Maldives govt relents, withdraws controversial defamation bill

Journalists pictured during a protest calling on the government to ensure media freedom in the Maldives. PHOTO/MALDIVES INDEPENDENT

Journalists pictured during a protest calling on the government to ensure media freedom in the Maldives. PHOTO/MALDIVES INDEPENDENT

Government on Thursday relented to local and international pressure to withdraw a controversial bill criminalising defamation.

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 that sparked a public outcry with local media dubbing the bill as the “death of free media and speech in the Maldives.”

The draft law, prescribes 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.

Newspapers and websites that publish “defamatory content” may also have their licenses revoked, while the draft law says that the constitutional right to freedom of speech can be narrowed or restricted if an expression contradicts a tenet of Islam, threatens national security, defames or causes damage to an individual, or violates societal norms.

Local media also lambasted the government by pointing out that the bill will ‘’prevent journalists and citizens from speaking out over serious accusations of corruption and the integrity of state officials’.

The Villi-Maafannu MP Nihan told Mihaaru that the government had decided to withdraw the bill and submit a more “media friendly” bill instead.

“I proposed a really strong bill. So instead of chopping it up, I decided to withdraw the bill,” Nihan said.

Nihan said the new bill being drafted would enable much more room for freedom of speech and media.

He however, did not give any details of the new draft bill.

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