Maldives President Yameen Abdul Gayoom on Thursday signed into law a controversial bill criminalizing defamation with fines and jail terms despite widespread criticism. The UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression [official website] David Kaye issued a warning [press release] Wednesday condemning the bill approved by the Maldives parliament. Kaye cautioned that the “Protection of Reputation and Good Name and Freedom of Expression Bill” has the potential to limit exercise of free expression to the degree that the right is eliminated altogether, especially due to the vague wording of the bill. The bill criminalizes statements or comments deemed defamatory against “any tenet of Islam,” or that “threaten national security” or to “contradict general social norms,” and violation can elicit fines and jail time of up to six months.
Bills limiting freedom of expression and punishing religious dissension have been widespread across the world and have led to international concern. Earlier this year, a sharia high court in Nigeria sentenced cleric Abdulaziz Dauda and nine others to death [JURIST report] by hanging for committing blasphemy against the Islamic Prophet Muhammad. In January UN human rights experts called for a review of the UK’s draft “Investigatory Powers” bill fearing that the present draft of the bill could threaten freedom of expression and association [JURIST report]. In February a Pakistani man was executed for his part in murdering a politician [JURIST report] who supported a Christian who had been convicted of blasphemy. Later that month, Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged the Indonesian Parliament to reject proposed amendments to its law on the “eradication of terrorism” [Law No. 15/2003]. HRW asserts that the proposed amendments are too vague [JURIST report] and would limit the exercise of free expression and directly conflict with Indonesia’s obligations to international human rights, leading to fundamental rights violations. And in 2010 HRW urged the repeal of all such laws [JURST report].