President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom on Thursday ignored calls to veto a contentious bill which criminalises defamation to sign the bill into law.
The law, which the government pushed through its control in the parliament despite widespread international criticism, criminalizes defamatory speech, remarks, writings and actions that include gestures deemed to be against “any tenet of Islam”.
The government controlled 11 member parliamentary committee had completely rebuffed the concerns raised by the media.
The new provisions that were included in the bill were not opened for public review and restricts freedom of expression even further.
- Criminalises “defamatory” speech, remarks, writings, and other actions such as even a gesture or a sound.
- In also targeting any actions against “any tenet of Islam” any actions that “threaten national security” or “contradict general social norms,” the Bill is vaguely formulated to hit a wide target.
- Court- imposed penalty of a fine of between rufiyaa 50,000 (US$3,200) and rufiyaa MVR2 million (US$130,000).
- Individual journalists are made liable with a fine between MVR50,000 and MVR150,000
- There is no recourse to appeal this fine.
- if unable to pay the fine, will face a jail term of between three and six months.
- Newspapers and websites, which publish “defamatory” comments, could also have their licenses revoked.
- Burden of proof is laid on the media source, rather than on the claimant.
- Prevents journalists from reporting allegations if the accused refuses to comment, preventing coverage of speeches at political rallies.
- Gives Government authorities sweeping powers to target journalists and media outlets.
- Unclear how much of the fine would proceed to the claimant, and how much to the State.
- Claimants have the right to demand media outlets to immediately stop live feeds.
- Compels journalists to disclose an information source.
The bill now compels journalists to reveal their sources to prove the veracity of their published articles, news reports or comments and allows for media licenses to be cancelled in addition to the criminal liability faced by individual journalists.
The dangerous new provisions greatly hinder the functioning of an independent media devoid of intimidation and is less about providing redress for victims of defamation.
Those found guilty of breaking the new law will be fined between 50,000 Maldivian rufiya ($3,200) and 2 million rufiya ($130,000) or face a jail term of between three and six months.
As per a new provision, the bill has become law immediately upon ratification.
President Yameen has ratified the defamation bill a day after a United Nations human rights expert sharply criticized a law and urged president Yameen to veto the bill.