Maldives’ Anti Defamation Law: Instilling fear

I travelled to the Maldives in August 2016 to conduct a training to journalists on media rights monitoring and advocacy. During my three-day stay in Male, I met with a few friends (bloggers, journalists and others). This blog is based on talks with friends.

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The new Anti-defamation Act in the Maldives serves to silence instilling fear in the media community which can face huge fines and imprisonment if found guilty of defamation.

“… but after the law, I am not sure,” a blogger from the Maldives told me answering my questions about how long he would continue writing critically on the government. The law he was referring to was the Anti-Defamation and Freedom of Expression Act, passed by the Maldivian parliament on August 9, 2016, despite widespread criticism.

Every conversation with anyone who writes opinions on public issues – journalists or bloggers or social media users – the law was mentioned as a sword hanging over their heads. The new law is a direct threat to the freedom of opinion and expression for Maldivians, who now fear that they could be slapped with huge fines huge and jailed for their words published in the media or even on social media.

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Protection for journalists needed as South Asia remains perilously dangerous

On February 5, 2016, UNESCO, the IFJ and the WAN-IFRA organized a conference ‘News Organisations Standing Up for the Safety of Media Professionals‘ at its headquarters with an aim of strengthening the safety of journalists globally by working out possible actions that could be carried out to ensure risk-free media environment.

The timing couldn’t be more perfect as it came just after launch of the IFJ’s 25th report on journalists and media staff killed which noted that at least 2,297 journalists and media staff have been killed since 1990, mostly for carrying out their professional responsibility and serving the public by providing the information. The report also notes that besides the high levels of violence on journalists, there is also rampant impunity with 90 percent of journalists murders, there is either little or no prosecution.

As IFJ President Jim Boumelha put it in the opening of the conference, the ‘media executives and journalists organisations need to work together to provide journalists with protection’.

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South Asia’s battle with impunity

On November 2, the world marked the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) launched the Global and the Asia-Pacific regional campaigns that will see activities and events to raise awareness on the dire situation of impunity and press for justice for journalists across the globe throughout November. The IFJ campaigns will conclude on November 23, the anniversary of the Ampatuan Massacre in the Philippines in which at least 32 journalists were killed.

For a long time the South Asia region has been the worst region in the world in terms of impunity for crimes against journalists. Despite all eight countries in the region – Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Maldives and Bhutan – being under democratic regimes for at least five years, the persistence of impunity in these countries has remained a big challenge for governments and democracy.

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