Evidence Act enforceable in six months is a grave threat to press freedom: Human Rights Organizations

Journalists protest against Evidence Bill infront of parliament house | Photo: Mihaaru

Malé, Maldives – Ten international and local human rights organizations released a joint statement urging the government of Maldives to repeal or amend a provision forcing journalists to reveal their sources. Included in a reform of the Evidence Act.

Section 136 of the Evidence Act opens the way to the worst authoritarian abuses.

Daniel Bastard, RSF’s Asia-Pacific Director

President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih ratified the Evidence Act on 18 July 2022 after the bill was passed by the parliament with a majority vote.

The statement highlights the use of uses vague and overbroad terms such as “acts of terrorism” and “national security-related crimes” as exemptions to source confidentiality ensured by the constitution, noting the Maldives’ long history of stifling peaceful dissent and muzzling press freedom using “acts of terrorism” and “national security-related crimes” as an excuse to arbitrarily arrest, jail and even torture political dissidents, journalists, and human rights defenders and activists.

The Act also mandates courts to decide, on a balance of probabilities, whether to order source disclosure. This clearly fails to respect international standards for restrictions on freedom of expression, which rely on a three-part test requiring, among other things, any restriction to be “necessary”.

Journalists who refuse to disclose a source, after being ordered to do so by the court, can be found in contempt, and face up to three months in jail or be fined.

Meanwhile, journalists in the Maldives are standing against the Evidence Act stating that they will choose jail before revealing sources.

While President Solih has ratified the bill ignoring a petition by 158 Maldivian journalists calling on him to refuse to sign the bill into law, the President assures that he will take no step that might harm or obstruct the freedom of the press.

The current provisions – which will become enforceable within six months – are a grave threat to press freedom and freedom of expression in the Maldives.

Joint Statement

The joint statement released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Amnesty International, Centre for Law and Democracy, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Committee to Protect Journalists, Human Rights Watch, International Federation of Journalists, Maldives Journalist Association, Maldives, Editors Guild, Reporters Without Borders and Transparency Maldives called on the government to repeal or amend the provision of the Evidence Act in line with international human rights law and standards and in consultation with international and local experts including journalists, editors, and human rights activists, before it comes into force.