After years of languishing in legislative limbo, the Security Services Committee of Parliament has renewed its focus on a bill from 2019 that aims to repeal a contentious amendment to the Freedom of Peaceful Assembly Act. The bill, which had been tabled four years ago, has been reintroduced with a commitment to complete its passage by the end of this month.

The 2016 amendment in question, enacted under the aegis of then-President Abdulla Yameen, stipulated that public gatherings such as rallies or marches could only occur in locations pre-designated by the Home Ministry, or with explicit police permission. Since the amendment’s enforcement, only the carnival area has been allocated for gatherings not expressly authorised.

Kaashidhoo MP Abdullah Jabir initiated the repeal bill on 8 August 2019, criticising the existing law for significantly inhibiting freedom of assembly. Despite being passed by the Security Services Committee in October 2020, the Parliament rejected the report later that same month, sending it back to the committee for reconsideration.

On Wednesday, the committee reconvened to re-evaluate the bill, setting in motion the legislative wheels that had long been stalled. MP Ahmed Saleem proposed that the committee should finalise the bill within October, a motion that garnered majority approval. “The need for expedience cannot be overstated,” commented one committee member.

The Human Rights Commission (HRC) has also been vocal about the need to hasten the legislative process. As early as September, the HRC issued a statement pointing out that the amendment violates both Article 32 of the national constitution and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

President-elect Dr Mohamed Muizzu recently articulated his intention to work towards abolishing the restrictive provision. He expressed a commitment to restoring the right to assemble in its fullest extent through Parliamentary action.