Maldives govt lawmaker defends defamation bill, says concerns baseless

Ungoofaaru MP Jaufar Dawood pictured in parliament. PHOTO/PARLIAMENT SECRETARIAT

Ungoofaaru MP Jaufar Dawood pictured in parliament. PHOTO/PARLIAMENT SECRETARIAT

The concerns voiced by media and opposition over the controversial defamation bill are completely baseless and the government had no intention of withdrawing the bill, ruling party lawmaker Jaufar Dawood said Sunday.

The Ungoofaaru MP had submitted a revised bill after the ‘Defamation and Freedom of Expression Act’ was submitted by the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) Parliamentary Group leader MP Ahmed Nihan in March.

Dawood said his intentions were quite “sincere” and insisted that there was no reason to withdraw the bill.

“The bill has been drafted from a religious perspective,” he explained.

If the bill does not contradict the constitution there is no reason to withdraw it, he stressed.

  • To prove whether the comments in an article is considered defamatory is the responsibility of the media that publishes the comments
  • Failure to contact an individual to obtain a comment to which the news refers to is indefensible in court
  • Individual journalists are made liable to the news that are published
  • No chance of appeal until the fine is paid
  • Jail term for failure to pay the fine

“There is no reason to withdraw the bill. If an article is written about a person then the media must take responsibility for it,” he added.

Dawood also defended allegations that the bill has been designed to cover up and prevent media from reporting on government corruption, saying that the media has exploited the right to press freedom.

“Currently there is no limit to what the media can report on,” he said.

Some local journalists pictured during a sit-down protest in capital male calling on the government to ensure media freedom in the Maldives. FILE PHOTO

Some local journalists pictured during a sit-down protest in capital male calling on the government to ensure media freedom in the Maldives. FILE PHOTO

Media and opposition alike appeared to have succeeded in months of efforts after the government withdrew a controversial bill criminalising defamation.

But the new bill which has completely ignored every concern raised by journalists has made its way to the parliament and the government controlled parliament is set to fast track it into law.

The first reading of the bill was held during the parliament sitting on Tuesday with reliable sources within the ruling parliamentary group saying that the government lawmakers would look to pass the bill on Monday.

The original bill, prescribed hefty fines of between MVR50, 000 (US$3,200) and MVR5 million (US$324,000) as penalties for violations, with offenders who fail to pay the court-imposed fine will face a one-year jail term.

The new draft bill has only made ‘cosmetic changes’ reducing the maximum fine from the original MVR5 million to MVR2 million. Failure to pay the fine would lead to a jail term between three to six months.

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