Non-Muslims To Lose Citizenship Under New Constitution

Information minister Mohamed Nasheed has admitted on his personal blog that Maldivians who convert away from Islam, or who are children of Maldivians married to non-Muslims, risk losing their citizenship of the country under the constitution in progress.

The issue is believed to have been raised with government by international diplomats visiting Maldives during the development of the constitution.

A prominent lawyer who wished to remain anonymous told Minivan News the clause was “not practical” and would “formally introduce asylum seekers from the Maldives”, doing “more harm than good in the international community”.

He also acknowledged “practical” issues with the clause, saying it would be difficult to implement.

But Nasheed says a last-minute change is unlikely, because “it will be very difficult for Maldives mentality to accept Maldives citizens may belong to a different faith…No Maldives leader would want to rock the boat.”

The anonymous lawyer agreed public pressure was likely to prevent parliamentarians from opposing the clause.

The constitution has still not been finalised, and the attorney general’s office (AGO) has now raised over 200 issues of consistency, wording and practicality, to be addressed by the constitutional drafting committee and Special Majlis (constitutional assembly) before ratification. However the citizenship question does not appear on the list.

And presidential candidates were reluctant to adopt a position on the issue ahead of the country’s first multi-party presidential elections, expected once the constitution comes into force.

Former attorney general Dr Hassan Saeed, now standing as an independent candidate, said the issue was of “very little relevance” as “we do not have a non-Muslim population”.

Mohamed Nasheed (Anni), contesting on the largest opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) ticket, said the MDP “can’t have a position outside the constitution”.

However another candidate, Umar Naseer of the Islamic Democratic Party (IDP), said to local newspaper Miadhu: “In my government there would be no chance [of] any other religion.”

And Sheikh Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari, head of the religious Adhaalath party scholars’ council, told Minivan News in a May 13 interview he personally supported the tightening of citizenship regulation.

Citizenship is dealt with in the existing constitution, in force since 1998, in clause 5, which reads as follows: “Persons mentioned herein below shall be citizens of the Maldives: (a) every person who is a citizen of the Maldives at the commencement of this Constitution; (b) every child born to a citizen of the Maldives; and (c) every foreigner who, in accordance with the law, becomes a citizen of the Maldives.”

But the constitution in progress adds additional subclauses which specify (in unofficial translation) that “citizenship cannot be wrested away from a citizen of the Maldives”, “Any person who wishes to relinquish his citizenship may do so in accordance with law,” and “despite [earlier] provisions…a non-Muslim may not become a citizen of the Maldives.”

Despite the wording specifying citizenship cannot be “wrested away”, lawyers and government interpret the clause as removing citizenship from those who leave Islam or are children of non-Muslims.

“No Maldives politician would want to take the case up,” said Nasheed on his blog. Yet, he contends, “they all would privately agree that citizenship of the country he is born in, or his parents belong to, is…a human right.”

The anonymous lawyer said that because parliament is televised and “they [MPs] want to get re-elected”, a change through parliament was unlikely, but also said it would be “difficult” to reduce the impact of the clause through legislation.

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