The Maldives has fallen five places in the France-based Reporters Without Borders’ annual press freedom index after a new law criminalised defamation and allowed the authorities to shut down media outlets.
The Maldives is now ranked 117 out of 180 countries, down from 112 the previous year.
Based on developments during the past year, RSF said the government continues to “persecute the independent media” and that many journalist have been the target of death threats from political parties, criminal gangs and religious extremists.
“This poisonous climate reinforces self-censorship,” the organisation observed.
“Refusal by the authorities to investigate journalist Ahmed Rilwan’s disappearance in 2014 speaks to the climate of violence and impunity in which journalists operate.”
The release of this year’s index comes after the brutal murder of liberal blogger Yameen Rasheed, a human rights defender who was leading the campaign to find the missing Maldives Independent journalist Rilwan, who was abducted at knifepoint in August 2014.
Earlier this month, the broadcasting regulator meanwhile slapped an MVR1 million (US$64,850) fine on Raajje TV for airing a speech at an opposition rally that was deemed defamatory towards President Abdulla Yameen.
If the fine is not paid before May 6, the Maldives Broadcasting Commission could suspend or cancel the opposition-aligned station’s broadcasting license. The fine must also be paid in full before the regulator’s decision could be appealed to a court.
According to regulations enacted under the law, media outlets can be fined between MVR50,000 (US$3,200) and MVR500,000 (US$32,400) for a first offence, and up to MVR2 million (US$129,700) after the third offence.
The re-criminalisation of defamation was widely condemned as an attack on free speech. A consensus emerged among the Maldivian media that the law would be the death knell of press freedom in the country.
Journalists say they are now forced to practice self-censorship to avoid lawsuits or criminal prosecution.
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Source URL: Maldives Independent