Police regulations do not adequately protect constitutional rights, says MDN report

Current policing regulations do not adequately address and protect the rights guaranteed to all citizens by the Constitution, says the Maldivian Democratic Network (MDN).

After reviewing the relevant laws, MDN’s ‘Review of the legal framework of Maldives Police Service’ found “worrying signs of an erosion of the democratic policing framework enshrined in the Constitution”.

“The police are being vested with greater powers and discretion without the prerequisite checks,” read the report released yesterday. “Alarmingly, these dangerous trends are being written into law.”

Speaking at the launch ceremony yesterday, Deyvika Prasad from the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) did note that, even though there are problems with the Maldives’ police regulations, it was good to have such procedures in place.

Prasad said that the Maldives was the first in the South Asian region to come up with a policing strategic action plan, and that the 2008 Maldives Police Act is the only national police legislation in the region which is not a colonial-era Police Act.

The review’s stated intention is to “identify legal gaps” within the current legal framework to ensure compatibility with both the Constitution and international standards.

It noted that as the police regulation came only three months after the ratification of the new constitution in 2008, “there was a lack of practice or practical experience among the law enforcement agencies relating to implementation of these procedural rights and the boundaries of such rights”.

Among the issues described in the report, the procedures in the police regulation regarding the powers to arrest and detain without a court warrant were called “highly problematic” and in contradiction to Articles 46 and 49 of the Constitution.

The NGO recommended that regulations be reviewed and rewritten in order to “ensure safeguards in the constitution are maintained”, and to review the provisions relating to arrests and detention in light of the Supreme Court’s decisions and relevant interpretations provided by the judiciary.

MDN Executive Director and former President of the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) Shahinda Ismail said the report had been compiled after consultations with various stakeholders including the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives, Transparency Maldives, and the UNDP.

The Maldives Police Services and the Police Integrity Commission had been invited to participate in the consultations but the MPS did not respond to the invitations while the PIC declined to take part.

Police earlier this year labelled a report published by MDN into the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan “politically motivated” and “irresponsible”.

The review was produced as part of the police reform project by Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) conducted in South Asia. Former Prosecutor General (PG) Ahmed Muizzu’s law firm Muizzu and Co LLP acted as the local consultation for the review.

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Civil society groups condemn proposed restrictions to constitutional rights

Civil society groups have condemned proposed amendments to the law prohibiting possession of dangerous weapons, which would restrict the rights to remain silent and to retain legal counsel

The Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) and Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) have urged parliament to withhold from passing the amendments.

A joint press statement by the two organisations stated their belief that the amendments to the 2010 law “absolutely violates rather than limits fundamental rights of the people” and that, if passed, “will seriously hinder the democratic system Maldives has transited to”.

The statement also expressed concerns that the amendments’ use of the phrase ‘..although the Constitution states such..’ appears to bring in laws above the Constitution, opening space for similar amendments to be made which also violate the Constitution.

Attorney General Mohamed Anil revealed the government’s intention to narrow constitutional rights at a press conference in October after a spate of violent assaults in the capital – which police said were a series of gang reprisals – saw three young men stabbed to death.

While presenting the amendments to the Peoples Majlis earlier this month, the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Ibrahim Didi said special measures were needed to curb increasing violent assaults, to ease the public’s fears and anxiety, and to establish public order and safety.

The amendments bill states that suspects arrested for assault with sharp objects or dangerous weapons will not be able to exercise the right to remain silent “to any extent”.

Police could also question the suspect if he or she is either unable to have an attorney present within six hours, or waives the right to retain legal counsel.

Moreover, the suspect could only consult a lawyer in the presence of a police officer for the first 96 hours after the arrest.

MDN and CHRI argued that such amendments would eventually result in the “subversion of the Constitution”. Opposition MPs have also described the changes as unconstitutional, suggesting that the government was blaming a lack of legislation for its own failure to curb violent crime.

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Imthiyaz Fahmy has said that the actual obstacle to securing convictions for violent crimes was “incompetency and corruption within the criminal justice system”.

The MDP has condemned the growing insecurity within the country after the current government’s failure to adequately address public fears following a rise in violent crimes.

However, President Abdulla Yameen said that his administration has achieved “peace and order in Malé and all regions of Maldives” while acknowledging that “isolated and significant” dangerous crimes do occur.

Speaking at a PPM rally this month, President Yameen reiterated the government’s resolve to implement the death penalty for the sake of human rights and dignity.

“I want to say tonight as well in your presence, this government will have no mercy at all for those who slaughter Maldivian citizens with no mercy,” said Yameen at the ‘Successful 365 Days’ event held in Malé on November 21.

While speaking at a seminar on strengthening the criminal justice system yesterday (November 30), Vice President Mohamed Jameel – formerly justice minister under the presidency of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom – said that the hands of investigating officers were tied by the Constitution.

“The changes we brought to our legal system are very good. They are very complete. However, they have not been implemented in a very good manner,” Sun Online reported Jameel as saying.

“In completing the desired results of those changes, many have been negligent, and the society is becoming frustrated as a result. The people have begun questioning about the reliability of laws and the protection that should be guaranteed by a judicial system.”

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