Ruling party lawmakers on Sunday assured that media concerns over the contentious defamation bill will be duly addressed in parliament.
Three Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) parliamentarians including Ungoofaaru MP Jaufar Dawood who submitted the revised ‘Defamation and Freedom of Expression Act’ met member of the Maldives Media Council (MMC) to hear the growing concerns over the threat it poses to free media in the archipelago.
During the sit-down, the lawmakers had assured that every concern raised will be considered and would offer a chance for the media council to be heard during the parliamentary committee review of the bill, MMC said.
Media and opposition alike had appeared to have succeeded in months of efforts after the government withdrew the original 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 has tabled the debate for Monday’s sitting.
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.
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.
Meanwhile, PPM leader and former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has urged his party lawmakers to vote the controversial bill.