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Maldives opposition issues three-line whip against defamation bill

Mohamed Visham
08 August 2016, MVT 13:31
MDP lawmakers protest against the defamation bill designed to restrict freedom of expression and media in the Maldives. PHOTO/AHMED ANWAR (SIM)
Mohamed Visham
08 August 2016, MVT 13:31

Main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) parliamentary group Monday issued a three line whip against the contentious defamation bill as the government looks to push through its move to criminalise defamation.

A MDP lawmaker told Mihaaru that the three line whip mandates MPs to be present and vote against the bill.

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.

Several pro-government lawmakers had broken the three line whip during the parliament vote on the bill last week suggesting a deep division within the ruling coalition.

Government aligned Jumhoory Party (JP) had also denounced the bill.

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.

MDP parliamentary group has issued a three line whip against bill days after the party 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.

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.

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.

 

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