Maldives’ only newspaper urges lawmakers to withdraw defamation bill

Top journalists from Maldives' only newspaper Mihaaru pictured at the parliamentary committee reviewing the defamation bill on Wednesday. MIHAARU PHOTO/MOHAMED SHARUHAAN

Top journalists from Maldives’ only newspaper Mihaaru pictured at the parliamentary committee reviewing the defamation bill on Wednesday. MIHAARU PHOTO/MOHAMED SHARUHAAN

The only newspaper in the Maldives on Wednesday urged lawmakers to withdraw the controversial defamation bill and stop the efforts to criminalise defamation.

Mihaaru assistant editor Ahmed Abdulla Saeed told the parliamentary committee reviewing the ‘Defamation and Freedom of Expression Act’ that lawmakers should abondon efforts to criminalise defamation and instead look to offer compensation for slander and libel through civil lawsuits.

“We don’t believe in criminalising defamation,” Saeed said.

He said the bill contradicts the constitution, Islamic Shariah and several international covennats Maldives is party to.

Saeed also noted that international rights groups were pushing to de-criminalise defamation.

“We don’t want and have no intention of publishing libel. That’s not how we practice journalism,” Saeed stressed.

After weeks of protests and voicing concerns had appeared to have paid dividends as the government was seemingly forced to withdraw the bill dubbed as the death of free media and speech in the archipelago in June.

However, 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.

Mihaaru also pointed out that the bill prevents an appeal until the fine is paid.

Managing Editor Ismail Naseer alleged that the bill has been designed to destroy free media in the Maldives.

“This bill has not been drafted to protect people against defamation. But it rather prevents media freedom,” Naseer lamendted.

Human rights groups and media organisations have expressed concern that the bill is being proposed at a time when large-scale corruption allegations against senior government officials are being investigated, so as to silence media exposure of such allegations.

The media has rallied to launch an extensive campaign to raise public awareness on the dangers of the bill.

The parliamentary committee is looking to complete the review before August 25, but has decided to consult several state and independent institutions.

The committee has decided to summon the main registered media outlets, broadcasting commission, Islamic University, Fiqh Academy, National University, Film Association, Human Rights Commission, Lawyers Association, Police, Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF), Attorney General and the Prosecutor General (PG).

The committee earlier Wednesday consulted the Maldives Media Council where members also shared concerns over the contentious bill.

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