The introduction of a bill to criminalise defamation in Maldives will be a “serious setback” for freedom of speech in the country if it is passed, the Colombo-based foreign missions, including from the EU and the US, said today.
In a joint statement, embassies of the US, Norway, Germany and the Netherlands and the High Commission of the UK and the EU delegation said they supported all Maldivians’ struggling to preserve democracy and human rights.
They said they were concerned about the erosion of fundamental freedoms and the institutions of democracy, including freedom of assembly and press.
“We express our support for all Maldivians struggling to preserve their hard won democratic institutions and rights, ” the statement said.
“We urge President Yameen to reverse the backsliding of the past many months and return to the path of democracy, transparency and rule of law for the well being and prosperity of all the people in the Maldives,” it said.The foreign missions said that if the bill was passed it would be a “serious setback” for freedom of speech in the Maldives.The Maldivian journalists groups also said that the bill would have a direct negative impact on the media.
“The bill is a threat to constitutionally guaranteed freedom of expression and freedom of press,” the groups said.
“They have asked that the bill be amended to not give courts of law the authority to formulate the policies and regulation on how media should cover reports and rulings issued by courts and tribunals,” they said.
Other amendments suggested include exclusion of articles related to national security, religious education and religious sermons and allowing the regulating body to investigate defamation cases against media personnel, prior to taking the cases to court.The ruling party defended the bill last week, saying it will not be withdrawn and that it was not a threat to anyone except journalists who fabricate stories.
After decades of autocratic rule, Maldives became a multiparty democracy in 2008.However, President Yameen Abdul Gayoom is accused of reversing the democratic gains by misusing courts, police and the bureaucracy to silence dissent.
Street protests are banned in the country and people who post criticise government on social media are arrested.Former president Mohamed Nasheed who travelled to the Britian on a medical leave from prison earlier this year has been given asylum by the UK.
Nasheed has also formed a united opposition front with other leaders in exile and supporters of those imprisoned to force Gayoom to resign.