South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR), a regional network of human rights defenders, strongly condemn the legalization of the Anti-Defamation and Freedom of Expression Act by The Maldivian Parliament on 9 August, 2016 and for not addressing the serious concerns raised and amendments suggested by civil society, political parties, and the international community. The law criminalizes defamatory speech, remarks writings and other actions including a gesture and targets actions against any tenet of Islam in the Muslim-majority Country. The bill was passed by a 16-vote majority led by President Abdulla Yameen’s ruling Progressive Party of Maldives. SAHR believes that this bill restricts freedom of expression even further which has been enshrined in Article 27 of the Constitution.
Those found guilty 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. Publications, including websites, found carrying ‘defamatory’ comments against government could also have their licenses revoked. It is also disappointing to note that the inclusion of new provisions in the Act were not opened for the public to review.
According to Transparency Maldives “The new Defamation Law compels journalists to reveal their sources to prove the veracity of their published articles, news reports or comments. Article 18(c) of the Act clearly contravenes Article 28 of the Constitution that offers complete protection to journalists from having to reveal their sources under any circumstance. Article 33(a) of the Act allows for media licenses to be cancelled in addition to the criminal liability faced by specific journalists. Similarly, Article 36 gives way to disrupt the functioning of any particular media during a live event and compels the determination of the broadcast content by almost anyone.”
This new Anti-Defamation and Freedom of Expression Act of the Government is a serious setback for the freedom of expression in the country at a time when the media are been clampdown and many journalist are being detained. The crisis of democracy is manifested by pervasive nepotism and corruption, misappropriation of state funds, an absence of transparency and accountability in public administration, a lack of respect for the rule of law and ethical behavior in public life. SAHR has been working for the protection and promotion of human rights in the Maldives while continuously raising concerns about the deterioration of the Rule of Law in the county. Towards this, SAHR released a fact finding mission report titled “Justice Adrift: Rule of Law and Political Crisis in the Maldives” in August 2015.
SAHR continues to express strong support for all Maldivian people who are struggling to preserve their hard won democratic institutions, human rights and freedom of expression in their land.
On behalf of the members of South Asians for Human Rights
Dr. Nimalka Fernando