Home Minister Umar Naseer has vowed that the government “will not abuse” the Anti Terrorism Act in the wake of a public outcry over fears that the law could be used to prosecute dissidents.
“The knife in the kitchen can be used to cut vegetables or kill a person. Every law is like that. Govt will NOT abuse the Anti-Terrorism Act,” Naseer said in a tweet.
The government-sponsored legislation was passed with 49 votes in favour, 22 against, and three abstentions. The ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and coalition partner Maldives Development Alliance control 49 seats in the 85-member house.
MPs of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) had submitted 11 amendments to the bill, all of which were rejected.
At a press conference held by MDP earlier this week, MP Imthiyaz Fahmy had also expressed concern with the law’s broad definition of terrorist activities. It would allow the authorities to interpret “legitimate peaceful political activities” as terrorism, he said.
The religious conservative Adhaalath Party was the latest to join calls for amendments to the law.
Anara Naeem, the only MP representing the Adhaalath Party, said: “The act declares exerting undue influence on the state and inciting fear as terrorism, but it fails to define what may be considered as “undue influence” and “fear inciting activities.'”
“We will review the bill further and submit for the annulment of articles in the act that contravenes the constitution,” Ali Zahir, the Adhaalath Party spokesman, added.
On social media, Maldivians, including a former human rights commissioner, former attorney general and MPs tweeted against the bill using the hashtag #MvTerrorBill.
Hrcm recommendation to the Anti Terrorism Bill in 2014:the bill goes against all the constitutional rights and should not be passed.
— Ahmed Tholal (@Tholman_79) October 28, 2015
— Dhiyana (@dhiyanasaid) October 27, 2015
The government reaches new heights in enslavement with the passing of #MVTerrorBill.
— Visam (@visamali) October 27, 2015
Dear AG,today @mvpeoplesmajlis passed a bill clearly violating basic rights & freedoms in the Constn.You’ve a duty to protect & uphold them.
— Ibrahim Riffath (@ibriffath) October 27, 2015
I fear that I may have to quit all social media as I may b declared as a terrorist under #MvTerrorBill. Sad reality of Mordis
— shidhatha (@shidhatha) October 27, 2015
By passing #MvTerrorBill, Maldivian parliament makes a mockery of democracy and the fundamental rights enshrined in our Constitution.
— Asima Latheef (@AsimaLatheef) October 27, 2015
Pro-government MPs, meanwhile, have defended the legislation, insisting that it was necessary to effectively combat terrorism and assuring that it would not be used to target political opponents.
Inciting violence at demonstrations and threatening the country’s independence and sovereignty will be considered acts of terrorism. The offence carries penalties of up to 25 years in jail.
Encouraging terrorism, an act which carries a jail sentence of between 10 to 15 years, is also defined as “a speech or statement perceived by the public as encouragement of terrorism.”
In March, former President Mohamed Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in prison over the arrest of a judge during his tenure. He was charged under the 1990 Prevention of Terrorism Act, which will now be replaced by the new anti-terrorism law passed today.
Adhaalath Party President Sheikh Imran Abdulla is also facing trial on a terrorism charge. He is accused of inciting violence at a mass anti-government demonstration on May 1.
Jumhooree Party (JP) deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim, and JP council member Sobah Rasheed were charged with terrorism in late May. Ameen and Sobah have since been living in self-exile in the UK with the latter seeking asylum.