The controversial defamation bill would pave the way for corruption in the Maldives, government aligned Jumhoory Party (JP) leader Gasim Ibrahim said Wednesday insisting that he would vote against the bill.
The business tycoon during a sit-down with journalist leading the campaign against the government move to criminalise defamation, said the bill was in direct contradiction with the constitution.
Flanked by some of the JP lawmakers, Gasim said the bill would seriously constrict freedom of expression in the archipelago.
“This would be a great a crime against the people,” the Maamigili MP said.
Several pro-government lawmakers broke the three line whip during the parliament vote on the bill on Monday suggesting a deep division within the ruling coalition.
Several parliamentarians from JP had also voted against accepting the bill which was pointed out by Gasim.
The bill is now being reviewed by the 11 member committee which also has overwhelming government majority before it goes back to the parliament floor for a vote.
Gasim insisted that he would not hesitate to issue a three-line whip against the bill if it does not undergo major revisions during the committee stage.
“I will definitely press red [No], he assured.
Meanwhile the parliamentary committee tasked with reviewing the contentious defamation bill is set to consult 14 different state institutions including main media outlets.
Hours after the bill was accepted, the committee convened and elected its chair and co-chair, both from the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM).
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.
According to the new draft bill, the media must report objectively on speeches and addresses with comments from all relevant parties. Failure to contact an individual to obtain a comment to which the news refers to is indefensible in court.
The particular clause would prove a major challenge for television and radio stations during live broadcasts. For example, if a political gathering is broadcast live, the media outlet could be made accountable for any individual comments or speeches given during the rally.
In addition to broadcast media, the clause could make life difficult for bringing live updates on online newspapers and social media.
The general public could also face heavy penalties for simply airing a personal opinion on any social networking site as social media has been included with media outlets, websites and blogs in the bill.
This means that posting a comment on Facebook or Twitter could be slapped with a hefty fine or even jail term.
The public is in even greater danger from the bill than media outlets. As media outlets found in violation of the bill would first face a civil lawsuit while cases against private individuals would be directly filed with the police.
Police then must investigate the case and has the authority to seek criminal charges.
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.
d to summon the main registered media outlets, media council, 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).