Five media rights and press freedom organizations have called for the removal of an article in the government’s new Evidence Bill, which permits judges to force journalists to divulge their sources in certain instances.
In reaction to the proposed Evidence Bill, which was sent to the People’s Majlis on August 30, the Maldives Journalist Association (MJA), International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Amnesty International, Maldives Editors Guild, and Transparency Maldives issued a united statement.
The organizations stated in their statement that Article 136 of the proposed Evidence Bill specifies two conditions under which courts can force journalists to divulge their sources. The proposed bill has two exceptions: if the court determines that exposing a source has no or considerably reduced detrimental impact on the source or others, and if the impact of revealing a source does not severely damage journalists’ ability to discover sources of accurate information.
They further noted that these exclusions violated Article 28 of the Constitution, which stipulates that “no one can be forced to divulge the source of any information proclaimed, transmitted, or published by that person,” adding that the exceptions substantially restrict fundamental freedoms.
It was also pointed out that the two exclusions violated Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the Maldives is a signatory.
The five groups emphasized in their joint statement that the two exceptions are not simply objectively quantifiable, especially since the courts would not know the identity of the source when deciding whether the imprecise criteria specified in the exclusions apply to a specific instance.
Furthermore, they stated that the ambiguity of the criteria set forth in the exception, as well as the difficulties in reaching an objective and qualitative assessment on an anonymous source, will result in a significant reversal of press freedom in the Maldives, with the risk of generating a broader effect of fear and self-censorship.
The media rights organizations concluded their statement by stating that the passage of this measure into law will have a significant influence on the work of journalists, including the loss of vital sources due to the fear of being exposed in court.
The Maldives Media Council (MMC) had also expressed worry over the article in the Evidence Bill and urged the government and People’s Majlis to remove it.
Following the outpouring of criticism over the Evidence Bill, Attorney General Ibrahim Riffath assured the public that the contentious article will be amended during the committee process.