(Oct. 28, 2008) The Maldives' government-proposed bill on freedom of assembly, drafted by the Ministry of Legal Reform, was passed by Parliament on October 20, 2008. It had been controversial, criticized by opposition members of the Parliament for restricting freedom of assembly in ways said to be contrary to article 32 of the 2008 Constitution on freedom of assembly. The bill was approved with only 22 of the 50 Parliamentarians present, on a vote of 11 to 10, with one abstention. It will now be reviewed by the Committee on Public Affairs and may be amended.
Ahmed Nasid, a member of the legislature from the Jumhooree (Republican) Party said of the proposal, “[t]his bill is really a narrowing down of basic rights. … This regime doesn't like people to get assembled and demand their rights.” In support of the bill, Aneesa Ahmed, who heads the government Dhivehi Raiyyithunge Party, stated, “[r]ights and responsibilities go hand in hand. There has to be a regulatory mechanism.” (Judith Evans, MPs Argue Freedom of Assembly Bill Unconstitutional, MINIVAN NEWS, Oct. 21, 2008, available at http://www.minivannews.com/news_detail.php?id=5218.)
The new legislation defines an assembly as a group of more than five people and limits the hours in which assemblies may form to 8:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m. It also limits the types of places in which assemblies may be held, banning them from areas near police and army buildings, the presidential palace, Parliament, the courts, Republican Square, hospitals, and mosques. Those planning assemblies are required to inform the police in advance, and police officers would be able to stop an assembly if it is considered suspicious. If a plan to assemble is disallowed by the police, the only recourse would be for organizers to apply for a court order to permit the assembly. Social Liberal Party MP Ibrahim Ismail argugd that this is the reverse of the priorities that should be in place, saying, “[i]f police want to halt an assembly based on reasonable grounds, it should be up to them to take it to court.” (Id.)