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Gayoom urges ruling party MPs to vote down defamation bill

Mohamed Visham
31 July 2016, MVT 19:49
Ruling PPM leader and former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom speaks during the press conference on Thursday. MIHAARU PHOTO/MOHAMED SHARUHAAN
Mohamed Visham
31 July 2016, MVT 19:49

Ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has revealed his stand over the government's move to criminalise defamation by urging his party lawmakers to vote the controversial bill.

The government controlled parliament is set to ignore a public outcry over a move to criminalise defamation with the debate on the controversial bill tabled on the agenda for Monday’s sitting.

In a leaked message which the former president shared on a Viber Group with PPM parliamentarians, Gayoom said he was against the passing of the bill.

"As the party leader, I'm obligated to voice my opinion for the benefit of the party and the Maldivian people over any decision made by each and every body of this party," Gayoom's message read.

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.

A journalist speaks to a police officer during a recent silent protest held against the defamation bill. MIHAARU PHOTO/MOHAMED SHARUHAAN

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.

Gayoom's stand over the defamation bill would further infuriate his half brother and incumbent president Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom.

The elder Gayoom had also recently opposed an amendment to the tourism Act sparking an ugly power struggle between the two brothers for the ruling party control.

Gayoom had moved quickly to assume full control of the party amid a fallout from his failed attempt to get his party lawmakers to vote down the amendment which sought to bypass the bidding process in island lease for tourism.

The party’s disciplinary committee had ignored a ban on all party sit-downs imposed by Gayoom to vote out Faaris and another council member Aminath Nadhira from the party.

Nadhira served as the executive coordinator at the gender ministry before being dismissed after speaking publicly in support of Gayoom.

But Gayoom has refused to ax his son and Nadhira from the party insisting that the disciplinary committee had been held in violation of the party’s charter.

In an unprecedented turn of events, a faction loyal to Yameen had walked out of a PPM council meeting in protest against the presence of Faaris and Nadhira in the council.

The majority of the council loyal to Yameen insisted that members voted out of the party by the disciplinary committee had no place in the council.

Former president Gayoom (R) greets his half brother and incumbent president Yameen. PHOTO/PRESIDENT'S OFFICE

Gayoom had called in the emergency council meeting after a long hiatus in a bid to resolve the rift with his half brother Yameen and push his reform program.

Some member loyal to the elder Gayoom believe that president Yameen had ordered the walkout.

PPM lawmakers loyal to president Yameen have meanwhile decided to amend the law putting an age cap of 65 years for political party leaders in a bid to oust Gayoom.

The amendment would effectively put an end to Gayoom’s rein as the PPM leader.

Gayoom had also recently rejected a petition by the party council to gift the party’s presidential ticket to president Yameen for his re-election in 2018 without a primary.

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