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UN, US echo concern over Maldives defamation bill to 'cripple free speech'

Mohamed Visham
10 August 2016, MVT 12:04
Local journalists protest outside the parliament as lawmakers passed the contentious defamation bill on Tuesday. MIHAARU PHOTO/MOHAMED SHARUHAAN
Mohamed Visham
10 August 2016, MVT 12:04

Maldives criminalised defamation on Tuesday which has attracted more criticism from the US and the United Nations.

The law, which the government pushed through its control in the parliament despite widespread international criticism, criminalizes defamatory speech, remarks, writings and actions that include gestures deemed to be against "any tenet of Islam".

The government controlled 11 member parliamentary committee had completely rebuffed the concerns raised by the media.

The new provisions that were included in the bill were not opened for public review and restricts freedom of expression even further.

The bill now compels journalists to reveal their sources to prove the veracity of their published articles, news reports or comments and allows for media licenses to be cancelled in addition to the criminal liability faced by individual journalists.

The dangerous new provisions greatly hinder the functioning of an independent media devoid of intimidation and is less about providing redress for victims of defamation.

Those found guilty of breaking the new law will be fined between 50,000 Maldivian rufiya ($3,200) and 2 million rufiya ($130,000) or face a jail term of between three and six months.

The UN said it was "very worried" about the law.

"So basically it's crippling freedom of expression including on the basis of defamation of religion, national security and social norms," said Mona Rishmawi, chief of the Rule of Law branch at the U.N. human rights office.

The U.S. State Department issued a statement calling the law a "serious setback for freedom of expression in the country."

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