The MDP is Deeply Concerned by the new Bill Criminalising Defamation, the Restrictions on Free Speech; Condemns this Hefty Blow to Maldives’ Democracy

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), is deeply concerned about the new bill passed by the Government- controlled Parliament today. The bill, which will come into force immediately, will impose severe restrictions on free speech, encroaching upon a number of Constitutional and fundamental freedoms.

Most at stake is the Maldives’ already precarious press freedom, which faces distressing restrictions with the advent of the new Law.

While the entire opposition voted against the Bill, a number of Government MPs also defied their party whip- line in protest against the draconian law.

The bill includes a fine between MVR25,000 (US$1,621) to MVR2million (US$130,000) for slander and remarks and content that threaten national security, Islam and breach social norms (the average salary of a civil servant or journalist is less than $500). If a person found guilty by the court is not able to pay the fine, they will face jail for up to six months.

Journalists face fines up to MVR150,00 (US$9,727), are forced to disclose their sources and media regulators are authorised to suspend licenses or interrupt live coverage of events immediately for any accusation of coverage of slander, This includes authority over the broadcasting of foreign media programmes. The Bill also violates the Constitution by authorising the watchdogs to obstruct coverage of the Parliament. Under Article 40, anyone with a social media account is categorised as a “reporter,” and “thoughts” are categorised under “expression, thereby conflating Freedom of Expression with Freedom of Thought.” The burden of proof lies with the defendant, including for whistle-blowers, and penalises both the journalist as well as the outlet.

Speaking during the debate, Minority Leader, Ibrahim M. Solih criticised the curtailing of Parliamentary procedure in expediting the Bill.

• The Government- controlled Committee recalled the opening for the public to propose ammendments.
• The Government then proposed a final draft, which not only ignored all the concerns raised by the media, and the opposition, but also imposed further restrictions on the media.
• MPs were given the Committee report an hour before the deadline for ammendments, two hours before the debate, and four hours before they were meant to vote on the report.

“Today marks the end of free speech in the Maldives. The hard- won rights of all Maldivians have been sacrificed in an attempt to stamp out dissent and to silence the voices calling for an end to the Yameen rule. This law has no place in a democracy and therefore is incongruent with the future Maldivians envisage for themselves. A Government that would need to impose such controls on its own people has no legitimacy here anymore,”
said MDP Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor.