The parliament’s national security committee has approved a new anti-terrorism bill that opposition MPs fear could be misused to suppress anti-government activities and jail politicians.
MP Ibrahim Riza of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), chair of the national security committee, confirmed to The Maldives Independent that the committee completed its review and forwarded the government-sponsored legislation to the People’s Majlis floor yesterday.
Riza declined to reveal whether substantial changes were made during the committee stage, but an anonymous pro-government MP told CNM that the bill was approved with minor revisions.
The bill was approved despite misgivings, the MP said, noting that political rhetoric could be construed as terrorism under the proposed law.
The bill could be put to a vote next week and is likely to pass as the PPM and coalition partner Maldives Development Alliance control a comfortable majority of seats in the 85-member house.
The committee approved the bill amidst heightened tension in the wake of an explosion on the president’s speedboat, which the government says was an attempt to assassinate President Abdulla Yameen.
During the debate on the bill in August, MPs of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) raised concern over the broad definition of terrorism in the legislation as well as proposed restriction of fundamental rights.
The bill states that inciting violence at demonstrations and threatening the country’s independence and sovereignty will be considered acts of terrorism. It 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 had also expressed concern with the bill authorising the president to declare groups as terrorist organisations without either 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 or access to a lawyer for 96 hours after the arrest.
The home minister will meanwhile have powers to apply for a ‘monicon’ (monitoring and control) order to tag and 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.
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 anti-terrorism law.
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.
If the bill currently before parliament is passed, the 1990 law will be replaced by the new anti-terrorism law.