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Major rights not denied in Terrorism Act: PO Legal Counsel

Shahudha Mohamed
18 September 2019, MVT 10:24
Police officers during the special operation conducted as part of the Commission on Investigation of Murders and Enforced Disappearances' probe into the case of missing journalist Ahmed Rilwan, in September 2019. PHOTO: HUSSAIN WAHEED / MIHAARU
Shahudha Mohamed
18 September 2019, MVT 10:24

Legal Counsel of President's Office Abdulla Afeef declared on Monday night that the amendments submitted to the Prevention of Terrorism Act should not concern the public since the bill does not deny any major rights.

Speaking on Raajje TV's 'Fala Suruhee' programme, Afeef stated that the government's amendments do not propose to curtail rights as much in comparison with the laws of other countries.

Noting that acts of terrorism were of a much serious nature than other crimes, Afeef highlighted that many nations withhold basic rights in order to prevent such acts.

"We're talking about attacks that damage national security, citizen's money and lives, and economic stability", Afeef said, admitting that some freedoms were withheld by the proposed bill.

According to Afeef, it was necessary to bring amendments to the Prevention of Terrorism Act to fight the high threat level of terrorism to the country.

"The state currently believes that we will not be able to save ourselves from terror acts unless these amendments are made", said Afeef, emphasising that the amendments were proposed after studying the current state of the country and determining that the changes were necessary.

Citing an example, Afeef said that the present Act lacks a clause on how insurgents who return from fighting in other countries will be dealt with, but the bill proposes to rehabilitate them.

Declaring that acts of terrorism are very clearly stated in the bills, Afeef said the bill would ban the practice of charging activists for expressing their ideologies at podiums.

Stating that former President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom's administration used the Prevention of Terrorism Act as a weapon to jail political figures, Afeef said that the new amendments will put an end to abusing the Act this way.

"[Under the current act] individuals arrested from protests or gatherings are also charged with terrorism, claiming they instilled fear in the public. That will not happen now. People cannot be accused of terrorism for a speech delivered at a podium and cannot be jailed for something an individual does at a protest."

Furthermore, Afeef stated that the bill does not allow an excessive amount of power to Maldives Police Service, adding that arrests can only be made without a court order if Police receive intelligence reports on an imminent terror act.

Defending the bill, Afeef said, "This is a bill that must be brought right now for the safety and security of the people."

He stated that the bill will not prevent suspects arrested on terrorism charges to have a lawyer present during interrogations.

However, Afeef expressed his support for not allowing private meetings with lawyers if authorities had reason to believe this may interfere with their work to neutralize an imminent threat.

"If giving them such rights endanger the public, in crimes of this nature, limiting their rights is something that can be done."

The bill submitted by the state to the parliament includes amendments which allow Police to make arrests without warrant, and criminalises endorsing and speaking in favour of terrorist groups.

In addition, suspects arrested for terrorism will not be released on bail. The amendment also prohibits those convicted of certain terrorist acts from receiving reduced sentences or pardons.

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