Representatives from MJA and Editors Guild meet AG Ibrahim Riffath early this month. (Photo/MJA)

MJA welcomes Evidence Act amendment; urges national security reference removal

AG Office said that an amendment bill formulated in consultation with MJA and Editors Guild of Maldives would be submitted to the parliament this week.

26 September 2022

By Mohamed Muzayyin Nazim

Maldives Journalists Association (MJA) on Monday welcomed a series of amendments proposed by the government to the new Evidence Act in a bid to allay concerns by media rights organisations that the law could be abused to restrict media freedom as it allowed courts to demand the disclosure of journalists’ sources, but urged the government to remove references to national security.

Amendment to the Evidence Act was ratified on 20 July amid protests from local and international media rights organisations. To be enforced from 20 January 2023, the government has assured journalists that their concerns would be addressed regarding this Act.

Article 136 uses broad terms such as “acts of terrorism” and “national security related crimes” as instances where journalists can be compelled to disclose their sources.

The Prosecutor General (PG) and the suspect in the case, both have freedom to request for the journalist’s source at the courts.

The law does not specify which court can authorise this information breach in a journalists’ profession.

Attorney General's (AG) Office on Sunday said that an amendment bill formulated in consultation with MJA and Editors Guild of Maldives would be submitted to the parliament this week.

However, MJA said it opposed amending the Evidence Act with "national security" aspects intact. 

"We note that the draft bill formulated by the Attorney General's Office to amend Article 136 of the Evidence Act addresses many of the concerns of journalists," the organisation said on social media.

"However, we still have serious concerns about the draft bill and have requested the AG to amend them."

MJA asked the government to remove references to national security from the bill. The organisation also called on the AG office to amend the article included in the draft under which authorities could order journalists to disclose their sources even before the case is submitted to the court.

The amendments outlined by the AG Office on Sunday include:

  • specifying more clearly the offences related to national security and offences related to terrorism which are the exceptions made in the act

  • Offences related to national security would be described as offences involving any threat to the independence and sovereignty of the Maldives, or any threat of major damage to a person or persons’ lives, limbs or property

  • Offences related to terrorism would be described as those offences specified in the Anti-Terrorism Act

  • Determining factors that the court shall take into consideration in obligating the disclosure of a journalist’s source 

  • Determining that such matter shall be decided by an order of the High Court