Maldives govt ‘won’t change’ defamation bill despite media outcry

Vilufushi MP Riyaz Rasheed (R) pictured during a parliamentary committee meeting. MIHAARU FILE PHOTO/NISHAN ALI

Vilufushi MP Riyaz Rasheed (R) pictured during a parliamentary committee meeting. MIHAARU FILE PHOTO/NISHAN ALI

The government is not in a “rush” to push through the controversial defamation bill, but despite concerns by the media, the government controlled parliament would not consider any amendments, a senior ruling party lawmaker said Saturday.

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.”

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

But a 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.

  • 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

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.

Home ministry which has been given the authority to penalise media outlets are obligated to file a police complaint for any violation. Police in turn must forward the case to the prosecutor after investigation.

Ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) deputy parliamentary group leader Riyaz Rasheed insisted that pro-government lawmakers will not hear any more amendments to the bill.

“Even if we do it on Monday or the next day, the result would be the same,” the Vilufushi MP Riyaz stressed.

Journalists have once again slammed the government’s continuous efforts to silence free media in the archipelago.

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