The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has raised concern over the broad definition of terrorism and restriction of fundamental rights in new anti-terrorism legislation currently before parliament.
In a document listing issues of concern with the draft legislation – to be shared with the parliament’s national security committee, which is reviewing the bill – the MDP noted that disruption of public services is considered an act of terrorism in the proposed law.
Disruption to traffic caused by street protests in Malé could therefore be interpreted as terrorism if the law is passed, the party warned.
“The bill states that those who organise and carry out such an activity and those participate or encourage it will be criminalised under a terrorism offence,” the MDP said.
The anti-terrorism bill was accepted for consideration with 45 votes in favour, nine votes against, and 10 abstentions, and sent to committee for further review on August 3. During the preliminary debate, opposition MPs warned that the new law could be misused to target and jail opposition politicians.
The bill is likely to pass as the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives and coalition partner Maldives Development Alliance controls a simple majority of the 85-member house.
The draft legislation states that inciting violence at demonstrations and threatening the country’s independence and sovereignty will be considered acts of terrorism and specifies penalties of up to 25 years in jail.
Encouraging terrorism, an act which carries a 10 to 15 years jail sentence, is defined as “a speech or statement perceived by the public as encouragement of terrorism.”
The MDP also expressed concern with the bill authorising the president to declare groups as terrorist organisations without a court order or based on the findings of an investigation.
Once the president declares a group a terrorist organisation, the MDP noted that the association or group’s leaders, members, and benefactors will be guilty of terrorism.
The bill also proposes restricting constitutional rights upon arrest for terrorism suspects – including the right to remain silent and access to legal counsel. Suspects will not have the right to remain silent, access to a lawyer for 96 hours after the arrest, and must answer questions posed during the police interrogation.
Additionally, suspects will only have six hours to appoint a lawyer 96 hours after the arrest.
The home minister will meanwhile have powers to apply for a ‘monicon’ (monitoring and control) order to tag, intercept communications and conduct surveillance on terrorism suspects.
The minister can seek a monicon order from the High Court if the suspect commits an act that endangers the community.
The minister does not have to inform the suspect and the court is not obliged to summon the suspect before issuing the order. The court must also issue the order in 24 hours.
If a monicon order has been issued, the police can order the person to live at a selected house if the suspect has multiple residences, restrict travelling and search the person, his home, suspected whereabouts on any time without an additional court order. The police can also order the suspect to stay or leave his residence or island.
“However, the bill does compel a different judge from the one who issued the order to review the case,” the party observed.
The High Court’s decision upon review could be appealed at the Supreme Court, the MDP noted, but the highest court of appeal will not have the authority to issue a stay order halting enforcement of the monicon order pending a judgement in the appeal.