Human Rights Foundation (HRF) condemns the defamation bill passed yesterday by the People’s Majlis, the Maldivian parliament, which reinstates defamation as actionable criminal conduct in the Maldives. HRF also calls on President Abdulla Yameen to exercise his veto power and stop the bill from becoming law. In 2009, based on recommendations issued by the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, the People’s Majlis approved a government-proposed bill that decriminalized defamation, turning it into a civil offence that may lead to the payment of monetary damages instead of a crime punishable with imprisonment.
“After President Mohamed Nasheed, the country’s first democratically-elected president, was forced to resign in 2012, the Maldives’s young democracy has experienced a steady regression towards autocratic rule,” said HRF president Thor Halvorssen. “The recriminalization of defamation is only the latest action confirming this disturbing trend. President Yameen still has time to reconsider and do what’s right. Otherwise, he will sooner or later have to respond to the Maldivian people.”
In 2009, President Nasheed stated, “freedom of expression is the cornerstone of democracy ... For democracy to be effective, citizens must be able to hold those in power to account without fear of retribution.”
The new Defamation and Freedom of Expression law, if signed by President Yameen, will punish violations with imprisonment of up to six months and fines of up to $130,000.
According to Article 91 of the Constitution of the Republic of Maldives, “every bill passed by the People’s Majlis shall be presented for assent by the President … and the President shall, within 15 days of receipt, assent to the bill or return [it] for reconsideration … or … any amendment proposed.” Ratification of the bill by the President is expected soon.
“The criminalization of defamation in the Maldives as a tool to silence legitimate criticism of the government confirms a worrying pattern we’ve observed under authoritarian regimes worldwide,” said Roberto González, international legal associate at HRF. “Instead of criminalizing legitimate opposition activities with draconian-sounding crimes like ‘treason,’ ‘terrorism,’ or ‘sedition,’ modern authoritarians employ overly broad and vague charges of ‘defamation,’ and ‘incitement’,” he added.
Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies.