19 November 2007

Non-muslim Maldivians could become stateless with the new Constitution

The Special Majlis (Constitutional Assembly) have passed an amendment stating that only Muslims can be Maldivian citizens. The amendment to Article 9 (Citizens of Maldives) of  Chapter One (State, Sovereignty and Citizens) of the Constitution was proposed by H.Dh member Abdulla Naseer and seconded by G.A member Ibrahim Khalil Abdulla.

Prior to the amendment (following another amendment proposed by Addu member Husnu-Suood) the article was as follows :

(A) The following persons are citizens of the Maldives:

1-Citizens of the Maldives at the commencement of this constitution
2-Children born to a citizen of the Maldives; and
3-Foreigners who, in accordance to the law becomes citizens of the Maldives.

(B) The citizenship of Maldives cannot be taken away from a citizen of Maldives.

(C) Any person who wishes to renounce the citizenship, can do so in accordance with the law.

Abdulla Naseer then proposed to add a 'D' to this list as follows:

(D) even if (A) of this article states so, none except a Muslim can become a citizen of Maldives.

From the 83 members (of the total 112) present at the time of vote; 78 members voted in favor, 2 members voted to remain neutral, but none of the members voted against this amendment.

A prominent lawyer and one of the members who voted to be neutral, Addu member Husnu-Suood said he feared that, with this amendment, a number of Maldivians may lose their right to be citizens of Maldives or even worse; become stateless.

"According to the current Constitution of Maldives, Children of every Maldivian mother and every Maldivian father are citizens of Maldives. Even I know of some Maldivians who are following religions other than Islam. Some of them are living in Australia, some even in Europe.They hold Maldivian passport. According to the current constitution the door to become a citizen of Maldives is open to people of all religions. That door is not closed. Things were like that, but when this was passed today, once the new constitution is passed and comes into effect; some Maldivians will lose their right to remain as citizens of Maldives" said Husnu-Suood. He also said this amendment "will lead to many legal problems".

Another lawyer Raa member and vice president of the Majlis, Shaheen Hameed said this amendment contradicts with the other points of this article. "Now we will have to see who remains as Muslims at the time of adopting the new constitution, before we take them as citizens of Maldives", he said.

Although the current constitution does not specifically mention this, any person found 'guilty' of following or preaching , or simply reading texts of other religions are punished till he or she reverts to Islam. Religious views contradicting the state's version of Islam are also not tolerated and a person can even be punished for praying in a certain way, or carrying a buddha statue, or wearing a crucifix.

[sources: haveeru, majlis website - pdf]

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