MMC: Maldives will drop in press freedom ranking due to Evidence Act

Members of Maldives Media Council (MMC) convene for a meeting. (Photo/MMC)

Maldives Media Council (MMC) has remarked that Maldives will perform poorly on the World Press Freedom Index due to the Evidence Act.

Article 136 of the Evidence Act directly contradicts the freedom of press guaranteed by the Article 28 of the Maldivian constitution as it allows journalists to be compelled to reveal their sources.

When the issue first came to light – MMC requested the Parliament’s Judiciary Committee to omit the provision in its entirety from the Evidence Bill. The bill was passed by the parliament inclusive of the provision despite concerns from journalists. It has now been in effect for over three months.

“As this council believes, the provision in the law allowing compulsion of disclosure of sources being in effect is a situation where complete press freedom guaranteed by the constitution has ceased to exist,” a statement by MMC on Thursday read.

The statement also emphasized MMC’s concerns surrounding parliament going into recess after sending back the bill to amend the Evidence Act to the committee, without passing it into law, after days of stalling. The council also raised questions as to the priority allocated by the government to ensure press freedom. 

“The Evidence Bill, as it stands at present, is penned down in a manner which could lead to irrevocable damages to the Maldivian media sector and pose major obstructions to press freedom and investigative journalism,” the statement also said.

MMC explained in their statement that this is as Article 136 (b) of the bill dictates that a court can compel journalists to reveal their sources if requested by an investigative body, the Prosecutor General’s Office, or the defendant in cases pertaining to terrorism or national security. 

In light of this, the council stressed the importance of taking into account all crimes listed by law as terrorism crimes do not necessarily threaten the lives of people or property. Therewith, they noted it was important to restrict disclosure of sources to crimes listed under Articles 7 and 12 in the Anti-Terrorism Act, especially in a scenario where disclosure of sources is limited to terrorism crimes.

Additionally, MMC also recommended restricting the disclosure of sources to only in circumstances where there is no other choice and only by investigative bodies rather than the Prosecutor General’s Office or the defendant as such information is required for the investigation. Furthermore, they also recommended that source disclosure can only be compelled once all perquisites in Article 136 (c) are proven through a civil proceeding.

MMC urged to amend the law at the earliest – with consideration to all recommendations made by the council.

“This council believes the existence of this law, as it is, will backtrack Maldives’ position in the Press Freedom Index,” they added.

Maldives backtracked 15 ranks in World Press Freedom Index publicized by Reporters Without Borders last year.

Maldives ranked 87 in the index last year while the island nation ranked 72nd in 2021. This marks a drop in 15 positions and also the first time Maldives ranked so low in the index within the past four years.