President: Freedom of expression is not a threat

Former Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom's supporters protest outside the Criminal Court on November 28, 2019. (Sun Photo/Fayaz Moosa)

President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih says that freedom of expression is a basic right of paramount importance, and is not something he feels threatened by.

He made the comment during his address at the official reception to mark Human Rights Day this Tuesday.

President Solih said that freedom of expression was one of the most basic rights, and was essential for the people to hold their government accountable.

He said that Maldives had a culture of oppression and rights violation, coupled with lack of accountability for such wrongdoings when he assumed power. He said that his administration was working on changing the culture.

He condemned the now repealed Anti-Defamation Act passed during the previous administration which had restricted freedom of expression and freedom of the press.

“I don’t believe any government should feel threatened to allow freedom of expression, prioritize the interests of its constituents, and govern its constituents with kindness. I, for certain, don’t consider it a threat,” said President Solih.

He noted that the legislature to repeal Anti-Defamation Act had been the very first piece of legislature he had ratified upon assuming power.

He said that the purpose of repealing Anti-Defamation Act had been to ensure that no one faced any legal action for exercising their constitutional right to freedom of expression and freedom of the press.

President Solih said that his administration was allowing the people to exercise freedom of expression and freedom of the press unhindered.

“The government’s every action and comment is being freely scrutinized and criticized by the press and across social media platforms,” he said.

He said that he, and his administration found such constructive criticism to be encouraging. And that it served as a powerful instrument to hold the people who hold public office accountable.

President Solih said that allegations of wrongdoings by government officials and infringement on basic constitutional rights had run rampant when Maldives had freedom of expression and freedom of the press restricted. But that the whole narrative had changed once the restrictions were repealed. He said that Maldivians were now exercising those rights to offer their opinions regarding how to build up the nation and to reform past wrongdoings.

He said that protection of the human rights of the people was the State’s most supreme responsibility. He said that given that the State is run under the stewardship of the government, disregard for constitutional rights by any government would leave the people without any hope over protection of any human right.

 President Soli provided assurance he and his administration would protect and ascertain the constitutional rights of all Maldivian people without discrimination or exemption.

He said that his entire administration was focused towards establishing a society where the Maldivian people reap the benefits of the ‘Jazeera’ lifestyle.