New regulations enacted yesterday will subject the publication of prose and poetry in the Maldives to government approval.
The stated purpose of the ‘Regulations on approving literature published in the Maldives’ (Dhivehi) is “ensuring that literature published or made public in the Maldives fit Maldivian laws and regulations as well as societal norms”.
The rules are aimed at “reducing adverse effects on society that could be caused by published literature.”
The new rules sparked an immediate outcry on social media, including suggestions from former majlis speaker, Abdulla Shahid, that basic constitutional and human rights were being threatened.
The regulations prohibit publishing literary material without seeking approval from the national bureau of classification and prescribes a fine of between MVR500 (US$32) and MVR5,000 (US$324) for violations.
An additional MVR1,000 (US$64) would be imposed for repeat violations.
Moreover, if a publication is found in a court of law to contain “false information”, the approval would be revoked and the person or party would not be granted further approval for a period of one year after payment of fines for the first offence.
Approval would not be granted for three years and five years for the second and third offences, respectively.
“Books must be published in the Maldives after seeking approval from the national bureau of classification,” states section 6(a) of the regulations published in the government gazette yesterday.
However, books or pamphlets published by a political party, association, company or state institution to disseminate information among members or staff would be exempt from the requirement.
“A poem must be made public in the Maldives after seeking approval from the national bureau of classification,” states section 11(a).
Section 11(b) explains that the rule applies to “any form of publication, a separate recording or an album for sale, inclusion in a film or documentary, broadcasting or telecasting, making public through the internet, and circulating as a ring-tone.”
The regulations define books as any piece of writing, photography or artwork published either printed on paper between covers or “electronically, digitally or otherwise.”
The rules apply to publications on the internet.
The regulations also require the national bureau of classification to compile a registry of members for granting approval for publications.
“Books and poetry shall be published in the Maldives in accordance with decisions by members on the registry,” states section 13.
The conditions for membership include being a Maldivian citizen aged 30 years above and a Sunni Muslim. If a member has been convicted of a criminal offence, five years must have elapsed since either the sentence was served or a pardon was granted.
Additionally, members must have at least 10 years of experience in the relevant publishing field.
In granting approval for publication, the regulations state that members must consider whether the piece of literature “fits Islam, Maldivians laws and regulations, and societal norms.”
Moreover, members must consider the potential negative impact on society from the published material.
Section 15(c) states that members must respect the right to freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution as well as “constructive new thinking”.
Along with a copy of the manuscript of the book or poem, a form seeking approval and a MVR50 revenue stamp must be submitted to the national bureau of classification.
Publishers must also submit a form seeking an ISB (international standard book) number.
Meanwhile, former Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Shahid has condemned the government’s “decision to impose pre-publication censorship.”
The regulations violate Article 27, 28 and 29 of the Constitution, the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party MP tweeted today.
Article 27 guarantees “the right to freedom of thought and the freedom to communicate opinions and expression in a manner that is not contrary to any tenet of Islam,” whist Article 29 ensures “the freedom to acquire and impart knowledge, information and learning.”
Article 28 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.”
The regulations were also contrary to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as the Maldives’ commitments under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Shahid contended.
The regulations have prompted a flurry of tweets and Facebook posts from Maldivians expressing concern over censorship.