MPs debate restricting constitutional rights after arrest

The People’s Majlis yesterday accepted legislation that proposes restricting the constitutional rights to remain silent and retain legal counsel for suspects arrested for violent assault.

Presenting the amendments (Dhivehi) to a 2010 law banning “threats and carrying dangerous weapons and sharp objects” on behalf of the government, Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Ibrahim Didi said “special measures” were needed to curb increasing violent assaults, to ease the public’s fear and anxiety, and to establish public order and safety.

Opposition MPs contend that the changes are unconstitutional, suggesting that the government was blaming a lack of legislation for its failure to curb violent crime.

The amendments state that suspects arrested for assault with sharp objects or dangerous weapons could not 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.

The legislation states that the rights of the accused would be narrowed in reference to Article 16(a) of the Constitution, which states that the rights and freedoms contained in chapter two could be limited by a law enacted by the People’s Majlis “only if demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”

While Article 49 of the Constitution states, “No person shall be detained in custody prior to sentencing, unless the danger of the accused absconding or not appearing at trial, the protection of the public, or potential interference with witnesses or evidence dictate otherwise,” the amendments state that the court must consider the criminal record of the accused, police intelligence reports, and other information submitted by police.

Additionally, the legislation stipulates that the Prosecutor General’s (PG) Office must press charges within 15 days of the arrest and the court must conclude the trial and deliver a verdict within 30 days of the case being filed.

In determining guilt, the court shall consider as evidence confessions or statements given at court, audio or video recordings of statements made by the accused to his or her lawyer, autopsy reports, and forensic evidence.

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

Speaking at a party rally earlier this week, PPM Parliamentary Group leader Ahmed Nihan reportedly said that the government would not stand to see young people labelled as gangsters.

Several incidents of gang violence have meanwhile occurred in recent weeks. Earlier this week, an 18-year-old was arrested after entering Billabong International High School with a machete during a gang fight.

Anil noted that the proposed amendments would specify harsher penalties for violent assault as the penalties in the current penal code were “far too lenient.”

The amendments propose the death penalty for premeditated murder in a violent assault using a dangerous weapon or sharp object as well as jail terms of up to 20 years for other offences specified in the law.

Following preliminary debate at yesterday’s sitting, the amendment bill was accepted with 66 votes in favour and five against and sent to the national security committee for further review.

“Incompetence and corruption”

Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Imthiyaz Fahmy – who voted against the amendments – told Minivan News that the obstacle to securing convictions for violent crimes was “incompetency and corruption within the criminal justice system.”

“When the government completely failed in tackling crimes that have gone out of hand they now blame it on legislation,” he contended.

“And true to their old style, the accused are to be beaten into confessing.”

Prior to the adoption of the new constitution in August 2008, the vast majority of convictions were based on confessions extracted during police interrogation and the police were often accused of torture and coercion.

During the parliamentary debate, PPM MP Ibrahim Didi said some cases were stalled at court for up to six years while the amendments would expedite the process and prevent the accused intimidating witnesses.

Several MPs objected to suspects being able to remain silent after committing serious crimes and insisted that violent crimes could be reduced if the bill is passed into law.

PPM Ahmed Thoriq suggested some rights guaranteed in the constitutional were unsuited to the Maldives.

Jumhooree Party Ali Hussain, however, contended that while fundamental rights and freedoms could be narrowed, completely depriving individuals of the right was unconstitutional.

PPM MP Mohamed Nasheed argued that preventing suspects from consulting a lawyer in private for four days was excessive and advised reducing the period to 36 hours.

Related to this story

AG seeks to strengthen prohibitions on carrying of sharp weapons

Five injured in spate of street violence in Malé

Gang assault with machete in Billabong high school


Government seeks authority to hold passports for 24 hours without court order

Preliminary debate began at today’s sitting of parliament on an amendment seeking authority for the police and other investigative bodies to withhold passports for 24 hours without a court order.

The change to the Immigration Act was proposed by Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Ibrahim Riza.

Presenting the legislation (Dhivehi) on behalf of the government, the MP for Kaafu Guraidhoo said its purpose was to bring the immigration law of 2007 in line with the revised constitution adopted in August 2008.

However, in the ensuing debate, opposition MPs contended that the amendment was unconstitutional as it would curtail fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed by the constitution.

Jumhooree Party (JP) MP Ali Hussain said he feared the amendment would allow the government to withhold passports of MPs “without any reason for political purposes”.

The MP for Baa Kendhoo noted that police and other authorities would be authorised to hold passports without the knowledge of the passport holder.

Moreover, he added, passport holders would not be able to either contest or appeal the decision or advocate in their defence.

Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Abdul Ghafoor Moosa argued that granting authority to the police to hold passports was “contrary to the spirit of the constitution”.

He noted that the police presently have powers to arrest and detain suspects for 24 hours, adding that there had been no instance in the past seven years of a suspect absconding or flying overseas without the knowledge of the authorities.

Defending the amendment, PPM MP Ibrahim Didi, however, insisted that investigative bodies should have the authority to hold passports of suspects involved in serious crimes.

“24 hours is not a very long time. Even now, police arrest people for 24 hours. So I don’t believe a person could face too much harm if his passport is held for 24 hours,” the MP for Addu Feydhoo said.

MDP MP Mariya Ahmed Didi meanwhile referred to article 41(a) of the constitution, which states, “Every citizen has the freedom to enter, remain in and leave the Maldives, and to travel within the Maldives.”

The constitution did not envision that the right of freedom of movement could be restricted, she contended, adding that it was essential for the accused to be present during legal proceedings on withholding passports.

As suspects in police custody could not fly overseas, Mariya said she did not see the need for police to withhold their passports without a court warrant.

The most notable instance of court hearings being cancelled due to the defendant being abroad involved Home Minister Umar Naseer’s disobedience to order charges. Despite an arrest warrant being issued in his absence, the minister was not taken into custody on his return to the country.


Police defend Anbaraa arrests as MDP alleges breach of constitutional rights

The Maldives Police Service (MPS) has denied allegations by the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) that constitutional rights and procedures were violated in the arrest of 79 youth last weekend from a music festival in an uninhabited island.

In a press release issued in response to a statement yesterday by the MDP’s rights committee, police insisted that all the suspects taken into custody from Vaavu Anbaraa were informed of their constitutional rights as well as the reason for the arrest.

“In addition, they were informed in writing of the reason for their detention in accordance with the law, and they were told that they had the right to legal counsel,” the press release read.

It added that all suspects detained from Anbaraa were brought before a judge within 24 hours of the arrest. Police also noted that the island was raided with a court order.

The MDP’s rights committee however contended that procedures specified in the constitution for arrest or detention – such as informing suspects of the reasons in writing within 24 hours, providing access to legal counsel, and presenting suspects before a judge within 24 hours for a remand hearing – were breached by the police.

Moreover, the committee alleged that police did not act in accordance with regulations governing the exercise of law enforcement powers concerning arrest and detention.

The rights committee suggested that it was “absolutely necessary” to ensure that law enforcement efforts are focused on citizens and the community while respecting human rights and democratic principles.

“While police powers and discretion is afforded within specifically determined parameters of the law, we remind the Home Minister of the Maldives at this juncture that police powers and discretion cannot be used outside those parameters,” the MDP statement read.

The police statement however stated that the MPS “assures the beloved citizens of Maldives that no actions that could violate human rights or demean human dignity were committed in the operation conducted in V. Anbaraa.”

The press release went on to address the MDP’s statement, contending that it was “misleading” and expressed in a manner that “encourages youth to commit crimes”.

Police further argued that the opposition party’s statement could confuse the public concerning “the principles and rules of the democracy that Maldivians are seeing today.”

Police also reminded the MDP that actions encouraging drug use or trafficking were prohibited by article 128 of the Drugs Act.

The police statement concluded with an appeal to all parties to cooperate with law enforcement efforts to “safeguard youth and this society from the danger of drugs” and refrain from actions that could cause loss of public confidence in the MPS.


Maldives Media Council submitting case against President’s Office “to create a free media”

The Maldives Media Council (MMC) has voted to submit a case against the President’s Office to “create a free media” in light of the discriminatory treatment of Raajje TV.

The President’s Office is violating equal rights by not inviting the opposition-aligned TV station Raajje TV to events and has not been adhering to the MMC’s requests that it give equal opportunities to all media, the MMC Secretariat told Minivan News (April 9).

The case will be submitted to the Prosecutor General’s (PG) office April 10.

“MMC members have voted to submit the case. Members have a strong feeling that it is a necessary step to take in order to create a free media in the Maldives,” said the MMC Secretariat.

The MMC has been very active the past two months trying to solve these problems and is now sending the case to the PG, Raajje TV Deputy Chief Executive Officer Abdulla Yamin told Minivan News.

The President’s Office has not been inviting Raajje TV to press conferences, has denied reporters entry press events in the President’s Office, and has not sent the channel any government press statements, Yamin claimed.

The President’s Office also asked government ministries and state-owned companies not to give information to Raajje TV and for these companies to stop providing private sponsorship to the media outlet.

Yamin said that they had observed this treatment was particular only to their channel.

“The President’s Office said they have not invited us because it is their privilege to decide whether to invite Raajje TV or not,” said Yamin.

“We are talking about rights granted in the constitution, not a privilege. There must be a situation [in the Maldives] where independent media can run.

“Article 28 of the constitution guarantees the right to freedom of the press and article 29 assures the right to freedom of information,” Yamin declared.

Yamin explained that the MCC had acted as a mediator to try and resolve the lack of cooperation shown by the President’s Office to Raajje TV.

“The President’s Office said if we do certain things they will cooperate. However, then the President’s Office is forcing their influence on our editorial policy,” said Yamin.

“We are not going to negotiate our constitutionally guaranteed right to information,” he added.

Ongoing government discrimination

Raajje TV filed a case against the President’s Office in the Civil Court in September 2012, complaining that the station had been boycotted from official events. Yamin expects the civil court to issue their verdict later this week.

Raajje TV also submitted a case to the parliamentary committee on government accountability regarding the president’s office discriminating against the media outlet. Parliament invited the president’s office to attend the committee twice, but never received a response, according to Yamin.

Additionally, Raajje TV lodged a complaint against the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) with the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC), alleging it was “using its power to give benefits” to other TV channels by providing them funding.

The Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) was contacted by the ACC regarding the matter, but did not respond, according to Yamin.

“The MBC have not done anything regarding our right to information. They should be working on these issues to make sure rights are assured,” said Yamin.

Minister of Home Affairs Mohamed Jameel Ahmed previously named Raajje TV as an “enemy of state” in a press conference held in July, the same day on which the Maldives Police Services publicly stated its refusal to provide cooperation or protection to the channel.

Raajje TV also filed a case against the Maldives Police Services in September 2012 over their decision to deny cooperation or protection to the channel. In February 2013, the Civil Court ruled that the decision by the Maldives Police Service to cease cooperating with Raajje TV was unconstitutional.

Dismissing the police argument that it had the sole discretion to decide who to invite to press conferences and functions, the court stated that the action more resembled a deliberate attempt to limit the constitutional rights of freedom of expression, freedom of media and the right to information.

Raajje TV believes this verdict will apply to the President’s Office as well.

“If the court is fair and balanced a similar verdict will come. I believe the court won’t be that corrupt because the constitution and laws are clear. It’s written in black and white,” Yamin said.

Raajje TV is one of the five private broadcasters in the country and is the only television station aligned with the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP). The TV station has come under substantial pressure and criticism from groups including the government and political parties aligned with it.

RaajjeTV has been the subject of continuous verbal attacks by the state following the transfer of power in February.

In early August 2012, Raajje TV’s control room was sabotaged by intruders.

Press freedom organisation Reporters Without Borders at the time condemned this attack, stating “This targeted and well-prepared operation was the foreseeable culmination of the new government’s escalating verbal attacks on Raajje TV. How the authorities respond will be seen as a test of their commitment to media pluralism.”

The President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad and the Maldives Broadcasting Commission were not responding to calls at time of press.