The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has warned that the Parliamentary Privileges Act pressed into law today (March 12) will undermine the ability of Maldivian journalists to protect their sources.
Journalists in many developed countries, including the UK and Australia, are routinely sentenced to contempt of court extending to imprisonment for declining to reveal sources when asked.
The Maldives is one of the few countries to have so-called ‘shield laws’ protecting journalists from this, with the constitution containing specific provisions concerning freedom of expression in a bid to inspire confidence in potential whistleblowers.
Article 28 of the constitution states – “Everyone has the right to freedom of the press, and other means of communication, including the right to espouse, disseminate and publish news, information, views and ideas. No person shall be compelled to disclose the source of any information that is espoused, disseminated or published by that person.”
However Section 17(a) of the new Parliamentary Privileges Act states: “[Parliament or a Parliamentary Committee has the power to] summon anyone to parliament or one of its committees to give witness or to hand over any information which the parliament wish to seek.”
The Act was passed after a presidential veto was overridden by parliament, in a vote that obtained rare cross-party support. The Act follows the refusal of senior government and police officials to attend committee hearings when summoned, including Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz, and would theoretically criminalise such refusal in future.
The IFJ endorse the the Maldivian Journalist Association (MJA)’s opinion that the new power “is too broad in its provisions and could undermine the constitutional protection that journalists currently enjoy.”
“The IFJ believes that [Article 28 of the Constitution] is a salutary provision of law which makes the Maldives one of the few countries to provide constitutional protection to sources of journalists’ information,” the IFJ said in a statement.
“The IFJ joins the MJA in asking for a reconsideration of provisions in the Parliamentary Privileges Act which may undermine this valuable protection afforded to journalists and all citizens,” it added.