The controversial National Crime Prevention Bill was returned to committee during a special session of the Majlis last night, after more than 100 amendments were proposed.
Parliament voted 37 to 33 in favour of a proposal by Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Ali Waheed, seconded by the opposition allied People’s Alliance (PA), and backed by some Independents, to send the bill back to committee.
The majority of MPs was of the opinion was that the addition of over 100 amendments to a bill restricting constitutional rights could not be properly considered and voted on before the end of the sitting at 12am.
Voting went along partisan lines with ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MPs and Independent MP Mohamed Nasheed in the minority against the DRP-PA coalition, the Jumhoree Party (JP) and the Dhivehi Quamee Party (DQP).
DRP MP Ahmed Mahlouf was conspicuously the only MP who abstained while leader of the People’s Alliance (PA), Abdulla Yameen, did not participate in the vote.
Waheed put forward the proposal after Speaker Abdulla Shahid informed MPs of the number of amendments to the bill, and opened the floor to a debate to decide how to proceed with the special sitting.
Shahid announced the parliamentary recess at the end of the sitting as no proposal had been made to either extend the special sitting or hold another.
MDP MPs claimed that the amendments were a filibuster tactic to avoid confronting the issue, with MP Ibrahim Rasheed suggesting as much when he said the amendments were made by those who “lacked sincerity” while MP Abdul Gafoor Moosa said that none of the amendments were submitted by MDP MPs.
As Chair of the National Security Committee, Yameen presented the committee report to the floor, explaining that a consensus was reached among committee members to restrict the rights for a limited period to empower the authorities to curb dangerous crimes.
The draft legislation contained a number of provisions that could violate or restrict constitutional rights, including the right to remain silent and a mandatory 15 day detention period.
If passed into law, police would be empowered to enter private property without a court order to arrest a person suspected of any of the crimes listed in the legislation or in case evidence is being or hidden.
Moreover, a person accused of any of the crimes in clause four of the bill could meet a lawyer in private only after 96 hours after the arrest, prior to which any such meeting would have to take place in the presence of police officers.
If a suspect is arrested at the scene of a crime with related evidence either on his person or at the place, the court could interpret the silence of the accused as an admission of guilt or association with the crime.
On extension of custody or remand detention, courts must consider the criminal record of the accused along with police intelligence and grant a minimum mandatory period of 15 days of remand detention.
In addition, refusal by the accused to disclose information on finances or assets considered as evidence shall be deemed an offence punishable by up to five years in prison.
The bill includes a ‘sunset clause’, making it applicable for 18 months, but it has raised concerns in the international community regarding the compromise of constitutionally-guaranteed human rights.
Notably, the draft bill provides exemption for MPs and those working in independent commissions from searches of their homes without a court warrant.
Independent MP Nasheed, who is parliament’s focal point for the Crime Prevention Committee, reprimanded MPs for passing on their responsibility to the committee and going to recess, stating that the sunset law was not prepared in haste and that as senior officials of the state had spent the past three days working in the Majlis, MPs who were interested could have attended the committee sessions.
The President’s Member on the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), Aishath Velezinee, said parliament’s focus on police powers as a means to resolve crime in the Maldives avoided them having to debating the real issue – the lack of an independent judiciary.
“My concern is that they have avoided a discussion of the issues this debate has raised regarding the establishment of an independent judiciary. They are still giving it a blind eye, and trying to fix crime without considering it,” she said. “There is no point passing laws and legislation if there is no independent judiciary to uphold it.”
She noted that members of parliament’s opposition majority had been colluding “with self-appointed leaders of the judiciary” in an effort to maintain the administration of justice that existed under the former government.
“They have simply renamed the former Ministry of Justice as ‘independent judiciary’,” she said.
Velezinee claimed that the police powers were only required “because there is no confidence in the judiciary.”
“I support absolute police power with a sunset clause in certain cases, such as when the criminal court has connections with organised crime,” she said.
The violation of constitutionally-mandated rights that this would entail has led to mutterings of concern among the international community – concern shared by many young Maldivians, one of whom told Minivan News that he was so confident that police would abuse their new powers, such as entering houses without a warrant, that he would “pack my bags and leave the Maldives for 18 months” if the bill was passed.