Parliament passes amendments to Anti-Terrorism Act

Amendments to the Anti-Terrorism Act were approved during a special parliamentary sitting held Monday.

The bill proposed by Henveiru Dhekunu MP Hussain Shameem on behalf of the government was passed with the unanimous votes of all 52 members who took part in the vote.

Speaking to the press recently, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih had stated that amendments to the Anti Terrorism Act and the Criminal Procedure Code were necessary in order to prevent the operation of extremist religious organizations in the Maldives.

While amendments to the terrorism bill were proposed shortly afterwards, two special sittings of the parliament were held during its recess to work on the bill, on the request of 29 members from main ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

While there was concern on the bill during its initial reading, several attorneys and members of the opposition and government alike had noted that some sections of the bill were in contradiction of rights assured by the Maldivian constitution, and noted that the bill gave excessive powers to the police.

Changes to the bill during committee stage

The parliament committee on foreign relations brought 10 changes to the bill after researching it. One such change was brought to the article which stated that terrorism suspects can be detained without a court order for 48 hours before being presented in front of a judge. The committee changed the period of detainment to 24 hour, as per the constitution.

The committee added a section which stipulates that those involved in recruiting fighters for foreign wars or advocated such actions are punishable by law. According to the changes brought by the committee, those found guilty the crime can be jailed for a period between 10-15 years.

The committee also narrowed some of the punishments proposed in the bill for those guilty of offences linked to terrorism. While those who join foreign war can be sentenced to 17-20 years in jail according to the initial bill, the period was decreased to 9-12 years by the committee.

While the bill initially said that those who travel to war zones can be jailed for periods between 10-15 years, it was decreased to 5-7 years during the committee stage.

Mandatory to share report with President bi-annually

The bill mandates that a confidential report on the actions taken by government entities to prevent terrorism to be shared with the president and the parliament bi-annually.

Under the bill, police are authorized to search premises linked to terrorism and make arrests of terrorism suspects without a court order. The authority can also withhold a suspect's right to meet with their lawyers in private.

Under the bill, a building has to be constructed to detain those who return to the country after taking part in foreign wars. All accompanying children will also be accommodated at the building, although they will not be under arrest. The individuals will be housed at the building until a risk assessment is made to decide on further action.