Home minister plans law changes to boost police power

Maldives on 07 April 2015
Location : Maldives | Source : Minivan News; Image Source: Minivan News

The government is preparing changes to several laws to increase police powers and remove “loopholes”, Home Minister Umar Naseer told police at an anniversary event last night.

At a ceremony to mark the 82nd anniversary of the Maldives Police Service, Naseer said existing laws were unsuited to the Maldives, making it harder to maintain public order, and needed to be revised to reflect the country’s “unique circumstances”.

He appealed for cooperation from MPs to “solve problems in laws that conflict with the Maldivian environment.”

“The result of making laws disproportionate to the state’s means, the Maldives’ geography, and the state’s resources is police not arresting a person unless they are absolutely forced to,” he said.

A coat tailor-made for a “tall, bulky Englishman” would be ill-fitting for a “short Maldivian in tropical Maldives”, Naseer said.

Naseer’s remarks come in the wake of a recent spike in violence in Malé that saw the murder of a 29-year-old on Saturday night.

While public anger was directed towards the police following the incidents, Naseer said police should not consider all such criticism as politically motivated, suggesting it stemmed from ignorance of obstacles faced by police.

The public were unaware of loopholes in the law that allowed criminals to go free, he said.

The home minister said several laws passed after the adoption of the 2008 constitution were copied from England and pose difficulties for law enforcement.

As a consequence, Naseer argued, expensive police operations intended to protect society from criminals become exercises in futility.

Presenting detainees before a judge within 24 hours was also difficult and costly due to the geographical dispersion of Maldivian islands, he said.

Moreover, Naseer suggested that constitutional rights of people arrested by police should be restricted or narrowed for the good of the whole society.

In his speech at the function, President Abdulla Yameen also argued that the safety and security of the community trumped individual rights.

President Yameen pledged to do everything in the government’s power to curb violent crime.

The government has decided that the army will assist police in security operations, he added.

Narrowing constitutional rights

In December, the People’s Majlis amended a 2010 law banning “threats and carrying dangerous weapons and sharp objects” and restricted the rights to remain silent and retain legal counsel for suspects arrested for violent assault.

Suspects accused of murder, or of causing death or loss of limb and organ by assault, cannot exercise the right to remain silent “to any extent” and will only be able to speak to their lawyer for the first 96 hours of arrest in the presence of the police.

Further, suspects will only be allowed six hours to appoint a lawyer. If the suspect fails to appoint a lawyer or if the lawyer is not able to present a valid reason for absence, police are authorised to question the suspect without a lawyer.

The amendments also relaxed requirements for courts in extending pre-trial detention.

Advocacy NGOs the Maldivian Democracy Network and Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative said the amendments “absolutely violate… fundamental rights of the people” and would “seriously hinder the democratic system Maldives has transited to”.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) meanwhile released a statement yesterday noting that seven out of 12 murders since December 2013 occurred in the capital Malé.

Instead of combating crime, MDP contended that police resources were being deployed to “weaken peaceful political activities”.

Public trust in the police institution has fallen to unprecedented levels, the statement continued, whilst police are suspected of committing a number of “atrocities”.

Incidents of police brutality, discrimination in providing services, and using obscene language against protesters have also increased, the party said, insisting the police leadership should bear responsibility for this state of affairs.

“Misusing powers granted to police by laws in order to maintain public safety and using resources provided to police through public funds towards political ends are alien to democratic norms and mechanisms and conflicts with best practices of the police service,” the MDP statement read.

Police said last week that 162 protesters have been arrested since February and police have forwarded cases involving 95 protesters, including two MPs, to the Prosecutor General’s Office.

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