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Landmark freedom of information legislation announced in the Maldives

On 17 January 2014, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its affiliate the Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) welcomed the ratification of the Right to Information Act by the President of the Republic of Maldives, Abdulla Yameen.

The act, announced on 12 January, is aimed at enhancing the ability for the public and media to access information and will see the Maldivian president appoint a Commissioner of Information to oversee information officers in every government office. Specifically, the Commissioner will be tasked with enforcing the act with the power to fine officers who deliberately obstruct access to information. The Commissioner can also penalise individuals that destroy or obstruct access to information.

"The Right to Information Act will foster transparency and increase accountability of State institutions in the Maldives," said MJA President Ahmed Zahir. "The MJA believes that the Act will facilitate good governance and be a source of empowerment to the public as it comes into force in six months' time."

The IFJ commended the move by President Abdulla Yameen which signals his respect for the importance of a free and independent media. Importantly, this act will also provide key whistle-blower protections.

"The ratification of the legislation stands as an important step forward for good governance and transparent access to information for journalists in the Maldives," the Director of the IFJ Asia-Pacific, Jacqueline Park, said.

"Freedom to acquire and impart knowledge is enshrined in Article 29 of the Maldives Constitution. The Right to Information Act acts an important step toward enshrining these notions of free access to information for media and for the public. This new Act is an important step toward curtailing corruption in the Maldives."

The MJA notes that the Right to Information Act states that its interpretation and implementation shall not undermine the right to acquire and disseminate information and says an acknowledgement of this is vital for realizing the act's full potential.

The MJA also praised the legislation's stipulation that any information deemed to be withheld by the Commissioner of Information would be released within ten years.

"This is an important piece of legislation that, if implemented to its fullest capacity, will ensure journalists in the Maldives have greater protections and greater access to crucial information," the IFJ said.

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