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International mission urges amendments to draft press freedom bill

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - The following is an ARTICLE 19 press release:

Maldives: International Press Freedom Mission Urges Amendments to Draft Press Law

The International Press Freedom Mission to the Maldives urges immediate revision of the draft Maldives Bill on Freedom of the Press, currently before parliament, to bring it in line with international standards.

"The Roadmap for Reform process has seen little progress in 2007, not least in respect to press freedom," said Dr Agnès Callamard, Executive Director, ARTICLE 19. "The proposed draft as it stands will only serve to further undermine the development of the media and protection of the right to freedom of expression. If the roadmap is to achieve its goal of paving the way to democracy, it is absolutely essential that a Press Law is adopted in line with international standards and that it is upheld by the Maldivian government."

In a May 2006 analysis of the draft Press Law, ARTICLE 19 concluded that although the draft Law contained some limited safeguards for freedom of expression, on balance, it fell "far short of international standards and best practice".

ARTICLE 19's analysis attests that the draft Law contains a number of overbroad and vague provisions, which are highly problematic for the protection of freedom of expression, particularly in relation to what the media may or may not publish. The draft Law also places various types of statements outside the scope of "freedom of the press" altogether - including statements that are inconsistent with "basic tenets of Islam", that would threaten the sovereignty of the nation and that would impinge on the maintenance of "public peace". Furthermore, Article 12 of the draft allows the government to confiscate publications which breach the law, prior to a court ruling to this effect, a form of administrative censorship.

Although the Minister of Information states that he has circulated copies of the analysis to all members of parliament and affirms that his Ministry has commented on every recommendation in the analysis, the draft Law has so far passed through parliament and is now awaiting approval at Committee level without any amendments to the original text whatsoever.

The International Mission remains extremely concerned by the draft Law which, if adopted, is likely to seriously undermine press freedom. The Mission urges the Maldivian government to make immediate amendments to the draft to bring it in line with international standards and provide real support and protection for press freedom in the Maldives.

BACKGROUND:
The International Press Freedom Mission to the Maldives is an independent group of five international organisations (ARTICLE 19, International Federation of Journalists, International Media Support, Reporters Without Borders and the South Asia Press Commission), set up to promote international standards on freedom of expression. The Mission was established during a fact-finding mission by all five organisations in May 2006, prompted in part by high-level representations and visits to a number of the participating international organisations by both the government and the political opposition, as well as an increasing number of alerts on press freedom violations being reported.

To view a copy of the letter, see: http://www.article19.org/pdfs/letters/maldives-press-law-let.pdf
To view a copy of the analysis of the draft Maldives Bill on Freedom of the Press, see: http://www.article19.org/pdfs/analysis/maldives-press-law.pdf

ARTICLE 19 is an independent human rights organisation that works globally to protect and promote the right to freedom of expression. It takes its name from Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees free speech.

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