Law amended to prevent passports being held without court orders

Parliament has passed an amendment altering the immigration law to prevent the holding of passports without a court order.

The amendment was submitted by ruling Progressive Party of Maldives MP Ibrahim Riza, and was passed by a total of 65 votes.

Under the amendment, Article 5(b) of the Immigration Act has been made void.

Article 5(b) of the current Immigration Act stipulates that a passport can be held for a maximum of seven days on request of the police authorities even without a court order. If passports are to be held for a period extending seven days, it must be done so under a court order.

A police media official stated that the change in law will not present any difficulties to the services as their normal procedure is to obtain court orders before requesting that any passports be held or travel bans imposed.


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The bills include amendments to the Goods and Service Tax Act, amendments to the Immigration Act, a bill to repeal an outdated law on allowing detention for more than seven days, amendments to the Civil Service Act, amendments to the Human Rights Commission of Maldives Act, and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


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.


Amendment to open visa laws sent for further review

An amendment to the Immigration Act was sent to the National Security Committee for review with 56 votes in favour and 31 against.

The bill, presented by Hulhu-Henveiru MP Moosa ‘Reeko’ Manik, would give foreign businessmen and investors in the Maldives easy access to resident visas. The amendment bill is part of the government’s 18-bill economic reform package.

The amendment would make visas available to foreigners married to Maldivians; legal guardians of children born in marriages including a Maldivian; investors; investors involved in government material and financial development projects; and foreigners providing technical service.

An amendment to the parliamentary rules of procedure to allow foreign heads of state and dignitaries to address parliament was meanwhile passed 59-2 at today’s sitting.


Parliament commences preliminary debate on amendment to Immigration Act

The parliament has commenced preliminary debate on an amendment presented by the government to the Immigration Act.

The amendment was presented to the parliament by Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Chairperson and MP ‘Reeco’ Moosa Manik on behalf of the government, with the intention of easing the process for investors and foreign businessmen to settle down in the Maldives.

If the amendment is passed, residential visas will be issued for persons mentioned in article 6[a] of the Immigration Act: a foreigner married to a Maldivian, or a former spouse of a Maldivian citizen who is assigned the guardianship of their child by a court of law.

A foreigner who has invested in a business which is declared by the Economic Ministry as a large investment will also be allowed a residential visa according to the new amendment presented, or foreigners who have invested in a government project to enhance the economy of the country.

Speaking in parliament’s sitting today Peoples Alliance (PA) MP Abdul Azeez Jamal Abubakur expressed concern that the bill would allow Israeli nationals to live in the Maldives, and that it was a threat to the sovereignty of the country.

Jamal said that the bill needs to clearly define how the Economic Ministry will determine the distinction between large businesses and investments, and how many persons can have residential visas.

He also alleged that the amendment was drafted with the intention of letting specific foreigners in the Maldives have residential visas, and said he would not support the amendment.

Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) MP and Parliamentary Group leader Riyaz Rasheed also alleged that the government was attempting to deploy Israelis to the Maldives and “make them wear white jubba [Arab garment] and promote their religion in this country.”

He also claimed that the government was intending to issue the residential visas to foreigners brought to the country by Indian infrastructure giant GMR, which is managing and upgrading the country’s main airport.