Defamation should not be re-criminalized – MJA

Members of Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) | Photo: Maldives Journalist Association

Male’, Maldives – Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) has called on the government and the Parliament to refrain from re-criminalizing defamation, and instead, let it remain a civil offense.

MJA officially took the stand in a statement issued following multiple concerns received by the organization, after the Attorney General’s Office proposed a “bill on compensation for defamation”.

In the statement, MJA said that as an association mandated to protect the media freedoms and journalistic rights, the association does not believe in the re-criminalization of defamation and that it should instead, remain a civil offense. The stance was backed by the fact that the criminalization of defamation would lead to restrictions being place on press freedom and the freedom of expression, as punitive action would force journalists and the general public to refrain from expressing themselves. The statement also highlighted that this tactic was previously used in the Maldives to muzzle free media and criminalize dissent.

Hence, it MJA said that it believes that any attempt to increase the influence of the government or enact criminal proceedings within the media regulatory frame work would lead to the further decline of the critical, independent and investigative journalism of the country.

It further read that the association has had brief discussions with the government regarding the matter and that the government has given the guarantee that the bill would not include any provisions which would restrict the free media. It also said that the government would consult with journalists during the formulation of the proposed bill.

Despite this, MJA assured that it would strongly reject any attempt to re-criminalize defamations and would continue to advocate against criminalization of the press. As such, the association called upon the government and the Parliament to ensure that defamation remains a civil offense and that the newly proposed bill does not include any provision that can harm the constitutionally guaranteed rights of press freedom and the freedom of expression.

MJA also added that the government should reflect on the economic and financial situation of the general public when deliberating on the limits for compensation due to defamation, to ensure that the financial burden is not crippling and to ensure that individual journalists are offered the maximum possible protection in law.

Defamation was decriminalized in 2009 by the Maldivian government, however, re-criminalized in 2016 during the regime of the former President Abdullah Yameen Abdul Qayyoom, only to be repealed in 2018.