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Defamation bill is an attack on free speech, says Amnesty

Mohamed Visham
30 July 2016, MVT 13:35
A journalist speaks to a police officer during a recent silent protest held against the defamation bill. MIHAARU PHOTO/MOHAMED SHARUHAAN
Mohamed Visham
30 July 2016, MVT 13:35

The controversial defamation bill would increase the government's control on independent media and stifle freedom of expression in the Maldives, Amnesty International said Friday.

The government is rushing to pass a revised version of the ‘Defamation and Freedom of Expression Act’ which has sparked public outcry with media and opposition describing the bill as the end of free media and speech in the Maldives.

The new bill has completely ignored every concern raised by journalists has made its way to the parliament and the government controlled parliament is set to fast track it into law.

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.

To prove whether the comments in an article is considered defamatory is the responsibility of the media that publishes the comments

Failure to contact an individual to obtain a comment to which the news refers to is indefensible in court

Individual journalists are made liable to the news that are published

No chance of appeal until the fine is paid

Jail term for failure to pay the fine

Amnesty International in a statement expressed concern over the "vaguely formulated" bill which gives the authorities wide discretion to target and silence journalists or media outlets critical of the government.

The global rights group further called on the government to scrap the proposed bill or to substantially revise it to meet the requirements of international human rights law and standards.

"The Maldives authorities should create an environment where journalists and other media workers can exercise their right to freedom of expression peacefully without fear of reprisals.

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