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MDP slams govt after committee snubs public say over defamation bill

Mohamed Visham
07 August 2016, MVT 10:51
Some lawmakers of the 11 member parliamentary committee tasked with reviewing the contentious defamation bill. MIHAARU PHOTO/NISHAN ALI
Mohamed Visham
07 August 2016, MVT 10:51

Main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) on Saturday lambasted the government's push to criminalise defamation after the parliamentary committee tasked with reviewing the Defamation Bill decided to disregard public opinion on the much debated draft bill.

In a statement, MDP accused the government of exploiting its control in parliament to expedite the bill to "end of freedom of speech, press freedom and democracy in the country."

Criminalises “defamatory” speech, remarks, writings, and other actions such as even a gesture.

In also targeting any actions against “any tenet of Islam” any actions that “threaten national security” or “contradict general social norms,” the Bill is vaguely formulated to hit a wide target.

Politicians, social media commentators and any others become an easy target of the hefty court- imposed penalty of a fine of between rufiyaa 50,000 (US$3,200) and rufiyaa MVR2 million (US$130,000).

There is no recourse to appeal this fine

if unable to pay the fine, will face a jail term of between three and six months.

Newspapers and websites, which publish “defamatory” comments, could also have their licenses revoked.

Burden of proof is laid on the media source, rather than on the claimant.

Prevents journalists from reporting allegations if the accused refuses to comment, preventing coverage of speeches at political rallies.

Gives Government authorities sweeping powers to target journalists and media outlets.

It does not specify which authority is mandated with monitoring, and it is unclear how much of the fine would proceed to the claimant, and how much to the State.

Local journalists protest against the government move to criminalise defamation near the parliament on Monday. MIHAARU PHOTO/HUSSAIN SHAYAAH

The Bill has triggered a free speech campaign by local journalists as well as attracted unprecedented international criticism, for its stifling effect on freedom of expression and media freedom in the tiny island nation.

The parliamentary committee with overwhelming government majority is looking to complete the review before August 25, but had decided to consult main media outlets the public, several state and independent institutions.

Media groups who were summoned to the Committee, were forcefully critical of the Bill, reiterating that it would mean an end to press freedom in the country.

However, during the sit-down on Friday the committee with overwhelming government majority voted against seeking public opinion over the bill.

The committee also voted that the concerns it has heard were enough and decided not to summon any more state institutions.

The committee had originally decided to summon the main registered media outlets, 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).

That means the committee would no longer hear the views of key state institutions including the Attorney General, Prosecutor General (PG) and the security forces.

The committee said it had made the decision as the Fiqh Academy- the State’s now defunct religious council had declared the Bill to be "Islamic, and in keeping with Islamic values."

The Fiqh Academy justified the hefty fines and making defamation a criminal offense, by referencing Saudi Arabian and Sudanese laws.

"These actions, once again, demonstrate the Government- dominated Parliament’s readiness in subverting the will of the people, and in rubber- stamping the heavy handedness of the Executive," MDP said in the statement.

Despite the outcry the parliament is expected to pass the bill this week.

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