Legislation and protocols stifling press freedom in the Maldives01 Sep, 2016
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its affiliate the Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) express serious concerns over the declining press freedom situation and growing intolerance towards the media in the Maldives in recent weeks. The IFJ urges the Maldivian government to ensure that the media and journalists are free to exercise their rights as per the Maldives’ Constitution.
On August 28, the Maldives National Chamber of Commerce and Industries (MNCCI) requested President Abdulla Yameen implement restrictions on foreign journalists stating they were causing damage to the economy and the tourism sector. The MNCCI reportedly said ‘foreign journalists are biased in their coverage of the Maldives’.
The call came in the wake of an announcement by the Department of Immigration which set new rules requiring background checks on foreign journalists and photographers visiting the Maldives. According to reports, foreign journalists and photographers arriving in country are now required to provide details of their work and travel histories and education, and information on their bank account and criminal records.
The Immigration Department’s rules were announced after the Maldives saw growing media coverage in international press about the political crisis and of President Yameen.
The Maldives media have also been forced to self-censor and use broadcasting delays after the new defamation law criminalizing expression was passed on August 9. The law criminalizes defamatory speech, remarks, writings and actions and empowers the state authority to shut down media for its ‘defamatory’ contents. The Anti-Defamation and Freedom of Expression Act includes a fine between MVR 25,000 (US$1,621) to MVR 2million (US$130,000) or up to six month of imprisonment for slander, remarks or content that threatens national security or breaches social norms. Individual journalists found guilty face fines between MVR50, 000 (US$3,242) and MVR150, 000 (US$9,727).
The IFJ said: “The IFJ is seriously concerned over recent developments in the Maldives that shows the state’s growing intolerance towards media and decreased commitment to the press freedom. Media plays an important role in democracy and free flow of information should be respected and facilitated by any democratic state.”