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Committee sought defunct religious academy opinion over defamation bill

Mohamed Visham
07 August 2016, MVT 15:36
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 15:36

The members of a defunct religious council offering their expert opinion over the controversial defamation bill has thrown its validity in to question.

The 11 member parliamentary committee reviewing the bill 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).

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 said it had made the decision as the Fiqh Academy 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.

However, the parliament in April had amended the 1994 Religious Unity Act to set up a new Supreme Council for Islamic affairs with the authority to issue fatwas or legal opinions on religious disputes.

The five-member council is to comprise of two members chosen by the president, a judge selected by the chief justice, a board member of the Islamic University and a member chosen by the Islamic ministry.

The new council must formulate rules and regulations governing the issuance of fatwas as well as the council’s administrative functions within six months

According to the amendment, the council would replace the Figh Academy, established during the administration of former President Mohamed Nasheed in 2010.

Prominent lawyers who spoke to Mihaaru insisted that the Figh academy no longer exists.

As president Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom is yet to establish a council office and appoint members, the four people who represented the Figh Academy during the sit-down with the parliamentary committee had no legal authority, lawyers pointed out.

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 currently reviewing the bill had said it was looking to complete the review and send it back to the parliament floor before August 25.

Meanwhile, the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) has asked lawmakers to remain in the capital Male this week for an “important” parliament vote which is believed to be the defamation bill.

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