Government wants to keep list of terror organisations secret

Government wants to keep list of terror organisations secret
February 22 17:50 2016

The ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives is seeking to remove provisions in the new anti-terror act requiring the president to make public a list of organisations linked to terrorism.

MP Mohamed Saud Hussain also proposed to remove a 15-day deadline for the list’s publication. The law, criticised by human rights groups as draconian, was passed in October.

The period expired in mid November, but President Abdulla Yameen has not made the list public yet.

Saud said he had suggested the changes on the advice of national security council, which consists of cabinet ministers and the heads of the army and the police force. The move would pose threats to national security, according to the council.

The amendment is likely to pass as the ruling coalition controls a majority in the parliament.

Former police intelligence chief Mohamed ‘MC’ Hameed said the amendment was not in “line with best practices.”

“It is extremely important to list these organisations and publicise them as a deterrent and so that the public clearly know which groups are involved in such illegal activities,” he said.

“The government’s decision to make such a U-turn after passing a bill with such stringent, perhaps draconian measures, can be interpreted as passively furthering the agendas of organisations with terrorist links.”

The Maldives has seen a steady outflow of would-be militants to Syria over the past few years. The opposition claims the number is as high as 200, which would make the country the highest per capita supplier of militant fighters.

The government disputes the figure, with ministers offering various estimates, from 35 to 100. The new law sets jail terms up to 20 years for attempting to leave the country to fight in a foreign war, but it is not clear if any individual has been arrested on the charge so far.

Condemning the government’s failure to meet the deadline for the list’s publication, Shahindha Ismail, executive director of local NGO Maldivian Democracy Network, said: “Does the president think that concealing the names of identified terrorist organisations would help prevent or curb such activities?”

She urged the national security council to detail how the list’s publication poses risks, and accused the government of downplaying the threat of religious radicalisation and local terror links.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party meanwhile said that the amendment would “give the opportunity for growth of Islamic radicalism in the Maldives.”

The MDP has also claimed it has evidence that the government is involved in terrorism financing. Citing an investigation carried out by an unnamed intelligence organisation, the party said a man hired by the government to commit political crimes was also “directly involved in terrorist recruiting and financing related to the so-called Islamic State or ISIS.

“He has coordinated and funded more than 100 Maldivians to travel to Syria.”

Corrupt immigration officials were used to facilitate their travel and to ensure they are able to re-enter without the risk of arrest and prosecution, the party added.

The president’s office has denounced the claims as baseless.

The watchdog Human Rights Commission of the Maldives has meanwhile urged changes to the law, arguing it presented obstacles for fundamental freedoms, while opposition politicians said they feared the vague definitions of terrorism in the law could be used to silence dissent.

Additional writing by Zaheena Rasheed