Amnesty International, IFJ & other organizations call to withdraw Article 136B in Evidence Bill

From a protest in Malé | Photo: AFP File

Malé, Maldives – The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), its affiliate the Maldives Journalist Association (MJA), the Maldives Editors Guild, Transparency Maldives and Amnesty International today released a joint statement call on authorities to withdraw new provision 136 (b) of the Evidence Bill that threatens journalists right to protection of sources.

This is against international standards for press freedom and we strongly oppose this attempt to stifle press freedom in the Maldives.

IFJ’s Asia Pacific Director Jane Worthington

The Evidence Bill, which was sent by the government of Maldives to the People’s Majlis for debate on August 30, includes a provision that empowers courts to demand disclosure of sources of reports produced by journalists, in contravention with the right to freedom of expression.

Article 136 of the proposed Evidence Bill, adds two exceptions, to the protection of sources afforded by Article 28 of the Maldives constitution, left at the discretion of the court under which courts can compel journalists to reveal their sources.

The vagueness of the criteria set in the exceptions, along with the near-impossibility of reaching an objective and qualitative assessment on an anonymous source, will lead to a significant reversal of press freedom in the Maldives and carries the risk of generating a wider effect of fear and self-censorship.

The government has previously repealed the anti-defamation act and enacted whistleblower protections, which enable people to disclose wrongdoing and abuses anonymously. Now the government seems to be moving to reverse this progress.

Maldives Editors Guild President Ahmed Zahir (Hiriga)

Without a doubt, the mere enactment of this bill into law, as it is, will have a dramatic impact on the work of journalists, including losing access to important sources, who might refuse to talk to journalists due to fear of being exposed in a court of law.

The signatories including Amnesty International urged the Maldivian authorities to uphold their obligations under international human rights law and do away with the deeply problematic provision that would put dangerous restrictions on journalists by creating a climate of fear and intimidation.