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Tuesday, 3 February 2009
Page: 110

Mr Danby asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, in writing, on 10 November 2008:

(1)   Will he confirm that on 7 August 2008 the President of the Maldives, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, ratified a new constitution designed to bring key democratic reforms to the country, including a bill of rights.

(2)   Will he confirm that the new constitution is based on the common Maldivian assumption that any citizen of the Maldives is a Muslim because in the Maldives: (a) non-Muslims may not become citizens; and (b) no law contrary to any tenet of Islam will be enacted.

(3)   Will he confirm that as a consequence of (2), around 3,000 Maldivians will lose their citizenship, and it will also affect anyone who converts from Islam in the future?

(4)   What is the Australian Government’s position on such developments in the Maldives.

(5)   What action will the Australian Government take concerning such developments in the Maldives.

Mr Stephen Smith (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:

(1)   Yes

(2) (a)   Yes: Article 9(d) of the Constitution states that a non-Muslim may not become a citizen of Maldives. (b) Yes: Article 10(b) of the Constitution specifies that no law contrary to any tenet of Islam will be enacted.

(3)   We are not aware of any Maldivians losing their citizenship due to the enactment of the new Constitution. The Attorney General’s Department of the Maldives has advised DFAT that citizens who convert from Islam in the future would not lose their citizenship. But the new Constitution remains untested in a court of law in this respect. The Constitution, Article 9 (b), states that “No citizen of Maldives may be deprived of citizenship”.

(4)   The Australian Government supports the right to religious freedom.

(5)   The Government, via the Australian High Commission in Colombo, will continue to engage the new Government of Maldives with regard to democratic reform and human rights issues.