Govt. defends ratification of Evidence Act

Journalists protest in front of People's Majlis building on June 30, 2022. (Sun photo)

President’s Office issued a statement on Thursday defending the decision to ratify the Evidence Bill, despite concerns over a provision in the bill which allows courts to force journalists and media outlets to reveal their sources.

President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih ratified the contentious bill on Monday, after Maldives Journalists Association filed a petition over the provision.

Reporters had staged a protest outside the Parliament the day it had been set to pass the bill.

In a statement on Thursday evening, President Office said Article 28 of the Constitution afforded every individual with the right to freedom of the press, including the right to be free from compulsion to disclose the source of any information that is espoused, disseminated, or published by that person.

“This right, however, can be subject to reasonable limits prescribed by the law, which is not contrary to the Constitution,” said the President’s Office.

President’s Office said anny limitations have to be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society as per Article 16 (a) of the Constitution, and that the right to be free from compulsion to disclose the source of information has been limited in free and democratic societies to balance the purpose and privileges of the right, with the purpose and importance of limiting the right.

“As such, there are jurisdictions which allow for the court to order disclosure of the identity of the informant or enable that identity to be ascertained, if the public interest in the disclosure of the identity of the informant outweighs any likely adverse effects of disclosure on the informant or any other person. This also includes the public interest in relation to how facts and opinions are communicated to the public and the authenticity of the source of such facts,” said the President’s Office.

President’s Office said that while there was a need to protect journalists’ sources, there were jurisdictions where exceptions to this presumption are allowed, where disclosure of the information is deemed necessary, including matters where interests of justice, of national security and of preventing disorder or a crime take precedence.

President’s Office said it had taken 40 years to amend and ratify the Evidence Act, and that extensive consultative process was carried out by the Judiciary Committee within the Parliament to guarantee all relevant parties contributed to compiling the bill.

It also said journalists had the right to appeal to a higher court further reviewing of the ruling.

“The Government will ensure the protection of the rights of journalists enshrined in Articles 27, 28 and 29 of the Constitution, and reiterates its assurance that it will take no step that might harm or obstruct the freedom of the press,” said the President’s Office.

President’s Office said the government would always do everything in its power, including taking whatever measures are necessary at the time, to foster a culture of press freedom in the country.