Majlis members send six bills to committee

Six pieces of legislation submitted on behalf of the government by Progressive Party of Maldives MPs were sent to committee for further review at today’s sitting of parliament.

The bills include amendments to the Goods and Service Tax Act, amendments to the Immigration Act, a bill to repeal an outdated law on allowing detention for more than seven days, amendments to the Civil Service Act, amendments to the Human Rights Commission of Maldives Act, and amendments to a number of laws to remove inconsistencies with the Decentralisation Act.

While most of the bills were accepted and sent to committee with comfortable majorities of between 50 to 64 votes, the proposed amendment to the Immigration Act was accepted with 46 votes in favour and 19 against


Two bills sent to committee following preliminary debate

Two pieces of government-sponsored legislation were sent to committee for further review at today’s sitting of the People’s Majlis.

An amendment proposed by MP Ahmed Assad to abolish the Special Majlis and People’s Majlis MPs’ Salary Act of 1990 was accepted unanimously with 65 votes in favour.

Additionally, an amendment proposed by MP Ali Shah to the Territorial Waters of Maldives Act of 1996 was accepted with 63 votes in favour, one against and two abstentions.


Parliament’s security services oversight committee summons Police Commissioner

Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz has been summoned to Parliament’s Security Services Committee for the second consecutive day, reports local media.

The Parliamentary committee, mandated in constitutional article 241, summoned Riyaz to appear at 11:ooam today over a complaint by Addu City Council. Addu City Mayor Abdullah Sodig and the Addu police-in-charge were also contacted to attend the meeting.

Riyaz was also summoned to appear at 11:15am yesterday (October 9) to provide the parliamentary committee with a status update regarding the murder investigation of former Ungoofaaru MP Dr Afrasheem Ali.

Security service committee meetings are closed to the public and media, however Sun Online has claimed that the committee “expressed frustration” over the delay of Dr Afrasheem’s murder investigation and requested Riyaz provide a date when the investigation will be concluded.

Earlier this year, Riyaz declared that police officers would only attend the 241 committee and would not appear before parliament’s Executive Oversight Committee (EOC) unless the Supreme Court orders police to do so. The Police Commissioner claimed that the decision was based on advice from Attorney General Azima Shukoor.

In March 2011, the Supreme Court ruled both the Police and the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) should be answerable to parliament whenever requested.

The Supreme Court in the ruling stated that, according to article 99 (a) and (b) of the constitution, it was clear that parliament was obliged to supervise every action of the security services and ensure their actions are within the constitution and law.


Revised penal code will “destroy Islam,” insists Sheikh Ilyas

A draft penal code under consideration by parliamentary committee will “destroy Islam” in the Maldives if the bill is passed in its current form, Sheikh Ilyas Hussain of the Adhaalath Party (AP) repeatedly insisted at parliament today.

The chair of the religious conservative AP’s scholars’ council and member of the Fiqh Academy was summoned to the committee after claiming that the draft legislation (Dhivehi) did not include Shariah penalties for fornication, apostasy and violent robbery.

“If it is passed, there is no doubt that there will be no religion in this Muslim society that claims to be 100 percent Muslim. There will be no Islamic punishments,” Sheikh Ilyas stated in a sermon delivered at the Furqan mosque in Male’ on March 23.

Sections of an audio recording of the sermon were played at the committee meeting today.

Ilyas however stood by the assertion and pointed to the bill specifying two years banishment as the punishment for fornication, instead of public flogging as prescribed in the Quran.

“Refusing [to incorporate] a single Hadd [fixed punishments specifically mentioned in Quran] is destroying Islam,” he said.

Other hudud crimes include murder, theft, highway robbery, consuming alcohol, apostasy and defaming a chaste woman.

Responding to Ilyas’ allegations, MP Ahmed Hamza, chair of the committee, noted that the draft penal code specifies as offences zina (fornication), theft, alcohol consumption and illegally toppling the government.

Following tense exchanges between Ilyas and MPs in a question and answer session, Hamza however conceded that “some [hudud] punishments” were not included in the draft legislation.

Hamza explained that a provision (article 1205) was added by the committee after the draft penal code was opened for public comment, under which sentencing persons convicted for premarital sex to 100 lashes is left to the discretion of judges.

Hamza also observed that a high degree of certainty is required in Islamic Shariah to convict a person of a hudud crime, such as four witnesses to prove fornication.

The hudud punishments were not incorporated because the Maldivian judiciary does not have the competence and public confidence to deliver fair judgments, Hamza said.

“I believe that our justice system has not developed to the level of establishing hadd,” he said, adding that the Prophet’s (pbuh) sayings advised against meting such punishments if there was the slightest doubt.

The six-member select committee reviewing the revised penal code includes MPs Ahmed Hamza, Imthiyaz Fahmy and Nazim Rashad from the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), MPs Abdul Raheem Abdulla and Abdul Azeez Jamal Abubakur from the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and MP Ahmed Mohamed (Vice Chair) from the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP).

A revised penal code was submitted to parliament in late 2009 to replace the existing law put in place in the 1960s. The bill has since been at committee stage.

The initial draft of the penal code was prepared by legal expert Professor Paul H Robinson and the University of Pennsylvania Law School of the United States, upon the request of the Attorney General in January, 2006. The project was supported by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

Professor Robinson’s team have published two volumes (Volume 1 and Volume 2) consisting of commentaries on sections of the draft legislation.

“The author’s review suggests that the Maldivian criminal justice system systematically fails to do justice and regularly does injustice, that the reforms needed are wide-ranging, and that without dramatic change the system and its public reputation are likely to deteriorate further,” Professor Robinson wrote in his summary conclusion.


At today’s meeting, MDP MPs accused Ilyas of “lying” and misleading the public when he swore by God during his sermon that Shariah punishments were not included in the revised penal code.

MP Imthiyaz Fahmy said he deeply regretted Ilyas’ remarks in his sermon that implied that members of the committee were not Muslims.

“I am aware that I am a Muslim, not because of any relation between myself and Sheikh Ilyas,” Imthiyaz said. “I am a Muslim because of a connection from the bottom of my heart to God.”

Inciting religious hatred was a crime under both domestic and international law, he added.

DRP MP Ahmed Mohamed said that the first draft of the bill was in conflict with Islamic Shariah but the committee has made significant changes at the advice of religious scholars.

He went on to defend the committees’ efforts in reviewing the bill in consultation with state institutions, religious scholars, legal experts and the Islamic Ministry.

PPM MP Abdul Azeez Jamal Abubakur meanwhile asked Ilyas why he chose to make allegations in public and sow discord instead of sharing his concerns with the committee.

He stressed that the review process was ongoing with the input of experts and religious scholars.

“When you say this is a law intended to destroy Islam, what happens is that we face threats,” he said. “People who love religion even called us kafir (non-believers) at the time. So this is a dangerous matter.”

The PPM MP for Laamu Maavah also disputed Ilyas’ claim that the bill did not specify consensual sex between adults as an offence.

In response, Ilyas said it was his duty to inform the public after the committee invited views and comments as most people were not well-informed on religious issues.

Ilyas also objected to a provision (article 411) exempting a woman from being lashed even if she confesses to fornication, if the man denies it and four witnesses are not produced.

“This is definitely against Islamic Shariah,” Ilyas said, adding that a confession at court should lead to punishment.

Sheikh Ilyas argued that such provisions contravened the constitution as article 10 stated that no laws contrary to any tenet of Islam shall be enacted in the Maldives.


Comment: Parliament is laughing at you

What a laugh the Majlis is having at the people’s expense. If voting to give themselves the extra MRF20,000 (US$1300) was like spitting people in the face, having the pay cheque backdated is like rubbing the polity’s face in the MPs’ bejewelled excrement.

For what is this money being rewarded? For emotional distress caused by having to bend to the people’s will for eight arduous months? Has life really been that tough on MRF60,000 US$(3900) a month that MPs need financial redress for their suffering?

It really must have been difficult coming up to Ramadan, having to forgo one or many of all those pre-Ramadan MP necessities. No pre-fasting trips to Bangkok, no spiritual rejuvenation trips to Sri Lanka, no shopping trips to Malaysia, no tri-annual holiday abroad for the parliamentary off spring.

Having had to endure a month in which the prices from fish to furniture have gone beyond the common man’s reach, the collective empathy of the people are no doubt with the Majlis.

Kudos to the 17 who have said they do not want the allowance.  Most fascinating, though, are the 16 who abstained. Would the allowance have been possible without them?

How complex and nuanced a question is: do you think you deserve the MRF20,000 a month at a time of grave national debt? It requires a simple yes or no answer – you are either with the people or you are not. Sitting on the fence on this question is even more self-serving than those who voted to keep the allowance – at least they were honest.

And then there are the MPs who are speaking out against the proposed income tax. On the grounds that it applies only to a small percentage of the population! Taxing the small percentage of the mega rich who have this country in a stranglehold, and letting the poor escape the burden – that is the purpose of it, one would have thought. In some MPs’ books, taxes should be equal – this is some people’s understanding of democracy, alas.

The avarice in the parliament is widespread, and its connections to big money are many. On the day of the salary vote at the Public Accounts Committee, its Chairman Ahmed ‘Jangiya’ [Panties] Nazim was in court for allegedly embezzling money from the public coffers to the tune of US$400,000.

If MPs stuck the polity’s face in their excrement, the Criminal Court’s decision to ban the media from MP Nazim’s court hearings buried the public in shallow graves dug in the same matter.

The accused is the Deputy Speaker of Parliament, the man who chairs the meetings at which decisions are made on how public accounts are to be balanced. He stands charged with fraud. If this is not a matter of public interest, then what is?

And what does the Criminal Court’s justification for the decision to ban the media even mean? Article 42 of the Constitution, to which the Court referred in its decision, says courts can only exercise their discretion to exclude the media if doing otherwise would disrupt public order, public morality or national security. None of these issues are at play here.

If the Criminal Court’s decision to gag the media refers to ‘other special circumstances where publicity would prejudice the interests of justice’ as said in Article 42, what the Court is effectively saying is that it is open to suggestion by every lowly hack out there.

The ‘democratic norms’, only according to which the discretionary powers in Article 42 are to be exercised, has long established that dangers of prejudice by media criticism arises where a jury is involved – not in cases where judges are sitting alone.

Unlike a jury of 12 ordinary people, judges – assumed to have achieved higher levels of education and higher levels of ethics and morality than ordinary people – are seen as above outside influence, and able to make a ruling based solely on the evidence before him.

By saying the court cannot come to a fair and impartial ruling because of what is being said in the media, it is clearly admitting that the judge sitting alone is easily influenced and cannot be trusted.

Perhaps balancing the people’s right to freedom of expression with an accused person’s right to a fair trial was not a module covered in the Sentencing Certificate?

The media should be in an uproar over this gagging order. Apart from a statement from the Media Council, however, there has been nothing.

Where is the Maldives Journalists Association with their usual indignation? Where is the Maldives National Journalists Association? Where are the highly paid members of the Broadcasting Commission? Where is the burgeoning ‘free press’?

Will the real Fourth Estate please stand up?

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