Home Minister Sheikh Imran Abdulla says Maldives is at high risk unless it takes immediate action to counter terrorism and amend existing counter-terrorism laws.
Speaking on this Thursday’s episode of Sun’s 50 Minute web series, Imran said the Easter bombings in Sri Lanka earlier this year served to prove the menacing reality of the threat of terrorism in the South East Asian region.
He said that assessments showed Maldives to be vulnerable to terrorist attacks and the need for immediate action to prevent terrorist attacks.
“Our assessments show Maldives is potentially vulnerable unless we take proactive action,” said Imran, stressing the need to revise the country’s existing counter-terrorism laws.
He said that the current counter-terrorism act had loopholes which was creating barriers to stopping terrorism. He said the act currently did not allow convictions for Maldivian citizens who take part in militant activities abroad.
He said the current legal definition of terrorism and the burden of proof required to prove guilt for terrorism posed major challenges.
“It poses a huge challenge to countering terrorism when the signs evident from their bodies, the multiple signs evident from their bodies, cannot be submitted as evidence [to court] when they are radicalized in Maldives and travel abroad to such areas, live there, and then return back home,” said Imran.
“Currently, if a person travels to such a place and live there, and even if there is proof of it, such a person cannot be charged unless there’s proof the person committed a specific crime while there,” said Imran, noting that the new counter-terrorism bill establishes the mere act of travelling to a war zone as a crime.
He stressed that the government needed to amend the counter-terrorism act in order to remove such legal challenges.
‘BILL GRANTS SAME POWERS AS THOSE GRANTED TO LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES OF OTHER COUNTRIES’
The counter-terrorism bill currently under evaluation by the Parliament is designed to grant law enforcement agencies additional powers including the authority to arrest terror suspects without a court warrant, the authority to 48 hours before they need to be presented before a judge for remand, the authority to search the private property of terror suspects without a court warrant, and the authority to strip search terror suspects if there is valid reason to suspect he/she may be hiding evidence on his/her person.
According to Imran, law enforcement agencies of other countries are empowered with the same powers in dealing with terror suspects.
He said that the counter-terrorism bill was drafted after research on counter-terrorism laws of other countries, and that it was far less harsh than the laws of other countries.
“Looking at the proposed amendments, counter-terrorism laws of other democratic countries also allow for more powers than allowed under any other law to deal with terrorism. One may say these new powers are far lighter than those allowed or desired by other modern democracies,” said Imran.
He said that amending the existing counter-terrorism act was crucial to counter terrorism.
When questioned over concerns regarding certain clauses of the bill being contradictory to the Maldivian Constitution, Imran said that he did not believe the Parliament would pass any law which contradicted the Constitution.
Noting that the bill is currently under parliamentary committee evaluation, Imran said the government was engaged in talks to push the Parliament to allow the authority to hold terror suspects for 48 hours under special circumstances even if other aspects of the bill are revised.
“For example, a major incident may occur which may take more than 24 hours and which require the State to shoulder the burden of far larger concerns than taking them [suspects] to their remand hearing. Such circumstances require more than 24 hours [to hold suspects],” said Imran.
He said that existing laws did not accommodate consideration of such extenuating circumstances, and allowed suspects to walk free if they aren’t presented for remand within 24 hours.
He said the freedom of such suspects posed potentially grave consequences.
“We are in talks with the Parliament to accommodate a measure for such circumstances even if it [the law] says 24 hours. Or to allow for certain exceptions,” said Imran.
“The standard will remain 24 hours. But the judge will have the discretion to determine a certain circumstance or national emergency as a plausible exception,” he added.
Imran expressed confidence concerns over the bill will be quelled once it is evaluated, amended, and passed.