Penal code delayed amid opposition MPs’ protest

Parliament has approved a three-month delay for the implementation of the new penal code amid vociferous protests by opposition MPs on the People’s Majlis floor.

The new penal code was ratified a year ago and was due to come into force tomorrow, but the ruling Progressive Party of Madives (PPM) claims more time is needed to raise awareness among the public.

However, both the attorney general and prosecutor general have said there is no reason to delay enforcement. The government has trained some 1,100 individuals including state prosecutors, police officers, customs staff, lawyers and journalists on the new law.

Critics say the existing penal code adopted in 1966 is outdated, draconian and not in line with international human rights conventions the Maldives is signatory to.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) contends that the postponement is a “politically motivated attempt to continue using the current penal code as a means to harass and intimidate the opposition.”

Hundreds of protesters face harsher punishment for ‘disobedience to order,’ a charge MDP argues the government uses to suppress rights to expression and assembly.

While similar offences are included in the new penal code, the punishment for protesters who do not have a criminal record would have been less severe as judges are required to take mitigating factors into consideration under sentencing procedures.

Show of hands

The government-sponsored amendment bill to the penal code was passed with 43 votes in favour and one against at an extraordinary sitting of parliament held today.

Prior to voting, MDP MPs took over the speaker’s chair and the secretariat desk and protested with megaphones and sirens, leaving Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed unable to use the electronic voting system and forcing secretariat staff to vacate their chairs.

In a scuffle between pro-government and opposition MPs, PPM MP Ahmed Assad grabbed and smashed one of the megaphones.

Pro-government MPs meanwhile surrounded Speaker Maseeh as he used a megaphone to ask for a show of hands. The secretary-general walked around the chamber and took the count.

Adhaalath Party MP Anara Naeem voted against the legislation.

MDP MPs have said the voting took place in violation of parliamentary rules as there was disorder in the chamber.

“During this time of increased political opposition to the [Abdulla] Yameen government, the MDP condemns the government’s use of their political majority to cripple the criminal justice system and restrict the rights of all Maldivians,” the party said in a statement.

However, majority leader Ahmed Nihan said former Speaker Abdulla Shahid had called a vote under similar circumstances in 2011, which can be considered a precedent under the standing orders.

Human rights NGO Maldivian Democracy Network has called on President Yameen not to ratify the amendments as the current law “is widely understood as draconian and unreflective of the democratisation process that was introduced to the Maldives through the constitution ratified in August 2008.”


Speaking at a symposium about the new penal code yesterday, Attorney General Mohamed Anil said the country should bid farewell to the existing law “without any fear” as it was unsuited to the present day.

Former Prosecutor General Hussain Shameem told Minivan News today that 98 percent of police investigators have been provided extensive training as part of preparations for implementing the penal code.

Shameem has been involved in the training as a senior legal consultant at the Legal Sector Resource Centre established by the attorney general’s office with assistance from the UNDP to train and sensitise stakeholders.

A phone application for the penal code was launched yesterday and 12 information papers were published on the penal code website, he added.

Shameem noted that the website features an ‘ask us’ interactive function, marking the first time questions can be posed to experts regarding a Maldivian law.

“So the government is ready. The public are ready as all this information has been provided through the media as well. The documents and phone application are available. We have never been more prepared for a law than this,” he said.

Majority leader Nihan meanwhile told reporters that the PPM parliamentary group did not consult the attorney general’s office before today’s vote.

Nihan said ruling party MPs did not believe the public was adequately prepared, adding that the state broadcaster should show educational television programmes.

Revisions based on issues raised by religious NGOs can also be incorporated during the next three months, he said.

NGO Salaf said today that the new penal code is contrary to the principles of Islamic Sharia.


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.


Backlog of cases at PG’s Office reaches over 500

The backlog of cases pending at the Prosecutor General’s (PG) Office has reached 533 as a result of the Criminal Court’s refusal to accept cases, Deputy PG Hussain Shameem has revealed.

Speaking at a joint press conference with the Maldives Police Service (MPS) on Thursday, Shameem said that the growing backlog included 196 cases of suspects in pre-trial detention.

Expressing concern with the stalled process, Shameem noted that the Supreme Court on February 6 ordered trial courts to proceed with cases submitted by the PG office.

“I couldn’t think of what else I could do apart from getting a [court] order from the highest stage [of appeal] in the country. I can’t grab their hand and force them to accept,” he said.

The PG’s office was filing cases at the Criminal Court every day despite the court’s refusal to accept them, Shameem said, adding that a case involving the stabbing of an MPs’ wife and child was submitted on Thursday.

“So what do they do now, it would not be fair to keep [suspects] in [remand detention] until the parliament comes back to work from recess after three months and appoint a new PG,’’ Shameem told Minivan News previously.

An official from the Criminal Court meanwhile told local media last week that the Supreme Court order stated that lower courts must accept cases filed in accordance with regulations.

“The cases being submitted now in the absence of a prosecutor general are not in line with regulations,” he was quoted as saying by online news outlet CNM.

Shameem however told Minivan News that the court should specify the clause of the regulation it was accusing the PG office of violating.

“There is no such regulation. I have not seen a regulation that says so,” he insisted.

Vacant PG post

Shortly before parliament was due to vote on a no-confidence motion against him, former PG Ahmed Muiz submitted his resignation in November last year.

A month later, the Criminal Court decided not to accept cases filed by the PG’s office as the post had been vacant for 30 days, noting that the constitution stipulates a PG must be appointed within that period.

In December, President Abdulla Yameen nominated his nephew Maumoon Hameed for the post, but parliament broke for recess at the end of the month after forwarding the nominee for vetting by the independent institutions committee.

The committee’s chair, MP Ahmed Sameer – who recently defected from the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) to the government-aligned Jumhooree Party – told newspaper Haveeru shortly after the Supreme Court issued its order that the vetting process was stalled due to lack of cooperation from political parties.

While a committee meeting scheduled to take place during the ongoing recess to interview the nominee was canceled upon request by pro-government MPs, Sameer said a second attempt to hold the meeting was unsuccessful because MDP MPs opposed it.

New mechanism

Meanwhile, at Thursday’s press conference, Shameem said the PG’s office has been working with the MPS since November 25 to expedite the filing of cases at court.

In the past, Shameem explained, police forwarded cases upon completion of their investigation, after which the PG office either sends it back to clarify further information, rejects the case or files it at court.

The slow process prompted complaints from the public and posed challenges to securing convictions as trials often began months after the crime occurred and witnesses were unable to recall what they saw, Shameem said.

However, he added, investigations of serious crimes now proceed under the guidance of prosecutors.

Under the new system, police officers have been meeting with state prosecutors at the earliest stage of the investigation to discuss cases, Shameem said.

After mutual discussion, the PG’s office decides whether or not to prosecute based on the available evidence, Shameem explained.

Since the new mechanism was put in place, Shameem said police officers and prosecutors have held 195 meetings to discuss 164 cases, out of which the office decided to file 32 cases.

“Now we don’t send cases back to clarify further information. The 21 days it normally takes to make a decision regarding a case has been shortened to three or four days,” he said.

Following initial consultation with investigating officers, Shameem said the prosecuting attorney asks the police to clarify further information within a specified period.

“The police have been very good. They find the information within that period and get back to us. After clarifying all the information, we then decide whether to prosecute the case at court or not,” he said.


Inter-Parliamentary Union delegation arrive for urgent visit

A delegation from the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) has arrived in the Maldives in order “to help find ways to improve trust and confidence between State institutions”.

“The frequent intimidation, harassment and attack of MPs as they go about their work have been deeply worrying,” read an IPU press release.

The organisation’s request for an urgent visit was prompted by the growing list of cases – 24 in total – involving Maldivian MPs currently filed with the IPU’s Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians.

Local NGO Transparency Maldives has meanwhile called upon the Supreme Court to ensure that all MPs are treated impartially whilst calling upon members not to abuse parliamentary privileges for personal gain.

The IPU delegation, having arrived on Friday (November 1), will spend one week in the country during which time it will meet with government leaders, senior parliamentary authorities – including Speaker Abdulla Shahid, Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz, and members of the Supreme Court.

The group will also meet with President Dr Mohamed Waheed – recently returned from a private trip to Singapore and Hong Kong.

“The mission not only aims to promote confidence and trust between State institutions ahead of the forthcoming election, but also to have a better understanding of recent allegations of human rights violations against members of parliament. These include arbitrary arrests, attacks and intimidation, including death threats,” says IPU head of human rights programmes and mission member, Rogier Huizenga.

The delegation’s arrival follows a fraught week in the People’s Majlis, during which two MPs were unseated by the Supreme Court – a decision subsequently rejected by the speaker.

Meanwhile, Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor – who has sought refuge within parliamentary grounds – was handed a six month jail term by the Criminal Court.

Both the verdict for Hamid and for the MPs unseated by the Supreme Court were given in absentia, a tactic the MDP has described as reminiscent of “old autocratic practice”.

The party described the Hamid sentence as “the latest move by the Maldivian judiciary in a political witch-hunt to purge MDP MPs following the party’s newfound majority in parliament.”

Transparency Maldives

Whilst calling for neutrality in the courts, Transparency Maldives (TM) has also condemned what it characterised as “attempts to shape laws and rules for protecting personal interests of the Members of the Parliament and abuse of parliamentary privileges and the institution of the Parliament.”

In a statement last week, TM contended that such attempts “weaken the legal system and obstruct the rule of law. Similarly, such acts undermine the integrity of the Parliament, eroding public confidence in the institution.”

“Members of the Parliament must be provided with appropriate privileges and immunities in order to carry out their duties as lawmakers. However, Transparency Maldives reiterates its concern that the Parliamentary Privileges Act affords undue privileges and powers to the MPs,” the statement read.

The press release followed this week’s submission of amendments to the penal code, the Drugs Act and the parliamentary rules of procedure by the MDP.

The amendment to the penal code seeks to abolish article 81 regarding public servants exercising their authority to detain innocent persons. The MDP presidential candidate and former President Mohamed Nasheed is being charged under the article for the military’s detention of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012.

The amendment to the Drug Act meanwhile proposes shortening the jail sentence for the offence of refusing a urine sample from one year to 15 days while the amendment to the parliament regulations would allow MPs convicted of a criminal offence to attend parliament and participate in votes.

In addition to his sentence for refusing to attend court hearings, MP Hamid stands charged of drug and alcohol offences, as well as allegedly refusing to provide police with a urine sample.


No decision on Nasheed prosecution until police review charges: PG Muiz

Prosecutor General Ahmed Muizz has said there will be no decision on prosecuting former President Mohamed Nasheed until police review “aspects” of criminal charges forwarded against the one-time head of state.

Muiz told Minivan News today that after reviewing charges sent to his office on April 15, he had requested police “look into aspects” of the case they forwarded over certain concerns that had been “noted” at the time.  Muiz was unable to specify the nature of the concerns sent to police regarding the charges facing Nasheed.

The former president potentially faces prosecution over charges relating to both the alleged discovery by police of alcohol at his former residence following his “resignation” from office and the controversial detention of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed during his administration.

Muiz himself added that despite expecting the PG’s Office to make a decision on whether to prosecute Nasheed by the end of last month, he was now waiting on the outcome of a police review.  He added that the findings of an investigation by the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) would also be required before making a decision on prosecution.

HRCM investigation

The HRCM, which in March summoned Nasheed for questioning over his role in detaining Judge Abdulla, said it was presently finalising its own investigation into the incident.

HRCM spokesperson Jeehan Mahmoud told Minivan News today that its investigation into the judge’s detention had now been closed, though the findings were yet to be overlooked at a sitting of five senior commissioners representing the body.

“Once we have finalised the report, we will then look to send it to relevant authorities,” Jeehan said.

HRCM said in March that, along with its investigation into the detention of Judge Abdulla, Nasheed would also be directly involved and questioned in two additional cases.  These cases were said to relate to alleged human rights abuses carried against Nasheed himself before and during February’s controversial transfer of power that saw him resign –  a decision he later claimed was taken under “duress”.

Speaking last month after police forwarded the charges against Nasheed to the PG’s Office, Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Imthiyaz Fahmy claimed that the move was “pure injustice”, representing the “broken” state of the national criminal justice system.

Fahmy contended it was ironic that Nasheed, who had worked to foster a reputation for championing human rights in the country, could now potentially face prosecution by a judiciary that he himself alleged to be guilty of several of counts of corruption.

“This is injustice. Justice is not ensured simply by a judge’s verdict on an issue, it has to be publicly accepted that it is justice,” he argued.

Commonwealth role

Earlier this week, Attorney General (AG) Azima Shakoor denied the government had come under pressure from the Commonwealth to drop all criminal charges against Nasheed.

The AG added that the government were making no further comments until discussions being held with Commonwealth Special Envoy Sir Donald McKinnon were concluded.

Muiz said that he had not received any communications from the Commonwealth regarding the charges against Nasheed.


Police forward case against Dr Jameel for prosecution

Police have concluded an investigation requested by the President’s Office into “slanderous allegations” by minority opposition Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) Deputy Leader Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed.

According to a statement released by police on Thursday, the former Justice Minister was investigated for attempting to incite hatred and disrupt religious unity.

The case has been sent to the Prosecutor General’s Office, the statement revealed.

In the past week, Jameel was summoned for questioning four times and taken into custody thrice by police.

However on all three occasions he was released by the Criminal Court before 24 hours after DQP filed cases challenging the legality of the arrests.