28 senior citizens under state care

Some 28 elderly persons are under state care at the centre for persons with special needs in Kaafu Guraidhoo, attorney general Mohamed Anil revealed last week.

Speaking at a ceremony on Thursday night, Anil said the 28 senior citizens were in reasonably good health, but their families are refusing to take them in despite repeated pleas.

“The government is telling their families repeatedly to take them back to live with their families, but they are not complying,” he was quoted as saying by Haveeru.

Anil is also in charge of the ministry of law and gender.

He added that the government is seeking legal remedies through the courts as the family law states that children must take care of their elderly parents.

While citizens above the age of 65 are currently 4.8 percent of the population, Anil said the figure will rise to 6.5 percent in 10 years.

In 30 years, the elderly will be 13 percent of the population.


Legal status of penal code thrown into doubt

The new penal code is now in force despite parliament delaying its enforcement to July 16, the state human rights watchdog and prominent lawyers have contended .

A provision for postponing implementation of the new penal code was included in an amendment bill passed on April 12, a day before the new law was due to come into force.

The new penal code was ratified on April 13, 2014 with a one-year period for preparation.

The bill changed the date of enforcement from April 13 this year to July 16.

However, the bill stated that the amendments – including the provision for postponement – “will come into force starting from July 16, 2015.”

The provision for postponement was therefore inconsequential as it has not become law, the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) and lawyers Maumoon Hameed and Shaheen Hameed argued.

By following the old penal code, Maumoon Hameed said the state is presently enforcing “a law that does not exist.”

The HRCM wrote to the attorney general and prosecutor general last week seeking clarification of the legal dispute, saying it is unclear which criminal law the police, prosecutors, and courts are presently following.

The commission said it was “extremely concerned” about resulting human rights violations in the investigative and judicial processes.

Prosecutor general Muhthaz Muhsin told Minivan News that “as a common rule the old penal code would be in force now”.

“I cannot say anything specifically about the issue until the office has responded to the HRCM’s letter. Also, it is not my role to criticise laws but rather uphold it,” he said.

Former Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz meanwhile dismissed the legal questions surrounding the penal code as an unjustifiably narrow approach in interpreting the law.

He said the “amendment makes it clear that the new penal code will come into effect starting July 16.”

“The amendment will also become part of the law. So the penal code now states the date it would come in to effect. We cannot simply single out one article and interpret the whole law. I think it’s quite clear,” he told Minivan News.

However, lawyers Maumoon Hameed and Shaheen Hameed insisted that the new penal code has replaced the old law.

There are presently no obstacles to enforcing the new penal code, Maumoon Hameed told Minivan News today.

“The new penal code states the old law would be dissolved when the latter law comes into effect. So I believe that the state is implementing a law that does not exist,” Hameed said.

Shaheen Hameed, former deputy speaker of parliament, also said he believes “the new penal code is in effect now”.

The current penal code was adopted in the 1960s and has been widely criticised as outdated, draconian and unsuited to the 2008 constitution.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party had said the postponement was a “politically motivated attempt to continue using the current penal code as a means to harass and intimidate the opposition.”

Under the new code, the punishment for protesters who do not have a criminal record will be less severe as judges are required to take mitigating factors into consideration under new sentencing procedures.

However, the ruling party said more time was needed to raise public awareness and address concerns of religious scholars.


President seeks changes to law barring Nasheed from MDP

President Abdulla Yameen has vetoed changes to the prison and parole law that would have stripped ex-president Mohamed Nasheed of his membership and leadership position in the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

However, the changes are expected to pass through parliament in an adjusted form that would still bar Nasheed from leading the MDP.

President Yameen reportedly advised parliament to adjust the planned changes so that convicts can remain members of political parties and associations, but did not recommend removing a clause barring them from leadership posts.

Critics of the government believe that clause is aimed specifically at Nasheed, who was jailed last month for 13 years on terrorism charges.

The president returned the bill to parliament for reconsideration yesterday and recommended revisions in light of issues raised by the attorney general, the President’s Office said.

Government-sponsored amendments to the Prisons and Parole Act had been passed on March 30 with 42 ruling coalition MPs voting in favour.

Nasheed was found guilty of terrorism last month over the detention of the criminal court chief judge in January 2012 and jailed for 13 years. The MDP contends that the charges were politically motivated, while the trial was widely criticised by the international community for its apparent lack of due process.

President’s Office spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali and Majority Leader Ahmed Nihan were not responding to requests for comment at the time of publication.

Muaz told online news outlet CNM yesterday that the bill was unclear as to whether inmates could remain members of political parties, because of the ambiguous phrasing of the clause.

Muaz said the president believes the clause conflicts with the constitutional right to establish and participate in political parties.

Stripping convicts of political party membership would pose challenges to the Elections Commission in processing membership forms and maintaining registries of political parties, Muaz said.

President Yameen suggested rephrasing the clause to allow convicts to remain members of political parties and private associations, said Muaz, and to exempt detainees who have not been convicted of a crime.

Muaz noted that according to the constitution, fundamental rights and freedoms can only be limited to any extent “only if demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society”.

Speaking at a rally last week, MDP Chairperson Ali Waheed claimed Attorney General Mohamed Anil had advised parliament that the amendment was unconstitutional.

The chairman of the committee that was reviewing the legislation – ruling Progressive Party of Maldives MP Ibrahim Riza – kept the attorney general’s letter secret from other MPs, Waheed alleged.

Waheed declared that Nasheed remains the party’s leader and its presidential candidate for elections scheduled in 2018.

Voting on the bill meanwhile took place while MDP MPs were protesting inside the parliament chamber.

MDP MP Eva Abdulla told Minivan News at the time that the party would not accept the government using the People’s Majlis as “an extension of its tyranny to strip us of our democratic rights.”

“No amount of backtracking can strip him of the fact he formed the first political party in the country and became its first democratically elected leader. Or the fact that those who vote for this amendment today would not be in a political party if not for the hard work of this man to win them that freedom,” she said.


MDP launches petition for Nasheed release

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party has begun collecting signatures on a petition calling for the release of former President Mohamed Nasheed.

The party said the petition will be submitted to President Abdulla Yameen, who is empowered by clemency laws and the constitution to grant pardons.

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has set up tables outside its main office on Sosun Magu and in the market area in Male’.

The party also plans to send out teams across the country to collect signatures, and a copy of the petition is available on its website.

Nasheed was found guilty of terrorism last month and sentenced to 13 years in prison. The parliament subsequently voted through an amendment to the Prisons and Parole Act that stripped Nasheed of his leadership position in the MDP.

The amendment said inmates could not fill leadership posts in political parties for the period of their incarceration.

Speaking at a rally on Thursday night, MDP Chairperson Ali Waheed claimed Attorney General Mohamed Anil advised parliament that the amendment was unconstitutional.

The chairman of the committee that was reviewing the legislation – ruling Progressive Party of Maldives MP Ibrahim Riza – kept the attorney general’s letter secret from other MPs, Waheed alleged.


Government to submit gender equality bill to parliament

The government will submit legislation on gender equality during the ongoing first session of the People’s Majlis for 2015, Attorney General (AG) Mohamed Anil has said.

Speaking at a function held at the Islamic Centre yesterday to mark International Women’s Day, AG Anil – who also heads the Ministry of Law and Gender – said the bill would protect women’s rights, empower women socially and economically, and ensure equal rights.

Anil said the government has undertaken significant efforts to promote women’s rights and “eliminate obstacles” faced by Maldivian women.

“Of the total 926 members of the Ministry of Economic Development’s Sabah project, I note happily that 91 percent are female members,” he said.

He added that 60 percent of the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture’s commercial loan scheme would be earmarked for women and youth.

The government has also formulated and enacted rules for operating daycare centres to assist working mothers, Anil said, adding that an amendment would be submitted to tax laws to exempt the centres from GST.

Efforts were currently underway to establish safe houses in each atoll for victims of domestic violence, he added.

Safe houses or temporary shelter have so far been set up at the Family and Children Service Centres  in Haa Dhaal Kulhudhufushi, Shaviyani Fonadhoo, Thaa Veymandoo, and Gaaf Dhaal Thinadhoo, Anil noted.

Anil said there was no discrimination between boys and girls in the education sector, noting that 70 percent of graduates from the National University in March 2014 were female.

In its concluding observations released last Friday (March 6) on the combined fourth and fifth periodic reports of the Maldives, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women welcomed legislative reforms such as the Sexual Harassment and Abuse Prevention Act of 2014, the Sexual Offences Act of 2014, the Prevention of Human Trafficking Act of 2013, and the Domestic Violence Prevention Act of 2012.

The Maldives acceded to the UN Convention on Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in July 1993

The committee also noted the establishment of the Family Protection Authority in 2012 and welcomed “forthcoming amendments to the Family Act to regulate the distribution of matrimonial assets upon divorce.”

In his presidential address at the opening of parliament earlier this month, President Yameen said the legislation would protect women’s rights in divorce cases as pledged during the presidential campaign.

The CEDAW committee meanwhile noted “that the principle of equality between women and men is not yet explicitly enshrined in legislation” and called on the state to ensure that the gender equality bill includes a definition of discrimination on the basis of sex.

The committee also expressed concern about “the delay in conducting a gender impact analysis of some of its existing laws, including family law provisions which continue to indirectly discriminate against women, and in adopting regulations necessary for the full implementation of the Domestic Violence Prevention Act and the Prevention of Human Trafficking Act.”

Insufficient progress

Meanwhile, in a press release yesterday, the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) said the Maldives has not achieved or made adequate progress under the Millennium Development Goal of ensuring equal rights for women.

Referring to its shadow report to the CEDAW committee last year, the commission said it had noted the underrepresentation of women in decision-making as well as the minor role of women in economic development.

The report noted that some police officers believe violence against women was caused by women failing to fulfil their duty as submissive wives.

The HRCM also contended that women were not receiving full protection under the new domestic violence, sexual offences, and sexual harassment laws, noting that regulations required under the domestic violence law have yet to be enacted two years after it was passed.

“Despite domestic violence cases being reported, we note that that relevant state institutions are not taking action in accordance with the obligatory rules for such cases,” the HRCM press release stated.

The commission also stressed the importance of expediting the passage of the gender equality bill and appealed to the executive to allocate sufficient funds and resources for institutions responsible for protecting women’s rights.

“Awareness also needs to be raised among girls regarding their physical and reproductive health,” the press release continued.

“To achieve this, we appeal for both further widening the role of state institutions and civil society organisations and instilling the spirt of working together.”

The slogan for this year’s International Women’s Day is ‘Empowering Women – Empowering Humanity: Picture it!’

Related to this story

CEDAW committee welcomes progress on women’s rights, expresses concern with child marriages, flogging and gender stereotypes

Some police officers believe women to blame for domestic violence, says HRCM


AG seeks to strengthen prohibitions on carrying of sharp weapons

Attorney General Mohamed Anil has today submitted to parliament a number of amendments to the act prohibiting carrying and threatening use of sharp weapons.

Speaking at a press conference held by the cabinet’s Social Council, Anil revealed that amendments included the narrowing of certain rights that the accused currently have.

Among these, the right to remain silent and the right to consult with legal representatives will be narrowed, while police will be given the right to hold suspects in custody for purposes of community safety until the court considers the case.

The proposed changes comes as the number of stabbing incidents in the country continues at an alarming rate, with 18-year old Ibrahim Shifaaz last week becoming the latest in a list of incidents that have resulted in three deaths this year.

Anil explained that the present law only stipulates penalties for the carrying of sharp weapons and for threatening individuals with the use of sharp weapons.

“Both the home minister and we at the AG office find it to be very concerning that the law does not describe penalties for damages caused by such actions, such as the taking of a life, loss of a limb, or other physical harm to the victims,” Anil stated.

“Currently, these crimes are tried under the existing old Penal Code, which has in it far too lenient penalties. Thus, the proposed amendments will include new penalties that can be given to perpetrators for commission of such an act.”

He described the newly proposed penalties as including 7 to 15 year jail sentences and even the death penalty, depending on the seriousness of the crime.

Minister of Home Affairs Umar Naseer prompted international concern when calling for an end to the country’s 60 year moratorium on the death penalty earlier this year, completing the required regulatory changes in April.

The new amendments also stipulate that crimes falling under this act should be investigated within 15 days of arrest, while the Criminal Court must complete the case within 30 days from its submission.

Anil also announced that three additional bills have been submitted to parliament. These are the goods and services tax bill, the construction bill, and the mutual legal assistance bill.

Earlier on October 15, Umar Naseer conducted meetings with pro-government parliamentarians about amendments to these same laws.

“Reactions from parliamentarians of both Jumhooree Party and Progressive Party of Maldives were positive to my recommendations,” Naseer said at the time.

At today’s press conference, Naseer also revealed that the government has plans to commence a MVR4 million  (US$260,000)  project to further develop the security of the prisons in the coming week following the recent escape of two convicted murderers last weekend – both since apprehended.


Supreme Court guidelines should be incorporated in electoral laws, says attorney general

A 16-point guideline imposed by the Supreme Court on the Elections Commission (EC) in a controversial judgment annulling the first round of last year’s presidential election should be incorporated into electoral laws, Attorney General Mohamed Anil has said.

Local media has reported Anil as saying at a symposium on improving the electoral system held at Bandos Island Resort yesterday that amendments to election laws should be submitted to parliament.

The guidelines were issued by the apex court to strengthen the electoral framework and ensure that polls are free and fair, Anil said, suggesting that problems arose during the presidential election as a result of not amending laws in light of past experiences.

Among issues that needed to be addressed ahead of the next election cycle, said Anil, were problems with re-registration, assigning constituencies for citizens in the Malé municipality special registry, and strengthening the mechanism for addressing complaints.

Additionally, vote buying, bribery, and campaign finance reforms needed to be addressed, Anil said, adding that the percentage of women in elected public office could also be addressed through laws.

The three-day “Electoral Processes in the Maldives” symposium was organised jointly by the EC and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), with funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

The EC explained in a joint press statement with IFES and USAID that “the symposium will provide a platform for stakeholders to present their views on key aspects of the electoral process, including legislative frameworks, operations, and inter-agency cooperation.”

“Participants will include the Elections Commission, Anti-Corruption Commission, Human Rights Commission of the Maldives, Attorney General’s Office, Prosecutor General’s Office, media organisations, political parties, civil society, and domestic and international observation organisations and experts.”

In January, a Commonwealth observer group recommended that the People’s Majlis examine the consistency and workability of the Supreme Court guidelines, suggesting that it “appeared to undermine the authority of the Election Commission, were inconsistent with or contrary to electoral law, and were at odds with the Constitution.”

While approval of voter lists was required by the apex court guideline, January’s local council elections went ahead despite only 147 out of 543 independent candidates signing the lists. The EC attempted to obtain signatures from some 2,463 candidates.

While the EC had also criticised the guidelines as “restrictions” that undermine its independence, UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay accused the court of “interfering excessively in the presidential elections, and in so doing is subverting the democratic process and violating the right of Maldivians to freely elect their representatives.”


Five police brutality cases from February 2012 ongoing at court, AG tells Majlis

Five cases involving four police officers accused of committing acts of brutality in February 2012 are ongoing at the Criminal Court, Attorney General Mohamed Anil informed parliament today.

At minister’s question time, opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Eva Abdulla asked how far investigations into police brutality – as recommended by the 2012 Commission of National Inquiry’s (CoNI) – had progressed.

With respect to the administration of justice, in particular concerning allegations of police brutality and acts of intimidation, there is an urgent need for investigations to proceed and to be brought to public knowledge with perpetrators held to account and appropriately sanctioned,” read the second recommendation of the report.

While it concluded that the transfer of presidential power was constitutional, CoNI had found that “there were acts of police brutality on 6, 7 and 8 February 2012 that must be investigated and pursued further by the relevant authorities.”

Anil explained that the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) had investigated 45 cases of alleged police brutality and made a recommendation to the home ministry to dismiss six police officers.

After the ministry instructed police to take disciplinary action against the officers, the police disciplinary board investigated the cases and sacked one officer.

However, the disciplinary board decided there was insufficient evidence to prove wrongdoing by the other five officers and decided not to dismiss them pending the outcome of a trial.

Four of the accused officers were nonetheless removed from “front line” duty and transferred to different departments, noted the attorney general.

The PIC had also submitted cases involving six police officers to the Prosecutor General’s (PG) Office to press assault charges, he continued.

Of the cases filed at the Criminal Court by the PG’s Office, Anil said one case had been concluded and has since been appealed at the High Court.

Moreover, he added, cases involving three other officers were sent back to the PIC due to incomplete information with instructions for resubmission.

The PG’s Office also decided not to prosecute three police officers accused of obeying “unlawful orders,” Anil noted.

Of the 45 cases investigated by the PIC, the attorney general explained that the commission decided there was no evidence concerning 14 complaints, while there was insufficient evidence to identify the officers responsible for 11 acts of brutality.

The remaining cases involved procedural violations, he added, concerning which the PIC recommended strengthening institutional mechanisms.

Following the recommendation to the home ministry, Anil said efforts were undertaken to familiarise police officers with laws and regulations as well as to strengthen ethical training, while further courses were formulated and conducted.

Police brutality

On February 8, 2012, thousands of MDP supporters took to the streets of Malé in a protest march after former President Mohamed Nasheed declared his resignation the previous day had come “under duress” in a “coup d’etat” instigated by mutinying police officers of the Special Operations (SO).

Following an investigation, the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) concluded that the heavy-handed police crackdown on the MDP walk was “brutal” and “without warning.”

The HRCM recommended investigations by the PIC into the “disproportionate” use of force that left dozens of demonstrators injured and hospitalised.

In May 2013, the PG’s Office pressed charges against two police officers accused of assaulting MDP MPs ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik and Mariya Ahmed Didi during the violent crackdown.

Amnesty International meanwhile warned that failure to prosecute police officers accused of human rights abuses and “serious failings in the justice system entrenched impunity”.

In June 2013, former PIC member Hala Hameed told parliament’s government oversight committee that the cases involving the six police officers were “not disciplinary issues, but crimes,” expressing concern with the home minister’s refusal to suspend the officers.

Moreover, former PIC Chair Shahinda Ismail told Minivan News in September 2012 that a staff sergeant caught on tape kicking a fallen demonstrator “was promoted after this incident.”

In February this year, Shahinda told Minivan News that detainees arrested in Addu City on February 9 were “forced to walk on smoldering coals”.

According to the HRCM report, 32 people filed complaints concerning varying degrees of injuries sustained in the crackdown, while 20 people submitted medical documents of their treatment of injuries.

Two fingers on the left hand of one demonstrator were crushed, the report noted.

Al Jazeera filmed parts of the crackdown, reporting that “police and military charged, beating demonstrators as they ran – women, the elderly, [with] dozens left nursing their wounds”. The BBC meanwhile reported “a baton charge by police on crowds gathered outside one of the main hospitals.”

In a report in May 2013, the UN Special Rapporteur for Independence of Judges and Lawyers Gabriela Knaul warned that there could be more instability and unrest unless serious human rights violations of Maldives’ authoritarian past are addressed.


Attorney General resumes issuing lawyers permits

The Attorney General’s (AG) Office has resumed issuing permits for lawyers after the publication of new regulations (Dhivehi) governing legal licences today.

The AG’s Office announced last December that it was ceasing the issuance of licenses pending amendments to regulations governing the legal profession.

Former Attorney Husnu Suood – also president of the Maldives Bar Association – has suggested that the regulations had been drafted without sufficient input from within the legal profession.

“We have brought to the attention of the Attorney General that the new regulation should involve the profession,” Suood told Minivan News after discussing the new regulations with fellow lawyers today.

In order to practice law in the Maldives, the new regulations state that an individuals must be a Maldivian citizen, married to a Maldivian, or reside in the Maldives, must be 18 years old, and must be of sound mind.

Prospective lawyers must not hold convictions for any hadd offences, for criminal breach of trust, or for rape. If an individual has been convicted of any other offences, seven years must have passed since the sentence was completed or pardoned.

Suood took issue with the regulation’s failure to define what the ‘other’ offences consisted of, particularly in light of the recent spate of contempt of courts cases.

“It’s very scary with the contempt issue – they can fine us or make an order for house arrest of 15-30 days. If we are unable to actually practice for seven years onward, that’s too much actually.”

A bill to regulate the legal profession is included in the government’s 207-bill legislative agenda, to be pursued during the current administration’s five year term.

In the absence of a law governing the legal profession when the new constitution was adopted in August 2008, parliament passed a General Regulations Act – recently renewed – as parent legislation for over 80 regulations without a statutory basis, including the regulation governing lawyers.

Appropriate regulator?

A 2013 report by UN Special Rapporteur for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers Gabriela Knaul argued that the AG’s role in the regulation of the legal profession was “contrary to the basic principles on the role of lawyers”.

Powers to issue licenses to practice laws as well as enforce disciplinary measures should not rest with the executive, Knaul advised.

Moreover, Knaul recommended that a “self-regulating independent bar association or council should be urgently established to oversee the process of admitting candidates to the legal profession, provide for a uniform code of ethics and conduct, and enforce disciplinary measures, including disbarment.”

Local lawyer Mohamed Shafaz Wajeeh told Minivan News today that, for the time being, the AG’s Office was the most appropriate body to be regulating the industry.

“We already have a legislation in the pipeline with considerable involvement from the Bar Association. I hope the bill is passed soon,” said Shafaz.

The Supreme Court’s attempts to regulate the legal profession in 2012 prompted an emergency meeting of the country’s top lawyers – prior to the formation of the Bar Association in April 2013.

The court’s regulations required all lawyers to be registered with individual courts before they could represent their clients there. Open criticism of the courts was also proscribed.

Suood today suggested that the AG’s regulations now created “two parallel systems” which “contradict with each other”.

“I think that the new regulations should have included the Supreme Court regulations because one issue we face day-in and day-out is that if there is an action administrative action taken by the court, for instance contempt of court issue and they take disciplinary action, we are unable to challenge those administrative actions.”

The Bar Association earlier this week called for the suspension of Supreme Court Judge Ali Hameed pending an investigation into allegations over the judge’s appearance in a series of sex tapes.

The group’s statement came just days after the suspension of its president, former Attorney General Husnu Suood, had been lifted by the court on the condition he refrain from engaging in any act that may undermine the courts.

Suood was told his January suspension was related to an allegedly contemptuous tweet regarding the Supreme Court’s decision to annul the first round of last year’s presidential election.

Charges of contempt were also used by the Supreme Court to dismiss senior members of the Elections Commission just two weeks before last month’s Majlis elections.