the parliament had narrowed the same right in the Act on Sexual harassment against children, adding “why then are we so reluctant to pass an act to narrow down this right as a whole? That this may cause a loss to us, or the nation, is in my view an irresponsible stance to take.”
Meanwhile, DRP MP Mausoom stated the importance of expediting the bill, pledging complete support to the draft bill.
“At a time when we started moving towards democracy, one reason which led to a number of citizens expressing discontent with a democratic system is that the rights of criminals began exceeding those of regular citizens,” Mausoom said, stating that it was of extreme importance that the bill on the floor be sent to the relevant committee and passed at the earliest.
PPM MP Ahmed ‘RedWave’ Saleem also supported the bill, and put forward his opinion in parliament.
“On judgement day you cannot exercise the right to remain silent. If you do, your organs will speak for you. However, organs cannot speak today, and so we must speak with our own tongues. If police ask you if you have committed a crime, you can simply say no even if you have committed it, so what is there to be afraid of?” Saleem said.
Addressing the MDP MPs Saleem said, “I want to tell my MDP brothers that this poses no threat to them, only to criminals. There is no threat to any politicians either.”
Contradictions with the Constitution
MPs who spoke against the bill pointed out that the bill directly contradicted articles in the constitution.
Article 20 of the proposed bill states that should a person choose to remain silent, after which sufficient evidence is provided in courts to prove without doubt that he is guilty as accused, then his decision to remain silent can be viewed as further proof against him. It further says that this is because instead of trying to prove his innocence, the accused had chosen to remain silent.
MDP MPs Ali Riza and Ali Waheed stated that this article was in direct contradiction to Articles 51(a), 51(c), 51(d), 51(e), 51(h) and 52 of the constitution.
Ali Waheed further stated, “I do not believe that any Act has the power to completely turn around a right guaranteed in Chapter 2 of the Constitution.”
From the government coalition parties, Jumhoree Party MP Abdulla Jabir also spoke against the proposed bill.
“We have heard in the past that two or three people would be arrested, tortured, forced to confess, and then claiming the investigation to be completed, these people would be sentenced undeservingly. Are we to move back into that again?” he said.
Jabir stated that he would not support the bill as he felt it would bring back the culture of torture, forced confessions and convictions of the innocent.