MUO deplores passage of law criminalizing defamation and calls upon Maldives government to desist from muzzling the Press to dispel allegations of high corruption

Male’ 09 August 2016 – The Maldives United Opposition (MUO) deplores the passage today in Peoples Majlis of the Law on Defamation to criminalize defamation and commends MPs who voted against the Law that imposes severe restrictions on free speech and Press freedom.

The Maldives United Opposition views the passage of the Law as clear proof of regression of democracy in Maldives and a step backwards from democratic norms, as the Peoples Majlis (parliament) decriminalized defamation in November 2009. Defamation, libel and slander were made civil offenses during the tenure of former President Mohamed Nasheed and have been so from 2009 to date.

The Maldives United Opposition (MUO) views the primary purpose of the Law on Defamation as to protect President Yameen Abdul Gayoom from allegations of high corruption over the unprecedented theft of nearly US$80 million from state coffers (reported in recent official audit reports). In March and August 2016, news editors joined by colleagues repeated warnings in  joint statements that the proposed law “will prevent journalists and citizens from speaking out over serious accusations of corruption and integrity of state officials”.

The Defamation Law, passed through the government’s coopted majority in the People’s Majlis (parliament), prescribe arbitrary fines of between MRf 50,000 (US$3,200) and MRf 2 million (US$324,000) as penalties for violations.  Offenders who fail to pay the court-imposed fine would face a jail term of between three to six months.

It is also reprehensible that the Defamation Law places the burden of proof on journalists, criminalizes defamatory remarks posted on social media and blogs with restrictions imposed by the law set to seriously hinder investigative journalism.

The Maldives United Opposition (MUO) stands in solidarity with all journalists determined to keep up defending their freedom of expression and call upon them to progress their work by being more diligent and efficient in acquiring proof and evidences against corrupt public officials.

The Maldives United Opposition (MUO) had recently publicized a number of official documents as part evidence of President Yameen’s involvement in money laundering, and the passage of this Law would not hinder the coalition’s efforts to reveal cases of high corruption against President Yaameen Abdul Gayoom, his wife and cronies.

The Maldives United Opposition calls upon all well-wishers to prevail in taking firm steps necessary for the Maldives government to desist from muzzling the Press, and enact civil laws to cover the offenses of defamation for gaining back freedom of expression for the Maldivian people.