MJA express concern over the term ‘national security’ in new Evidence Bill

Journalists protest in front of People's Majlis building on June 30, 2022. (Sun photo)

Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) has expressed concern over the definition of ‘national security’ on the bill to amend Evidence Act to be submitted this week by the Attorney General’s Office (AG Office) to the parliament in order to solve the concerns by journalists regarding the source disclosure provision in the Act.

In a statement on Monday, MJA said that they had always advocated removing the term ‘national security’ from the Act. They reasoned their advocacy citing a lack of law to date in the Maldives, specifying offenses that threaten national security which could lead to the term being used misused or extorted.

The association underscored that they believe source disclosure can only be compelled in circumstances presenting immediate danger or threat to a group, a place or a person’s life. They added that source disclosure compulsion for offenses stipulated under the Anti-Terrorism Act being included in the provision covers situations involving threats to national security as well.

“Therewith, this association express that we are against amending the Act with inclusion of national security,” their statement read.

MJA had submitted their proposed amendment to the Act as well. It proposes to change the wording of the provision to read “terrorism-related offenses stipulated in Chapter Two of Anti-Terrorism Act, offenses stipulated in the Penal Code of Maldives involving weaponry and terrorist attacks and other similar criminal offenses set out by laws”.

Meanwhile, the proposed amendment by the AG Office, to be submitted this week, is a more clear specification of the offenses related to national security and offenses related to terrorism. In this regard, “offenses related to national security are described as offenses 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” and offenses related to terrorism described as “those offenses stated under Chapter Two of Anti-Terrorism Act”.

It also states that determining factors that the court shall take into consideration in obligating the disclosure of a journalist’s source of information; and determining that such matter shall be decided by an order of the High Court of Maldives.

The government’s Evidence Bill, sponsored by North Thinadhoo MP Abdul Mughnee, was passed by the Parliament on June 30, despite protests from journalists. Subsequently, a petition with the signatures of 158 journalists was submitted to the President. Nevertheless, he ratified the bill into law on July 18, without any effort to address the issues raised by journalists.